No Such Thing as Too Much Truth: Saving Ethnic Studies
Saturday, 28 April 2012
By Genesis Lara,
Truthout | Film Review
"Tu eres mi otro yo / You are my
Other me" - Luis Valdez, "The Other Me"
Cesar Chavez. Paulo Freire. Karl Marx. Howard Zinn. Are
these authors socialists and communists and, if so,
does this mean that they should not be taught to
American high school students? Should students be
taught that the founding fathers such as Benjamin
Franklin were racist? Is there such a thing as too much
truth? Curtis Acosta and Jose Gonzalez, la raza program
teachers in Tuscon, Arizona, who are profiled in the
film "Precious Knowledge" believe that there is no such
thing as too much truth. As teachers, their goal has
been to empower their students with as much truth as
possible. To these teachers, knowledge is power, and
their goal as educators is to empower their students
with the knowledge to conquer the world. It is this
transfer of knowledge and power that is at the heart of
the battle to save the ethnic studies program in the
Tuscan Unified School District. It is a struggle that
has been beautifully captured in the powerful and
evocative documentary "Precious Knowledge."
It is the fight to eliminate Arizona legislation
banning ethnic studies programs in Arizona which
"Precious Knowledge" captures on film. The film,
directed by Ari Luis Palos, was released through Dos
Vatos Productions, a company that, from its origins,
has dedicated itself to the defense of civil rights
movements. And just as the film captured the
collaboration of the individuals who are struggling to
save the ethnic studies program, the film itself was
supported by grants from Independent Television Service
(ITVS), Arizona Public Media, Latino Public
Broadcasting and the Corporation for Public
Since 2006, then-Arizona State Superintendent of
Schools Tom Horne has personally overseen the crusade
to end ethnic studies in Arizona. His efforts were
eventually successful when, on December 31, 2010, HB
2281 was signed into law by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer.
The law states its intentions to eliminate
"out-of-compliance" ethnic studies programs which are
supposedly "promoting the overthrow of the US
Horne stated that the ethnic studies program is not
necessary. As proof, he said that he himself came from
humble origins and that, through hard work, he achieved
the American dream. But what is the American dream? And
if such a dream does exist, is it attainable for all?
The students of the ethnic studies program are
perfectly aware that the concept of "equality for all"
- which is necessary to achieve the so-called American
dream - is not in effect. The students in this
documentary are aware of the fact that they live in a
low-income area with less than picture-perfect lives.
However, what they most spoke of was the sense of
disinterest they felt from superiors in school: a
palpable kind of apathy. Those feelings changed once
those students entered the ethnic studies program.
Politicians such as Horne, now Arizona's attorney
general, and the current Superintendent of Schools John
Huppenthal say that teaching students about Freire and
Chavez causes students to hate the United States and
ignite revolution, but Horne and Huppenthal are missing
entire message. What Acosta teaches his students is
that their lives now do not have to be their lives in
the future. Gonzalez teaches his students that they are
worthy of loving themselves and of loving others, as
well. These teachers create an environment where
students feel free to ask the hard questions in life.
They not only identify the problems in American
society, but also create solutions for these problems.
As student Mariah Harvey said to an Arizona commission
attempting to ban the program, ethnic studies teaches
students to love and embrace America, flaws and all.
These students do love America; the documentary clearly
The students want to find solutions for problems in
this country. When their program was attacked,
students, teachers and members of the community
mobilized. These students have protested in a variety
of creative ways. They organized a 100-mile community
run from from Tucson to Phoenix, staged sit-ins and
invited public officials to visit their classes - which
Horne, to this day, has not done. Basically, they
fought, as American citizens are taught to do, for what
they believed in. The students are still fighting
because they saw a wrong that needs to be fixed. This
comradeship of students, teachers and community was
created through a passion for knowledge and a love of
community and country.
"Precious Knowledge" demonstrates that the high-school
dropout rate among Latinos is over 50 percent. The
teachers in the ethnic studies program have managed to
significantly reduce that appalling statistic.
The film also profiles la raza studies graduates who
become the first members of their families to
matriculate to college. These students were spurred to
greater academic ambitions because they were inspired
by teachers who instilled a sense of pride and
belonging among their students. Acosta and Gonzalez
tell their students that they, as individuals, are
important in a society that has consistently ignored
them. Detractors of the ethnic studies program state
that teaching students about past oppression is wrong,
that it will instill treasonous thoughts in students'
minds. This could not be further from the truth.
Learning the histories of the Chicano movement as well
as biographies of outstanding individuals such as
W.E.B. Du Bois and Malcolm X empowers students. These
narratives remind students - regardless of their racial
and ethnic backgrounds - that they come from a long
line of heroes who have fought to improve an imperfect
nation. It lets students know that their ancestors have
a history that is deeply embedded in the land of
America, and, as such, they are entitled to all of its
benefits. "Precious Knowledge" is not just a
documentary about protest and lawmakers; it is a film
about the human spirit - the eternal strength and
beauty of the human spirit.
This is a poem by Luis Valdez, which Curtis Acosta and
Jose Gonzalez had their students recite every day
before class. It was an integral part of the la raza
curriculum, and now it has been banned by the Tuscon
Unified School District.
The Other Me
Tu eres mi otro yo
You are my other me
Si te hago dano a ti
If I do harm to you
Me hago dano a mi
I do harm to myself
Si te amo y te respeto
If I love and respect you
Me amo y me respeto yo
I love and respect myself
This article is a Truthout original.
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