Diane Douglas, the new superintendent of public instruction for the state of Arizona, says that she supports the letter of noncompliance that her predecessor, John Huppenthal, sent to a Tucson district with regard to ethnically focused English and history courses, among other curricula-based complaints. Previously, Huppenthal had cited several examples of the school district’s curricula, including Rage Against the Machine songs and an essay by KRS-One, as violating a state law that prohibits teaching classes that “advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals,” among other legal complaints. Douglas said the school district has 60 days to correct its violations or face a 10 percent reduction in funding, as required by statute.
The new state superintendent met with Dr. H.T. Sanchez, superintendent of the Tucson Unified School District, on Wednesday and reported that both she and Dr. Sanchez want to work together on correcting the violations. She also released a statement to explain that the Arizona Department of Education is not opposed to ethnic studies. “If any child educated in Arizona is not exposed to the suffering, trials and triumphs of all ethnic groups who have contributed to our state’s rich cultural mix, then we are failing to teach accurate history,” she said.
The Arizona Department of Education said it was satisfied with and supports the Tucson district’s ethnic studies curricula, but it is unhappy with the way they are taught in the classroom. The deviations from the curricula, it has decided, are illegal.
The state’s Department of Education also addressed the music references Huppenthal singled out in his letter of noncompliance. While the notice “mentioned the hip hop music genre, it is certainly acceptable to include music and other arts when studying cultural and ethnic history and its impact and expression,” the Department said. The violation, it said, was in regard to the content of specific Rage Against the Machine lyrics in the song “Take the Power Back” and KRS-One’s essay “without providing multiple viewpoints.”
It goes on to say that the department should hold music used in ethnic studies courses to the same standards as music performed in school choirs and music courses. “This includes community standards for language, violence and sexual references to ensure they are appropriate for the age of the students receiving instruction,” it said.
Tucson superintendent Sanchez voiced support of the new schools chief in a press release. “I am pleased with the new opportunity to work together with Superintendent Douglas to resolve this issue,” he said, while also expressing gratitude to work on a new Latino Advisory Committee that Douglas has launched. “The offer to work hand-in-hand to make specific changes in classroom instruction to encourage critical thinking is certainly something I can support,” he said.
The ADE gave the school district 60 days to correct the violations with an eye toward making changes before the fall semester. “This is a serious situation,” Douglas said. “Under my oath of office I have to enforce the law and if no progress is made, the penalty will be imposed. This would have significant negative impacts on the TUSD budget. I was relieved to have such an open and cooperative discussion with Dr. Sanchez and believe if we can build on this first meeting, both ADE and TUSD can reach a mutually acceptable ethnic studies program that satisfies the requirements of [the law].”
Huppenthal’s notice claimed that the classes violated three out of four aspects of the cited law: classes that “promote the overthrow of the United States government,” “promote resentment toward a race or class of people” and “advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.”
“It’s definitely a somewhat strange and surreal thing to have a representative of the state government say what you’re doing is illegal and should be censored, especially when I haven’t done anything wrong,” teacher Andrew Walanski, whose English course was singled out for teaching KRS-One’s introduction to hip-hop, told Rolling Stone earlier this week. “I also thought the selection that was cherry-picked as being illegal because they think it ‘promotes ethnic solidarity’ was a little absurd.”
“Arizona’s becoming a more fascist state,” said teacher Corey Jones, whose history course, which includes Rage Against the Machine in its curriculum, was named. “When you’re banning and censoring material, for a state that proclaims local control, for a state that proclaims so much freedom – and yet in Phoenix you’re having one of the highest elected officials of the state comb through my curriculum and say, ‘This is illegal, you can’t teach that’ – the contradictions are glaring.”
Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello tweeted out Rolling Stone’s initial report on the controversy earlier this week and added, “Censor what you want in school, Arizona. Music teaches outside school and stokes fires you can’t put out.”