Award-Winning Mexican American Studies Director Fired Amid Protests
After being called “one of the most influential educators in the 20th century” by the Zinn Education Project, Sean Arce, director of the Tucson Unified School District’s banned Mexican American Studies (MAS) program, was fired.
On April 2, Arce was named the recipient of the 2012 Myles Horton Education Award for Teaching People’s History, an award given to honor “those who promote democracy through education by ensuring that students have the knowledge and skills to be informed and active participants in their communities, country, and the world,” says the Zinn Education Project website.
The website sings the praises of TUSD’s MAS program, as well as Arce. “Tucson’s Mexican American Studies program gets it absolutely right: Ground the curriculum in students’ lives, teach about what matters in the world, respect students as intellectuals, and help students imagine themselves as promoters of justice,” explains Zinn Education Project co-director Bill Bigelow on the site.
And he’s not the only one. A group of educators, writers and policy makers offered remarks about the TUSD program and Arce, including U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva, who said: “The Mexican American Studies program in TUSD has been a resounding academic success and affirmation of the diversity of our nation and our community. Sean Arce, as a teacher and as director of MAS, has been key to the success of the program and to the very necessary ongoing effort to save it. He has helped lead the program to a standard of excellence that we all continue to admire, and he will help lead it back to that same standard when these politically motivated attacks on students and education are just a bad memory.”
But the award and high praise didn’t help Arce on April 10 when the TUSD board voted 3-2 against renewing his contract, which expires at the end of June. According to the Huffington Post, more than 100 protesters filled the meeting and used the extended public comment period to defend the MAS program and Arce’s job.
After the vote someone in the crowd of protesters set off a smoke bomb and, according to the Huffington Post, some screamed at board members, “You should be ashamed!” “Race traitor!” and “You're gonna regret it, bro!” Protesters then tied themselves together with plastic zip ties and chanted, “No justice, no peace, no racist TUSD!”
Arce told ColorLines.com in an April 27 interview that he wasn’t surprised by the board’s decision. He also said that he believes that “Native American Studies, African American studies, Pan Asian studies are essential. They’re great for our students. Yet there’s a clear disparate treatment, a clear violation of the equal protection of our students when you allow other classes to continue, yet you eliminate our classes.”
And he has been defending the MAS program since it was banned at TUSD January 10. “For Latino students this class acts as a mirror. When students see themselves in the curriculum, as reinforced through the research we find that it’s a validation of who they are as a people,” Arce told KGUN-TV 9 in May 2010. “It’s a validation of their historical and contemporary contributions to the United States”
KGUN-TV 9 story on Sean Arce being ousted:
KGUN-TV 9 story about protests at board meeting:
Protesters were also upset over an April 2 segment on "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" in which TUSD board member Michael Hicks appeared. See some of his comments and the reactions to them in the videos below.
See The Daily Show video here.
Hicks Recall Effort:
KGUN-TV 9 Story on The Daily Show: