Hi there,

If you think Democracy Now!’s reporting is a critical line of defense against war, climate catastrophe and authoritarianism, please make your donation of $10 or more right now. Today, a generous donor will DOUBLE your donation, which means it’ll go 2x as far to support our independent journalism. Democracy Now! is funded by you, and that’s why we’re counting on your donation to keep us going strong. Please give today. Every dollar makes a difference—in fact, gets doubled! Thank you so much.
-Amy Goodman

Non-commercial news needs your support.

We rely on contributions from you, our viewers and listeners to do our work. If you visit us daily or weekly or even just once a month, now is a great time to make your monthly contribution.

Please do your part today.


Debating Tucson School District’s Book Ban After Suspension of Mexican American Studies Program

Media Options

Public school officials in Tucson, Arizona, have released a list of seven books that can no longer be used in classrooms following their suspension of the district’s acclaimed Mexican American Studies program. Last year, Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal ruled the program violated a new state law, saying it “promote[s] resentment toward a race or class of people.” “If all you’re teaching these students is one viewpoint, one dimension, we can readily see that it’s not an accurate history, it’s not an education at all. It’s not teaching these kids to think critically,” Huppenthal says, “but instead it’s an indoctrination.” We host a debate between Huppenthal and Richard Martinez, the attorney representing teachers and students trying to save the Mexican American Studies program. “What has occurred here is that [Huppenthal] has taken away from our entire community a curriculum that was adopted by our school board, that was developed by our school district, and that had successfully operated for well over 10 years,” Martinez says. “It’s just part of the same kind of tactics that have been employed in Arizona reflected by [SB] 1070, the anti-immigrant perspective. It is the anti-Latino perspective that exists in this state.” [includes rush transcript]

Related Story

StoryNov 19, 2021Angela Davis: “Forces of White Supremacy” Are Behind Attacks on Teaching Critical Race Theory
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: School officials in Tucson, Arizona, have released a list of seven banned books that can no longer be used in classrooms after the suspension of the district’s acclaimed Mexican American Studies program. Officials told teachers to stay away from any books where, quote, “race, ethnicity and oppression are central themes.” The banned books include Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years, Shakespeare’s play The Tempest, Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire, and Chicano!: The History of the Mexican Civil Rights Movement.

Last month, Democracy Now! spoke to Dr. Rodolfo Acuña, author of one of the banned books, Occupied America: A History of Chicanos, considered the definitive introduction to Chicano history.

DR. RODOLFO ACUÑA: I called it Occupied America because it didn’t even refer to the United States. I say that when the Spaniards came and the Europeans came to the Americas, this was an occupation of the Americas. It was also the destruction of many cultures. Remember, the Mayan culture, the Aztec culture and many of the cultures were destroyed at that particular time, and there was an occupation. At that particular point, they lost the power of self-determination.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: That was Dr. Rodolfo Acuña.

Last week, the Tucson Unified School District voted to suspend its Mexican American Studies program under the threat of losing $14 million. The vote came after a ruling that the program violates a controversial state law prohibiting the teaching of any class designed for a particular ethnic group or that, quote, “promote[s] resentment toward a race or class of people.” The ruling went into effect after most of a lawsuit challenging it was dismissed.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, for more, we host a debate between two guests with very different views on the ethnic studies program. In Washington, D.C., we’re joined by John Huppenthal, the Arizona superintendent of public instruction who ruled last year that Tucson’s ethnic studies program violates state law. And in Tucson, Arizona, we’re joined by Richard Martinez, the attorney representing the Ethnic Studies/Mexican American Studies teachers and students. He’s joining us from the PBS affiliate KUAT.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Let’s begin with Superintendent Huppenthal. Can you explain why the Mexican America Studies program, why you have suspended it?

JOHN HUPPENTHAL: Well, I’ve been in the business of political leadership for 25 years. And when you have controversy, be it a zoning issue down on the corner, you get the community together, you review the issues at hand, and you bring the community back together. What you had here down in the Tucson Unified School District was basically a dysfunctional school board that had allowed a political faction to come into its campus, sort of take over these classes, and they weren’t exerting the control that a school board should have in resolving this conflict.

This is an education system. We have responsibility for these—for these children. You have to have curriculum that the community can come in and say, “What are these kids learning, week one, week, two, week three?” That type of thing, that kind of exercise, was never gone through here. And when we analyzed thousands of pages of lessons plans of what was actually taking place in these classes, it wasn’t something that people would tolerate, if they could see it out in the open air, not anybody who was liberal, not anybody who was conservative. This is outside of those kind of politics.

