Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Arizona Students Confront Candidates on Ethnic Studies Ban

Students confront candidates on ethnic studies

By Paul Teitelbaum
Tucson, Ariz.
Published Aug 19, 2010 8:10 PM

Candidates for the post of Arizona state superintendent of schools faced a packed auditorium at a local high school during a public forum on Aug. 12. The superintendent of schools position has taken on special importance here with the draconian cuts to the education budget and a vicious attack on ethnic studies.

It was the current superintendent, Tom Horne, who launched the attack on Tucson’s Ethnic Studies Program in 2006 that resulted in the passing of racist law HB2281, which outlaws ethnic studies in Arizona. Horne is now campaigning to be Arizona’s attorney general, a step many see as a precursor to a gubernatorial bid.

Among the five candidates vying to replace Horne is state Sen. John Huppenthal, a rabid, anti-immigrant racist and supporter of Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Huppenthal collaborated with state Sen. Russell Pearce to push through legislation like SB1070, which attacks immigrant workers, and HB2281. He consistently voted for cuts to public education and for expansion of privately run charter schools. Huppenthal’s move to fill Horne’s position presents a continuing danger to Arizona students, especially students of color.

The front rows of the auditorium were filled with students and alumni of Tucson’s ethnic studies program, who had come to defend their program and counter the lies they knew these candidates would be spewing.

When the forum began, the moderator stated that no one would be allowed to speak except the candidates; all questions must be submitted in advance and would be read by the moderator with each candidate given an opportunity to answer.

Although angry with this format, ethnic studies students submitted dozens of questions and waited for the forum moderator to ask their questions.

After 90 minutes of superfluous posturing by candidates, a vague question about ethnic studies was read that elicited vague responses from three of the candidates. Margaret Dugan, Horne’s assistant superintendent of schools, defended the closing of ethnic studies, citing some need for students to “assimilate.” Huppenthal proceeded to slander the program, talking about classes that separate students by ethnicity and teach students to hate.

Having been denied the right to speak and having heard enough of Huppenthal’s lies, a group of students yelling, “Freedom of speech!” and “Hands off ethnic studies!” forced their way into the auditorium with two large banners that read, “Money for Education, Not Border Militarization!” and “Defend Ethnic Studies! No to HB2281!”

Although there was a brief skirmish as some attendees tried to keep the banners out, this was a public forum and these protesters had the right to be there. This militant action brought a quick end to the racist lies sputtered by Huppenthal.

The students and banners remained in the auditorium. The meeting was called to a close and many people stayed around to talk with the students and other protesters about the attacks on ethnic studies and the education budget.

The local media, in their brief coverage of the action, referred to the students as disrespectful hooligans. But last year, when the Tea Party bigots burst in on Town Hall meetings on health care, they were characterized as “patriots.”

On this same day, Congress presented the Obama administration with a $600-million “border security” appropriations package, HR6080. President Barack Obama signed the bill the following morning. This money, which should be allocated for education, will be used to further militarize the Arizona-Mexico border.
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