[News] Worse Off Today Than in the Sixties - Who Gives a Damn?

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Wed Feb 1 13:03:58 EST 2012


February 01, 2012

Worse Off Today Than in the Sixties


Who Gives a Damn?

by RODOLFO F. ACUÑA

Teresa Wiltz in America’s Wire writes that 
despite claims of increased educational 
opportunities for minorities that the performance 
of black and Latino teenagers remains the same or 
lower than 30 years ago.  In fact, the math and 
reading performance of black and Latino high 
school seniors equal that of 13-year-old white 
students – so much for the post racial society.

Educators and liberal politicos point the finger 
at low expectations, inequality of resources, 
less qualified teachers, the income inequality, 
teacher bias, and inexperienced teachers. They 
throw in the tracking of black and brown students 
into remedial class while whites are put into university bound classes.

Further, minority students are more likely to be 
given “A’s” for work that would receive a “C” in 
a rich school giving the illusion that they are 
being educated.  Society would not tolerate this 
record in a football team at any level, or for 
that matter if we had fewer weapons of mass destruction than 30 years ago.

However, in my view, the major reason for the 
lack of progress of Mexican American and other 
minorities is society’s historical amnesia or 
more aptly its Alzheimer disorder that erases the 
memory of previous efforts or commitments to 
bridge the gap between black, brown and white – rich and poor.

The truth be told, educators pay less attention 
today to Mexican Americans than it did 50 years 
ago. In the sixties educators and reporters at 
least talked about it.  The late Los Angeles 
Times’ columnist Ruben Salazar attacked the 
dropout problem and the failure of the schools to 
devise a relevant curriculum, as well as the 
failure to recruit and train effective Mexican American teachers.

In February 1963, Salazar began a series on 
Mexican American education. He titled his first 
article, “What Causes Jose’s Trouble in School?: 
Mexican-Americans Problems Analyzed.”  Salazar begins,

Kicked out of school, Jose Mendez at 16 has been 
trapped in a peculiar twilight zone of American 
life. They tested him, graded him and pigeonholed 
him
say some educators, the fault may lie in the 
tests and the teachers –not in Jose. Educational 
policy and curriculum are oriented towards the 
education of the middle-class, monolingual, 
monocultural English-speaking student 
 [Jose] is 
at a great disadvantage
[he] is a hyphenated 
American, a Mexican-American 
 he is culturally confused.

Salazar interviewed educators, Drs. George I. 
Sánchez, Paul Sheldon, Julian Samora and high 
school teacher Marcos de Leon on why José was 
dropping out of school. They attributed the 
dropout problem to the Mexican American’s 
inferiority complex, which has intensified his marginalization.

Salazar blamed the schools for the Mexican 
Americans failure. Schools nurtured a negative 
self-image, which was reinforced by the movies 
and literature, and failed to correct the 
stereotyping of poor Mexicans.  It was a vicious 
cycle: the schools did think Mexicans could not 
learn, students developed a low esteem, they failed and dropped out.

The experts advocated bilingual-bicultural 
education, and initially there was a consensus 
for these programs, from President Lyndon B. 
Johnson to Republican St. Ronald Reagan. Yet, the 
Greek Chorus gained traction and labeled the 
programs separatist, un-American and racist. This 
nativist movement allied itself with right wing 
thinks tanks and foundations, and by the 
beginning of the 21st century, bilingual ed died a violent death.

By and large educators were mute as bilingual 
programs were wiped out and university based 
teacher training programs specializing on Mexican 
Americans were eliminated. At teacher training 
institutions grade point average was favored over 
knowledge of the child’s background. Although 
Latinos comprised 75 percent of the Los Angeles 
Unified School District, student teachers were 
given minimal preparation on how to teach Latino students.

The dropout was one of the major reasons for the 
development of Chicano Studies in 1969. A 
solution was sought for the high dropout problem 
that was overexposing Latino students to a life 
of poverty and not incidentally to the Vietnam 
draft. One of my first books Cultures in 
Conflict: Case Studies of the Mexican American 
was written for fifth graders. The purpose was to 
build a positive image in order to facilitate the 
acquisition of skills. These skills would prepare 
students to enter which ever field they wanted.

The importance of self-image is common sense. I 
remember looking for engineering computer lab 
with my future wife at UCLA in the 1980s.  We 
asked several students if they knew where the 
computer lab was.  They all gave us blank looks. 
Finally, we asked a Latino student who told us to 
ask an Asian.  We did and she told us where it 
was. Talking to Asian fiends they told me that 
they exceled in math because the teachers expected them to.