And so, what we are saying is, you have to go through a curriculum development process that has to be subject to the community, community review, community discussion. In no way, shape or form are we banning any kind of books or any kind of viewpoint from the classroom. But we are saying that if all you’re teaching these students is one viewpoint, one dimension, we can readily see that it’s not an accurate history, it’s not an education at all. It’s not teaching these kids to think critically, but instead it’s an indoctrination. And that’s what we could see replete through the thousands of pages. So we’re asking them to go through a healthy curriculum development process, subject to comprehensive community review and discussion, and to make sure that they are following good educational practices in general.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Superintendent Huppenthal, why do you say that no one, neither a liberal nor a conservative, would tolerate it? What’s the problem with the program? And you’ve also said that classes such as these foster ethnic resentment. Could you explain what you mean by that and how that manifests itself?

JOHN HUPPENTHAL: Well, the designers of the class—the classes themselves, they laid this all out in a journal article. And they explicitly said in the journal article that they were going to racemize—racemize the classes. And in racemizing the classes, there is a philosopher in South America, controversial philosopher, because—it’s strictly right in his books—he uses a Marxist structure to his thinking and his philosophy, that—and Marx, of course, said that the entire history of mankind was a struggle between the classes. So the designers of the Mexican American Studies classes explicitly say in their journal articles that they’re going to construct Mexican American Studies around this Marxian framework with a predominantly ethnic underclass, the oppressed, being—filling out that Marxian model and a predominantly Caucasian class filling out the role of the oppressor. It really is so simplistic, but it was replete through the entire article. And a lot of things, very unhealthy.

AMY GOODMAN: Superintendent Huppenthal, do you know who you’re—

JOHN HUPPENTHAL: I mean, if somebody looked at some of the lessons, they would say, “Wow! This is—this is really—you know, this isn’t really Mexican-American studies. This is really a political philosophy under the disguise of Mexican-American studies.”

AMY GOODMAN: Do you know who you’re referring to, the author you’re talking about, you’re characterizing?

JOHN HUPPENTHAL: The two designers of the Mexican American Studies in the Tucson Unified School District?

AMY GOODMAN: No, the person you’re talking about whose text is used, from Latin America.


AMY GOODMAN: Paulo Freire, who wrote the book, the Pedagogy of the Oppressed.

JOHN HUPPENTHAL: Yes, I’ve read his entire book, yes. I’ve read a number of his books to make sure that I had a deep understanding of what was going on in the classrooms.


JOHN HUPPENTHAL: I mean, he says, explicitly—he says, explicitly, in his book that his—literally, the Pedagogy of the Oppressed, that word “oppressed” is taken right out of—he says it right in the book—that word “oppressed” is taken right out of The Communist Manifesto, where he talks about—Karl Marx talks about the struggle of the history of man—the entire history of mankind being the struggle between the oppressed and the oppressors.

NERMEEN SHAIKH:I want to bring in Richard Martinez.

JOHN HUPPENTHAL: Much too simplistic of a framework.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Sorry, Superintendent Huppenthal, I want to bring in Richard Martinez. But before I do that, I just want to ask whether you think a comparable argument can be made about teaching particular aspects of European history, which I understand has not been suspended in this way.

JOHN HUPPENTHAL: Well, I think—I think—

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And since Marx was, of course, German.

JOHN HUPPENTHAL: I think we ought to have active discussions of all of history to make sure it’s accurate, to make sure that it properly reflects a variety of viewpoints. So, I don’t have any simplistic view of our historical narrative, but I want to make sure that these students don’t—aren’t being indoctrinated in such a way—you know, when you go back into history, there’s an enormous lack of civilization in history, enormous conflict between various ethnicities. It’s not just in America, it’s all the way back through history. And what we want to do is create a society in which everybody is working for a better tomorrow, not working to get even. And we know all the evil that came out of the Balkans in Eastern Europe. And so, we want to make sure that these students are educated and be able to be critical thinkers in a variety of viewpoints.

AMY GOODMAN: Richard Martinez is the attorney representing teachers and students in the Mexican American Studies program that Superintendent Huppenthal has suspended. Richard Martinez, your response?

