Mexican American Studies: Bad Ban Or Bad Class?

Judy Hartnett's picture
Thursday, January 19, 2012

In Arizona, the Tucson Unified School District governing board recently voted to suspend the controversial Mexican American studies program. The move came after the state superintendent John Huppenthal deemed the program in violation of a state law banning, among other things, classes that promote resentment toward a race or class.

We happened to catch up with him here in Washington, D.C., where he is on business, but he is at the center of a big story we've been following in his home state.

There the governing board of the Tucson School District recently voted to scrap a controversial Mexican-American studies program. They were facing millions of dollars in financial penalties if they failed to do so.

Mr. Huppenthal determined that Tucson's Mexican-American studies program violated a state law, a law that he helped write, by the way, that bans courses that, quote, "encourage resentment toward a race or class of people," unquote, and are designed primarily for one ethnic group.

We've spoken about the issue on the program before, but now we're pleased to have with us the superintendent. Mr. Huppenthal, welcome. Thanks so much for joining us.

JOHN HUPPENTHAL: It's great to be here.

MARTIN: So let's talk about the law. As we mentioned, you helped write it when you were in the state senate in conjunction with your predecessor as school superintendent, Tom Cooper. Now, I just want to clarify one thing about the origin of this. Is it true, as has been reported, that the genesis of this was that a Republican official was treated rudely when she appeared before a group of students and that the behavior of the students, which by all accounts was rude, I mean she was interrupted and, you know - that there was a feeling that somehow this was motivated by what they were being taught - is that true?

HUPPENTHAL: I think that's a little bit of an oversimplification. It was also based on the information that was flowing out of the Mexican-American studies classes in the Tucson Unified School District. It was also based on a concern about the failure of the Tucson Unified School District to provide a good education to low income Hispanic children, of which they had a large group.

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