Looking back at my own life, I was fortunate that 
I ended up in a Jesuit high school where I had to 
take four years of Latin. My relatives would 
notice my Latin book on the table, would ask my 
mother who it belonged to, and they would remark 
that Rudy must be smart.  In contrast, in the 
first grade, before I knew English, I was pushed 
out of public school as mentally retarded.

When I became smart, that is adhered to their 
rules, anytime a Mexican student would act up, 
other teachers would ask me why? When I told 
them, they generally did not like the answer. 
They thought I was flip when I said that my 
solution for the marginalization of Mexicans was 
to rewrite the bible and substitute the word 
Mexican for Israeli. In a couple of decades, 
Mexicans would start looking at themselves as the “chosen people.”

This identity has helped Jews survive and endure 
over 2,000 years of persecution.  In my view it comes down to self-image.

This was the premise of the Tucson Unified School 
District’s program.  It was the repairing the 
damage done by marginalization – of being written 
out of history.  The thinking was that learning 
history, literature and the arts though their 
viewpoint would repair the image of the greaser, 
the loser and the numerous other stereotypes.

 From the beginning, the xenophobes tried to send 
the Mexican American Studies program down the 
same path as bilingual education. It was 
unpatriotic to learn any language other than 
English, it was un-American to learn history other than the American way.

The reasoning ignored the past; it was as if the 
debates of the sixties and seventies never 
occurred. They disregarded pedagogical principles 
that even St. Ronald accepted.

One of the books banned in Tucson was Paulo 
Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed.  It was based 
on a highly successful literacy campaign 
conducted in Brazil. The xenophobes’ main 
argument is that Freire was a Marxist, which is 
ridiculous since the pedagogy goes back to 
Socrates. With that aside, would we cast aside a 
cure for cancer because the researcher was a Marxist?

The Cambium Learning Corp’s Curriculum Audit of 
the Tucson Mexican American Studies Department 
which was commissioned by Arizona Superintendent 
of Schools John Huppenthal and cost the $177,000 concluded,

No observable evidence exists that instruction 
within Mexican American Studies Department 
promotes resentment towards a race or class of 
people. The auditors observed the opposite, as 
students are taught to be accepting of multiple 
ethnicities of people. MASD teachers are teaching 
Cesar Chavez alongside Martin Luther King, Jr. 
and Gandhi, all as peaceful protesters who 
sacrificed for people and ideas they believed in. 
Additionally, all ethnicities are welcomed into 
the program and these very students of multiple 
backgrounds are being inspired and taught in the 
same manner as Mexican American students. All 
evidence points to peace as the essence for 
program teachings. Resentment does not exist in 
the context of these courses, observable evidence 
exists that instruction within Mexican American 
Studies Department promotes resentment towards a 
race or class of people 
 No evidence as seen by 
the auditors exists to indicate that instruction 
within Mexican American Studies Department 
program classes advocates ethnic solidarity; 
rather it has been proven to treat student as individuals

There has not been any credible proof to refute 
claims that the program has improved chances of 
graduation, improved the students’ self-images, 
and motivated them to pursue a higher education.

A society that has historical dementia or 
Alzheimers cannot correct the defects of the 
present just like it cannot correct racism, sexism or homophobia.

Stupidity and fanaticism led to the destruction 
of the most transformative movements in Latin 
American, Liberation Theology. The forces of 
reaction in order to protect the large landowners 
redbaited Liberation Theology and substituted a 
reactionary evangelical Christian movement that 
promised that their reward would come in the next world. So it is in Arizona.

With the destruction of Mexican American Studies 
and the banning of the books, Mexican Americans 
are being put in their place. Vicariously, they 
are burning the infidels. The difference is that 
students are fighting back!  They are reading 
books and will remember that anybody can learn. It is their right.

RODOLFO ACUÑA, a professor emeritus at California 
State University Northridge, has published 20 
books and over 200 public and scholarly articles. 
He is the founding chair of the first Chicano 
Studies Dept which today offers 166 sections per 
semester in Chicano Studies. His history book 
Occupied America has been banned in Arizona. In 
solidarity with Mexican Americans in Tucson, he 
has organized fundraisers and support groups to 
ground zero and written over two dozen articles 
exposing efforts there to nullify the U.S. Constitution.




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