RICHARD MARTINEZ: Well, you know, it’s—in a short response, let me just say this. You know, Superintendent Huppenthal stated he’s a politician, he’s not an educator. This is a man who stepped into the class once.

AMY GOODMAN: Ah, looks like we may have just lost Richard Martinez.

JOHN HUPPENTHAL: Well, let me—let me—

AMY GOODMAN: But he’s back. Go ahead, Mr. Martinez.

JOHN HUPPENTHAL: Let me—let me respond—let me respond to that. The—

AMY GOODMAN: Mr. Martinez is back on the line. Let’s let him make his point. Richard Martinez?

RICHARD MARTINEZ: OK. Can you hear me now?

AMY GOODMAN: Yes, we can.


AMY GOODMAN: OK, John Huppenthal, make your point. We have just lost Richard Martinez off the satellite. We’ll get him on the phone so we can make sure we have this discussion.

JOHN HUPPENTHAL: I was challenged to come into the classroom. And as he said, I did visit the classroom. And it was an enlightening experience, because it was consistent with the narrative that I just—I just talked about. When I come in the class, they have a poster of Che Guevara up on the wall. And I said, “Did you—do you all know that Che Guevara helped direct the Communist death camps in Cuba, that he—that under that regime, they put to death 14,000 dissidents, many of whom their only violation is what we would call free speech rights?” And while I was in the class, they characterized Benjamin Franklin as a racist.

The contradiction there, glorifying Che Guevara, who ran death camps in Cuba, and vilifying Benjamin Franklin as a racist—Benjamin Franklin was the president of the Abolitionist Society in Pennsylvania. It was under his direct influence that Pennsylvania became the first state to outlaw the slave trade. Benjamin Franklin, out of his own pocket, paid for the very first schools for African Americans in this country and perhaps in the whole world. So, you can characterize him as a racist. There’s some kind of historical record there because of the attitudes and beliefs at that time. But to characterize him as just that and not to talk about his whole record, not to talk about how he was actively working and planning for how we could get out of—out of the slave trade, how we could free African Americans, is to not do justice to history and to give these kids a distorted view of what America is all about.

This is a great country. You have lots of opportunities. Anyone, the odds are stacked against you. I grew up in South Tucson. So when I go down to Tucson Unified School District, I’m going home. And Marcelina Lucero taught me long division in third grade. Estella Peralta defeated me every week in the spelling bee. I know these kids are sharp kids, that they’re fully capable of being architects and doctors and, God forbid, lawyers, and you name it. And Tucson Unified School District, this, you know, ethnic studies controversy is just one aspect of their incompetence and their failure. They have—

AMY GOODMAN: Let me bring Richard Martinez back into this—

JOHN HUPPENTHAL: —thirty-two D-rated schools.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me bring Richard Martinez back into the discussion.


AMY GOODMAN: We have you suited up with a phone, as well as the satellite. Can you respond?

RICHARD MARTINEZ: Well, you know, Superintendent Huppenthal is vilifying the Mexican American Studies program with very broad strokes and a complete lack of specifics. As I said earlier, you know, he’s responding to politicians. He’s not an educator. This is a person who paid $110,000 to have professional educators come in and audit this program, the Cambium audit team, and found absolutely no violation of the statue. What Superintendent Huppenthal fails to acknowledge is, one, that he passed the bill as a state senator specifically aimed at ending the Mexican American Studies program in Tucson, Arizona. He also, as superintendent, ignored the Cambium audit, which he paid for and found no violation.

To this date, he can’t define any of the terms in HB 2281. He can’t tell us what it is a teacher does or says that violates the statute. A law requires that a teacher know what it is they say or do that would violate the statute. This statute is completely flawed. And what it represents, essentially, is a modern-day form of McCarthyism.

You know, he’s—we have a superintendent who has abolished the most successful program for Mexican-American students in the history of Tucson Unified School District, and I would match this program against any program throughout the state of Arizona. He has ignored the academic successes from this program. This program has closed the achievement gap for more students than any other program. It has graduated more students from high school at higher rates than any other program. And it has sent more students to college than any other program.

So Superintendent Huppenthal, essentially, what he’s engaged in is a right-wing agenda to end a program that allows Latino students to look critically at their situation, at their community, and at their state, and, you know, to look at the history of this country in terms of what has gone well, but those things that have also have gone very wrong. You know—

AMY GOODMAN: Richard Martinez, we’re going to break for a moment, then we’re going to come back to this discussion. Richard Martinez, an attorney representing teachers and students of the Mexican American Studies program that has just been suspended in Tucson, Arizona, by Superintendent John Huppenthal, who is also on the line with us, the Arizona superintendent of public instruction. We’ll come back to this discussion in just a moment.


