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Book Banning in Arizona

Richard Delgado is University Professor of Law at Seattle University, where he teaches and writes in the areas of race and civil rights. Jean Stefancic is Research Professor of Law at Seattle University, where she teaches and writes about race, Latinos, and civil rights. They are the authors of The Latino/a Condition (NYU Press) and Critical Race Theory: An Introduction (NYU Press), which was one of the books removed from the curriculum in Arizona.

By Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic

With one of the harshest anti-immigrant laws on the books, Arizona has recently taken to targeting Latino schoolchildren and even the books their teachers use to inform them about their history and culture.

Last week, the Tucson Unified School District eliminated a popular Mexican American Studies program in local high schools that, in a short period of time, had done a lot of good.

Established a few years ago pursuant to a desegregation decree and taught by charismatic teachers, the program had increased the graduation rate of Mexican-origin kids to 93 percent; nationally the rate is around 50. Since the Tucson school district is heavily Latino, that’s a lot of kids.

Egged on by anti-immigrant groups, the Anglo-dominated administration decided that the program was un-American and divisive because it taught the kids about the War with Mexico, struggles for school desegregation, and Jim Crow laws under which people with brown skins had to sit in the balcony of movie theaters, take a back seat in restaurants, swim in public pools on one day of the week only, and work according to a dual wage scale, one for Anglos, the other for Mexicans. They also read novelists like Rodolfo Anaya.

When an outside audit gave the program a positive review, the district ended it anyway and, for good measure, ordered that teachers discontinue using texts like Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States, Rodolfo Anaya’s Bless Me Ultima, Rodolfo Acuna’s Occupied America: A History of Chicanos, Elizabeth Martinez’s 500 Years of Chicano History, William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, and a book by the two of us, Critical Race Theory: An Introduction, in classes where they had found an eager readership of brown teenagers.

To make sure that everyone got the point, the authorities directed the staff to collect and box seven of the most offensive books during class time so that the students would see them being packed up and carried to trucks bound for a distant book depository.

This may remind many readers of historic episodes of book banning and censorship, while carrying it out in front of the Mexican kids may strike them as a form of psychological torture. But the authorities defended their actions in blandly bureaucratic terms. Some of the books were not “age appropriate,” they insisted, while others failed to inculcate the pro-American attitude mandated by the official curriculum. Interestingly, the same books seem not to have been banished from classrooms in the dominantly white high school across town, where the sons and daughters of University of Arizona professors, doctors, and lawyers will continue to read Thoreau’s essay on civil disobedience, Shakespeare’s The Tempest, books on critical theory, and Howard Zinn.

How does it feel to have written a book that is officially banned? We are sorry for the kids and disappointed in the school board. But we decided to move a similar book up on our docket so as to get it into print ahead of schedule. How can we get it into the hands of those disappointed high school students? We plan to discuss this with our press’s publicity and marketing departments next week. Sometimes, it’s hard to kill an idea, and we certainly plan to do our part to keep it that way.

7 comments on “Book Banning in Arizona

  1. Pingback: Making the banned book list: Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic | From the Square | NYU Press blog

  2. Loura
    February 3, 2012

    I would be embarrased to let people know i paid for the education you have, and the result is this dribble. Just because a book is published and deviously introduced to our CHILDREN as fact…..doesn’t make it worthy of survival…..Books that teach treason, racism, and hate, can be found on the internet and in public library and bookstores. try to get a copy of the textbook used for these classes. if you succeed – try reading it – then make some EDUCATED comments on the brainwashing, leftist, Godless, crap this curriculum teaches…..

    • houston2010
      February 11, 2012

      YET you are completely silent when Ron Paul, a president for this country decides to speak to supports with the confederate flag behind him. A flag that signifies war, carnage, countrymen killing countrymen, treating people as property, having states trying to justify that a man is property and would die to maintain property, and for the act of sedition. Lets not over look your obvious support for the violation of the 2nd amendment. My question to you: who is really hurting this country, you who support destroying the second amendment or someone simply speaking out against a gross injustice? How about Ron Paul who speaks to supports with the confederate flag in the background, a flag that is meant to signify the very act of secession against the country? Great way to state your case by belittling the author and for citizen fighting for rights our soldiers die of.

  3. houston2010
    February 11, 2012

    *Ron Paul a man running for president

  4. ottorapp
    April 8, 2012

    Faschism is rearing its ugly head. Did we not learn from history? What other books did they ban? Fahrenheit 451 by any chance?

  5. Kalani
    July 18, 2012

    Hi I love that statistic on the graduation rates for the MAS program. Where did you source that?

  6. mraemiller
    February 17, 2014

    The begginning of your book starts “Critical Race Theory movement is a collection of Activists and Scholars…” That’s all you need to know. You’ve drifted away from your primary function – education – into political activism. I cannot think of a UK Prime Minister ever just letting teachers decide what they teach in schools at secondary level. The syllabuses are politically micro-manged even in the “Academies” and so called “Free Schools”. It just wouldn’t happen. At University level maybe… but that is different. Schools here are machines that pump out children with the requisite educational qualifications for employment. That’s all the government care about. I doubt CRT would be given house room. What I’ve read of CRT literature contains some absolute classic logical fallacies. The best of these being the Katz/Bidol redefinition of racism in the White Awareness Handbook. A piece of circular reasoning so facile that I’ve come to the conclusion that being facile is the entire point. It isn’t only the right wing who have a problem with CRT – I do. The most positive way I can put it is that someone needs to stand back from the subject a bit. For example… there’s lots of hand-wringing about the number of black people in the US prison population. In the UK we actually have a greater percentage of black people in the prison population than you do by some margin in relation to their %age share of the population but it doesn’t SEEM to create so many problems. Why? Because USA locks up more people than every other country on the planet by some margin. What does that tell you about your society? The trouble with CRT is it just seems to be too vague. If CRT wants to be taken seriously it must cut off some of the more nutty theories that circulate its periphery.

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This entry was posted on January 24, 2012 by in academic freedom and tagged , , , , , .
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