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Tucson's MAS Program Eliminated PDF Print E-mail
Written by Andres Chavez & Alex Garcia Contributing Writers   
Thursday, 16 August 2012 07:02

Educators Still Fighting to Return Program to its Original Roots


(l to r) Professor Dr. Rudy Acuna talks with educator Sean Arce and Professor Roberto Rodriguez.

A new school year has begun in Tucson, AZ, but without the highly successful Mexican American Studies (MAS) program. Proponents of the program maintain MAS was a victim of too much success and a vendetta lead by Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne, with the man who succeeded him as state Superintendent of Public Instruction, John Huppenthal, who campaigned in 2010 on the promise to "stop La Raza."

What had been an academic department teaching history, literature and other subjects in Tucson Unified School District schools is now a program offering tutoring and other services, but no curriculum at all. "Our schools are failing our students," said Sean Arce, former Director of the MAS program, who was dismissed when the MAS Department was destroyed.

"We created a cultural-wealth model. Now it's a service-based model that sees students as a Mexican problem. It's definitely a step backward. Time and time again it's been demonstrated that type of approach has not worked," said Arce, who was in Los Angeles on Friday, Aug. 10, to take part in the "4 Generations: Son Mexicano in California" performance at the Ford Theatre.

MAS had been under constant attack for over two years. When he was state superintendent, Horne claimed the program advocated the overthrow of the United States government and promoted resentment toward a class of people, which MAS officials denied.

The program had an almost 100 percent graduation rate and more than 80 percent of the graduates went on to college. Superintendent Huppenthal paid for an outside, and expensive, educational consultant to evaluate MAS. Much to Huppenthal's dismay, the outside consultant did not support any of the allegations. Instead it praised MAS as a high successful educational program.

Undeterred, Horne crafted HB 2281 with the specific purpose of banning MAS, a measure that does not affect similar programs directed at African American and Native Americans studies. It was approved by the Arizona legislation in 2010. The state of Arizona then threatened to eliminate $15 million from TUSD's budget if it didn't dissolve MAS. The board caved in to the state's demands. Arce, and other educators, were either let go or are now teaching regular classes.

Although he was offered an administrative position, Arce was warned by sources in TUSD that he would be under "extraordinary" scrutiny.

"I wasn't willing to subject myself to that 'extraordinary scrutiny' since no other administrator in the district was subject to that," Arce said. "I told my superintendent that it just wasn't going to be doable. He brought it up to the governing board and they fired me on a 3-2 vote." The former MAS director added the board would have to approve him for the position he was being offered. He said he knew that three members of the board wanted to fire him, so he felt that he probably wouldn't have gotten the position under any circumstances.

He added that the teachers who stayed are under "high surveillance." "I know for a fact they're being closely watched," Arce said, adding some educators have even been prevented from teaching about the Aztec Calendar. One teacher was forced to remove the calendar from her classroom.

TUSD officials have removed all of the artwork and cultural items from the classrooms, and also banned over 80 books, including William Shakespeare's "The Tempest," and such wellknown Chicano literature as "House on Mango Street" by Sandra Cisneros; "Bless Me, Ultima" by Rudolfo Anaya; and one of the cornerstones of Chicano Studies, "Occupied America: A History of Chicanos" by California State University Northridge Professor Rodolfo Acuña.

"We know that politics rather than sound education policy and practice are at play here. The politics of Arizona is one of extreme anti-Mexican sentiment," Arce said.

Arce has struggled to support his family with no steady job. He has been able to get consulting jobs at various school districts and universities throughout the country. "For the time being, that's going to have to sustain us until I get something more consistent," he said.

He puts his hope in the federal lawsuit to restore MAS. In April, the plaintiffs requested a summary judgment finding the law unconstitutional. Quietly optimistic, they are waiting for ruling. But Arce faces another, more personal, legal problem.

John Ward, A former TUSD teacher, is suing Arce and another teacher, José Gonzalez, for defamation of character. Ward went on to become an aid to state Attorney General, and bitter foe of MAS, Tom Horne.

"It's a further attack. Not only did they want to dismantle the program, but they wanted to come after us professionally and personally," Arce said.

For more information, go to The blog contains daily updates on the federal case and a link to the defense fund website.