AMY GOODMAN: Our guests are the superintendent of schools in Tucson, Arizona, John Huppenthal, as well as Richard Martinez. Superintendent Huppenthal has just suspended the Mexican American Studies program. Richard Martinez represents the students and teachers of that program.

Richard Martinez, you said studies indicate that the students do better, have a higher graduation rate out of the Mexican American Studies program. What evidence do you have of that? What studies have been done?

RICHARD MARTINEZ: Well, the program has been audited, and there has been statistical analysis done of the students who have attended the program over a 10-year history. And each year, we have found that when we compared the students who attended the classes to the Latino students who were not in Mexican American Studies and compared them to their cohorts, that the MAS students always did better. You know, that’s a consistent finding. And what we found, unlike any other program, the district’s own analysis, that of other professors from the University of Arizona, found that this program more effectively closed the achievement gap for Latino students in Tucson Unified School District than any other program that exists there. This is the only program that has had that success.

And Tucson Unified School District, in fact, the entire state of Arizona, has essentially a 50 percent dropout rate for Latino students. Mr. Huppenthal, while he’s been in public office, has overseen one of the most dismal educational systems for Latino students in the history of the country. You know, our students just don’t do well. And during his tenure, he has also been a promoter of vouchers that have allowed, essentially, charter schools to exist, which is essentially creating an entirely segregated public school system. In TUSD, Latinos are now 62 percent of the student body, and within five years will represent 70 percent of that student body. What we have to have is an educational system that understands and recognizes the need to educate successfully Latino students, to get them through high school, have them graduate, and have them go on to college. He has no program that addresses the needs of Latino students.

He is trying to impose upon Latino students extraordinary measures that no other group has to do. No one goes out to the community to have their curriculum approved. No one is subject to the white majority’s—as Mr. Huppenthal would suggest, that we have to have their approval for a curriculum that works. In fact, his ignoring of the Cambium audit report, which also confirmed all the statistical analysis about the success of this program, the success of the students, found that students who are not Latino who attended these classes not only enjoyed the same benefits of the classes, but that their viewpoints were extremely broadened. His suggestion—

JOHN HUPPENTHAL: Well, if we might, let’s take these issues—

RICHARD MARTINEZ: —that this is a narrow curriculum that limits Latinos—

JOHN HUPPENTHAL: Let’s take these issues one at a time. So—

RICHARD MARTINEZ: —to some kind of a racist-centered—ethnocentric perspective is just completely false. And in fact it is his ethnocentric perspective that has led to the demise of this program, at least for the moment.

AMY GOODMAN: Superintendent Huppenthal, your response?

JOHN HUPPENTHAL: Well, let’s take the issues one at a time. Let’s start with the Cambium audit. When we analyzed what went on in the Cambium audit, we realized that they allowed one of the creators of the Mexican American Studies to control the audit structure. And that’s—you know, anybody who’s familiar with auditing processes, that’s not—just not permissible. But even having said that, though, what happened with the audit was revealing. So, the founder of the Mexican Americans—the designer of the Mexican American Studies classes was able to control when the auditors went into the class and which classes they went into. And when we compared what happened when the auditors were present, looking, watching, observing, and we compare that with thousands of pages of lesson plans, you could see that the teachers themselves knew what was inappropriate. The inappropriate behavior disappeared when they were being observed. So, when you compare the lesson plans of actually delivered Mexican-American studies that was replete with inappropriate teacher behavior and compared with what was—what happened when they were being audited, there was a difference. But that’s what you would expect. People don’t do inappropriate things while they’re being watched. So, this was all carefully detailed. We had—when we went to the judge, this was all laid out, and the judge was able to fully take into account the audit circumstances.

The other issue has to do with the effectiveness of Mexican American Studies academically. And the claims of success, academic success, for Mexican American Studies were done by comparing an apple to an orange. When you very carefully compare graduation rates of seniors to seniors and cohort to cohort, the so-called academic advantages and benefits of Mexican American Studies disappeared. We could find no statistical difference between them and their peers.

But regardless of those issues, the suggestion that a school board shouldn’t be in control of its classes, that a principal shouldn’t be in control of their school, these things, we find to be intolerable. This education system has to be accountable to the community. It has to—the community has to be able to come forward and say, “What are you teaching our students in these classes?” And we have to be proud of what we’re teaching. That doesn’t mean that we rinse the controversy out of it. We can take on very controversial subjects, and we should have all vantage points, in particular the ones that the good lawyer is talking about. So, this is not talking about ethnocentricity. This is talking about healthy educational processes that allow students to think critically from many viewpoints, not be indoctrinated into a Paulo Freirean-Marxian kind of style of thinking about racial attitudes and creating hatred and creating an attitude of—really, that’s unhealthy in our educational system, and one that, if it was subject to community review, wouldn’t be allowed—

AMY GOODMAN: Richard Martinez?

JOHN HUPPENTHAL: —by regardless of where you are on the political spectrum.

AMY GOODMAN: Richard Martinez?

RICHARD MARTINEZ: Well, first of all, throughout this process, Mr. Huppenthal has never produced any statistical analysis which shows other than the success of the program. His own auditors confirmed those numbers. Number two, his suggestion that we controlled, or somehow in Tucson what the auditor saw was controlled or fixed, is just a false accusation.

More important, Mr. Huppenthal ignores that he cannot, nor has he ever defined, what it is that a teacher says or does that promotes resentment, is a curriculum designed primarily for students of a particular ethnic group, or that it advocates ethnic solidarity. Those are terms that he can’t define. In the absence of being able to define them for the average person to know, for the average educator to know, classroom teacher, to be able to understand what are the bright lines between what I can and cannot do, they have—they have a law that fundamentally is flawed. It’s an unconstitutional statute. It’s void for vagueness. And it’s something that is currently subject to the scrutiny of a federal judge. You know, that process will play itself out.

But in the meantime, what Mr. Huppenthal has done is placed over 800 students, who are in these classes and enjoying the benefits of these classes, from having any class at all. He has interfered with a number of high school students’ education in a manner that is just incomprehensible. He has come into Tucson from Phoenix as a state elected official and done a violence upon our community by imposing his personal will, by blackmailing this community with saying that “I will take away $14 million of your funding if you don’t cease these programs immediately,” because he was able to pass a law that gave him that authority. And that’s what’s being challenged.

And what has occurred here is that he has taken away from our entire community a curriculum that was adopted by our school board, that was developed by our school district, and that had successfully operated for well over 10 years. You know, he’s imposing his viewpoint as the one that must be accepted in Tucson, Arizona, and he calls us dysfunctional. What we have here is an abuse of power and an abuse of a viewpoint from a single person who represents a, you know, right-wing, Republican agenda in Arizona. And it’s just part of the same kind of tactics that have been employed in Arizona by—reflected by 1070, you know, the anti-immigrant perspective. It is, you know, the anti-Latino perspective that exists in this state. And they’re taking away the most successful program that has existed in the state of Arizona.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask Superintendent Huppenthal about the issue of the higher graduation rates of students coming out of the Mexican American Studies program.

JOHN HUPPENTHAL: Well, when you’re doing those kind of analysis, you have to be very careful to compare apples to apples, oranges to oranges, when you’re comparing cohorts. So, for example, when you’re comparing graduation rates, if you are looking at the effect of some program on seniors, you have to compare seniors to seniors. If you compare seniors to eighth graders, seniors naturally have huge graduation rates, eighth graders have much lower graduation rates. You—those kind of careful statistical cohort analysis, very careful—when we subjected Mexican American Studies to a very careful, rigorous analysis, the—we could not find any statistical significance to any claim of higher graduation rates.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask you—

JOHN HUPPENTHAL: But let’s just go to the issue—

AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask one other question, though.




AMY GOODMAN: Because we don’t have much time, but I wanted to ask you a question that might go to bigger issues, a broader agenda that you have laid out. Last fall, you aired a controversial radio ad that said you would stop La Raza. What does that mean?

JOHN HUPPENTHAL: Well, the—let’s talk about what I did when I got into office. First, my predecessor had made a determination about the classes. I set that aside. So they had—in the claim that the school board has adopted the Mexican American Studies curriculum is an incorrect claim. The Mexican—the school board has not done what it’s required to do. They need to adopt a curriculum for that class. And I am somebody who’s obsessed with local control. So I set aside my predecessor’s determination, and I gave them all that semester to get their house in order, to get their curriculum adopted, to get their lesson plans lined up—

AMY GOODMAN: But if you could just answer that question—

JOHN HUPPENTHAL: —be something that they were proud—

AMY GOODMAN: —because it goes to a more overarching issue, running a campaign ad that said you will stop La Raza. What does that mean?

JOHN HUPPENTHAL: Well, La Raza became symbolic for all of these classes and the problems with them, that we would get this controversy under control and resolve it. That’s with that—that’s what that claim means. La Raza was shorthand for all of the controversy associated with these classes.

AMY GOODMAN: And Richard Martinez, what does La Raza mean to you?

RICHARD MARTINEZ: La Raza means—is it’s used in—among Latinos or Spanish speakers, it just refers to the people. And it has that simple meaning.

JOHN HUPPENTHAL: Well, it literally is a word that means “the race.”

RICHARD MARTINEZ: Mr. Huppenthal racialized the term and ran an anti-Latino campaign to get himself elected to public office in this state. It was his first time attempting a statewide campaign. And he did the exact same thing that Tom Horne did, which is they decided to run on the anti-immigrant, the anti-Latino agenda and get themselves into office. And that’s exactly what he did.

He also makes reference to using statistics or that this was a controversy in Tucson. First of all, no one in Tucson was complaining about this curriculum. Number two, only Phoenix complained about it, and it was Republicans who complained about it. And their complaint about it was that students were looking at the way in which Latinos were being treated and thinking about it critically and asking fundamental questions. Was discrimination—

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Richard Martinez, sorry, we don’t have much time, and I just wanted to get you to try to explain why those seven books were selected, the books that have been banned from classrooms?

RICHARD MARTINEZ: Are you asking me?


RICHARD MARTINEZ: Or Mr. Huppenthal?

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Yes, Richard Martinez.

JOHN HUPPENTHAL: There was nothing—let me—let me—let me speak to that issue.

RICHARD MARTINEZ: The books—the books that have been banned actually are much broader than the seven.

JOHN HUPPENTHAL: There hasn’t been any—there hasn’t been any book banning that’s taken place.

RICHARD MARTINEZ: The seven that were identified by the school district list are those that are in the Kowal ALJ decision, because somehow he found them violating of the statute. We don’t know why, because he doesn’t tell us.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, let’s ask Superintendent John Huppenthal.

JOHN HUPPENTHAL: There’s—those books were not—there’s no—nothing about my order that requires that those books be banned at all. You know, I’ve read those books myself to familiarize myself with the issues at hand. But what we have concerns about are how those books are being used. You could use Mein Kampf in the classroom, but you’d have to be really careful, because you—if you found a teacher who wasn’t using it to explore the issues in Mein Kampf critically, but you were—they were using it as a Bible, boy, that would be intolerable. And that’s where the teachers have crossed over the line. They’ve gone from using these books critically, to get the students thinking about them from many vantage points, to using these books essentially as a Bible.

AMY GOODMAN: So, for example—

JOHN HUPPENTHAL: And that is where they cross over the line. That’s the bright line.

AMY GOODMAN: So, for example, Shakespeare’s—

RICHARD MARTINEZ: Well, you know, the bright line—

AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask you something. Just one second. For example, Shakespeare’s The Tempest, what is—


AMY GOODMAN: —your concern, Superintendent Huppenthal? Why has that book been packed away?

JOHN HUPPENTHAL: That was an irresponsible journalist who knew that he could say something false about something that happened. The Tempest hasn’t been banned or put on any list.

AMY GOODMAN: Or packed away.

RICHARD MARTINEZ: Well, excuse me, that’s just not true. The Tempest was told by—the teachers who teach Latino literature, that they could not use The Tempest. That was in a recorded conversation. And to say, again, that that’s, you know, an irresponsible journalist—

JOHN HUPPENTHAL: That was—that’s a false statement.

RICHARD MARTINEZ: —is a complete falsehood, Superintendent Huppenthal. You keep making accusations about facts that you just—that you know are not true. And in fact—

JOHN HUPPENTHAL: Let me assure you, we—nobody would ban The Tempest.

