Censored Books in Arizona
Authors and Free Speech Organizations Respond
The seven confiscated books are: Critical Race Theory by Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic; 500 Years of Chicano History in Pictures, edited by Elizabeth Martinez; Message to Aztlán by Rodolfo Corky Gonzales; Chicano! The History of the Mexican Civil Rights Movement by F Arturo Rosales; Occupied America: A History of Chicanos by Rodolfo Acuña; Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire and Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years by Bill Bigelow.
School officials argue that the measure does not constitute a ban, and that the books are still accessible through student libraries. Yet, according to a report by CNN, the books might not be as accessible as before. An online search revealed that only several copies of each book were available for student use out of the district’s eleven high school libraries.
School officials claim the suspension came in response to Arizona Law HB2281, which prohibits school districts from offering ethnic studies courses that “promote the overthrow of the US government, promote resentment toward a race or class of people [and] are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group.” However, an independent audit of the Mexican-American Studies program in May 2011 did not find the courses in violation of the law. Rather, the study found that the program should be kept because it produced a climate of acceptance in the schools.
In a letter to his constituents, Tuscon Unified School District (TUSD) President Mark Stegeman stated the district removed the seven books from classrooms because the school board did not approve the curriculum. Yet a school board document posted by Three Sonoras blog, revealed that three of the books had been previously approved in 2007, before Stegeman was on the board.
Writer Winona LaDuke commented on the removal of the Rethinking Columbus collection which included her essay “To the Women of the World: Our Future, Our Responsibility.”
“If I were going to ban one of my essays from a public school, this would not be the one,” she writes. “The essay is the transcript of my opening plenary address to the United Nations Conference on the Status of Women in 1995, held in Beijing.”
Dr. Rodolfo Acuña, author of Occupied America and co-founder of Chicano Studies at California State, also commented on the recent measures in an interview with Reader Supported News. He remarked that the audit found Occupied America to be “a standard American text book.” He also noted that, at the time, he did not know of a teacher organization that had spoken out against the actions in Arizona. He advised teachers across the country to “do something about it. They should be visible, they shouldn’t be quiet because this is going to happen to them.”
On January 30, 2012, in line with Acuña’s advice, twenty seven organizations signed a joint statement in opposition to the book censorship in TUSD, including the PEN American Center, ACLU of Arizona, and the National Council for Teachers of English. They write, “The First Amendment is grounded on the fundamental rule that government officials, including public school administrators, may not suppress ‘an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.’ ”
Tony Diaz, a Huston-based writer and founder of literary non-profit Nuestra Palabra, has started a “book smuggling” project called The Librotraficante Banned Book Caravan. Beginning March 12, writers and activists will travel from Texas to Arizona to raise awareness on the issue and deliver censored books to students in Arizona. To learn more about Librotraficante watch its campaign video.
In the meantime, teachers affected by the program’s suspension have yet to receive replacement curriculums. School officials say they are moving toward an integrated social studies program that will “increase its coverage of Mexican-American history and culture, including a balanced presentation of diverse viewpoints on controversial issues.” The new curriculum is scheduled to take effect August, 2012. Mexican-American Studies teachers claim their program already complied with these standards.