RICHARD MARTINEZ: And in fact, The Tempest —well, that’s what happened—

AMY GOODMAN: But let me ask you, Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years by Bill Bigelow, Chicano!: The History of the Mexican Civil Rights Movement by Arturo Rosales, Critical Race Theory

JOHN HUPPENTHAL: I have no—I have no problem with any of those books being in the classroom. Where you get—where you have a challenge, though, is if you’d bring a book like that in—again, we’ll go referencing back to Mein Kampf. If you’re going to bring Mein Kampf into the classroom, you’d better be really careful about how you use it, because there’s—the bright line is going from using it to teach a student to think critically about that vantage point to be having the student use it as a Bible and a creation of values. And that’s where we found replete in all of the lesson plans, over and over again, we found very inappropriate behavior by teachers, where they were crossing over the line—

AMY GOODMAN: So, a book like Occupied

JOHN HUPPENTHAL: —from thinking critically—

RICHARD MARTINEZ: [inaudible] a single—you know, this notion of inappropriate behavior by teachers, they can’t cite a single instance of that occurring. It’s not in Mr. Huppenthal’s finding. It’s not in the ALJ’s finding. And in fact, Mr. Huppenthal can—today cannot identify a single teacher, on a single date, in a single classroom, who acted inappropriately. They’ve never done it, and he could not do it today.


AMY GOODMAN: We’ll end with Superintendent Huppenthal giving us an example of inappropriate behavior on the part of a teacher.

JOHN HUPPENTHAL: Well, I mean, right—right while—

RICHARD MARTINEZ: Just a name of a teacher, the date and the words used.

JOHN HUPPENTHAL: Right while—right while I was in the class, the characterization of Benjamin Franklin as a racist, without giving any other kind of viewpoint of him, and simultaneously, while you have Che Guevara putting—you have Che Guevara putting people to death for expressing First Amendment rights—

RICHARD MARTINEZ: So, your concern is that there’s a poster of Che Guevara.

JOHN HUPPENTHAL: —while you have Benjamin Franklin, who, perhaps more than any other founding father, created the First Amendment.

RICHARD MARTINEZ: Do you know how—so—so—

JOHN HUPPENTHAL: I mean, for them to have that—

RICHARD MARTINEZ: So your only example—

JOHN HUPPENTHAL: —for them to walk out there, thinking that Che Guevara is a hero and Benjamin Franklin is a racist, it’s a distortion of history.

RICHARD MARTINEZ: So your only example is that if there is a poster up of Che Guevara, because he was not discussed in the class that you attended, you took offense to the poster. But you would not take offense to the poster of any figure—Adolf Hitler—any other figure, historical figure, who is in the classroom. And yet—and yet—

JOHN HUPPENTHAL: Oh, I would take offense if Adolf Hitler was a poster up in a classroom.

RICHARD MARTINEZ: And yet—hold on a minute. Hold on again. Hold on again, Mr. Huppenthal.

JOHN HUPPENTHAL: I’d want to know right away how they were being talked about.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to have to end this in 30 seconds.

RICHARD MARTINEZ: You know, because Che Guevara wasn’t talked about. So the only thing you can point to is you don’t like the reference to Benjamin Franklin, who was a slaveholder. The reference was made to the fact that he was a slaveholder and the contradictions that that presented. It’s the same—

JOHN HUPPENTHAL: There’s no problem with that, no problem with making that reference at all.

RICHARD MARTINEZ: It’s the same—it’s the same—the same contradiction that exists in the Constitution at its inception, that, you know, we don’t treat African Americans as full citizens. They don’t count. They can’t vote. It’s the same kind of problem that exists with what happens with the right for suffrage for women. You know, our history has been that from inequality, we have struggled to find equality, and that that struggle is taught in Mexican American Studies is not a bad thing. In fact, it’s a very good thing.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to have to leave it there. Richard Martinez, we thank you so much for being with us, attorney representing teachers and students of the Mexican American Studies association, and Tucson Superintendent of Instruction John Huppenthal, joining us from Washington, D.C. He’s Arizona superintendent of public instruction. He ruled that the Tucson ethnic studies program violates state law and has suspended it as of this date. This is Democracy Now! We’ll certainly continue to follow this controversy as it travels through the courts. But when we come back, we’re going to look at the war in Afghanistan. Please stay with us.

The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to democracynow.org. Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.

Next story from this daily show

“The Operators”: Michael Hastings on the Inside Story of America’s War in Afghanistan

Non-commercial news needs your support

We rely on contributions from our viewers and listeners to do our work.
Please do your part today.
Make a donation