Tag Archives: K-12

3rd Centavo: Acuna ~ How History is Socially Controlled in K-12

Setting Standards:  Serfs and Lords

by Rodolfo F. Acuña

People ask me if the banning of books is actually a blessing in disguise because it calls attention to the banned books. I respond, “Hell No!” Censorship threatens our freedom of speech, and it is the final step toward a totalitarian state.

In the guise of security, our emails and our phones are tapped. Anyone using a Wi-Fi can be spied on at will. What is happening today pales George Orwell’s 1984; it is as insidious as the methods used by the Nazis, the Stasi and the Russians.

The fallout of the banning of books affects all of us. In the future, it will negatively affect the publication of Latino books. What makes it so dangerous is that most of us are oblivious to this threat to our liberties. We are like the serfs in the Middle-Ages who were willing surrender their freedoms and their properties to the feudal lords in return for protection.

The first fatality of censorship is the truth. In the case of the censorship of books by the Tucson Unified School District, it was not just the books that were banned, it is also what will be published in the future. The banning of books did not affect the sales of Occupied America or the other banned books – the banning certainly did not hurt Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

The big losers are the new authors. Mexican Americans and Latinos do not have a defined market share to start off. Now they scared publishers to take a chance. As it stands, publishers look at us as foreigners and find excuses not to print books on U.S. Latinos.

The banning in Arizona will have a chilling effect on less established Chicana/o children book authors whose previous books showed promise, but will now have to wait and see which way the wind blows.

This hits close to home — been there before.

My first works were children and young adult books. They were accepted by publishers because there was a slight opening. They saw an emerging market for them in California and Texas. In the latter sixties, California’s social studies standards wrote Mexican Americans into its guidelines; this represented a huge breakthrough.

California purchased all the books for its school districts so even as supplemental reading material, there was a niche.

The other market was Texas. Publishers could have cared less whether Nebraska expressed an interest in Chicana/o K-12 children’s books. Publishers cared and care more about profit than need.

I had planned to write a children’s book every other year. At the time, I was inspired by the children’s books of Nephtali De Leon and Ernesto Galarza that went beyond entertainment.

At first the Texas Education Agency was enthusiastic about the books. However, things quickly changed. The first was a teacher backlash such as when San Joaquin Valley teachers threw Cultures in Conflict into the waste basket and refused to teach it.

Meanwhile, my activism was making waves, and Chicanos in the TEA told me that they were getting complaints about me from various districts. I was told in confidence that Texas would not be buying my books; this was confirmed by the American Book Co. and Charter Books both of whom had planned to publish more books on Mexican Americans.

These were not isolated cases. The truth be told, thought control exists throughout American education. It is subtle, and is much less transparent than the banning of books.

In Tucson, the books were removed from the classrooms in full view of students and teachers. The only thing that was missing was the Inquisitor’s bonfire. Also, most districts are not as stupid as Tucson and outlaw Shakespeare.

In California and the rest of the country commissions are appointed by the state boards of education to determine what can be taught at K-12 grade levels. The commissions are comprised of small groups of educators – generally white. Their actions are followed closely by special interest groups who want their version of the Apostles’ Creed taught in the schools.

Standards seem innocuous. Indeed, the word standard seems progressive, and we think of it as some kind of measurement. The mindset is that standards are necessary to furthered safety. They are necessary to improve our lives.

But the word is not as innocent as it seems. Today, the setting of standards in education has reached ridiculous proportions. It dictates what students can and cannot learn. Who is and who is not important to know about. In every sense of the word it amounts to censorship.

Without the knowledge of most people, the fight over standards has become part of the nation’s culture wars.

The problem is not so much with setting benchmarks in math and science – that is, unless they become muddied by the teaching of creationism. The major battlefields are in the field history–social science where right wing conservative groups focus their attacks.

Even liberals such as the late historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. often join the nativist ranks. Schlesinger in the 1990s wrote The Disuniting of America: Reflections on a Multicultural Society that attacked multiculturalism and Afrocentrism. His position was so jingoistic that Henry Louis Gates, Jr., a professor of English and Afro-American studies at Harvard, called Schlesinger’s arguments a “demand [for a] cultural white-face.”

Schlesinger and his gaggle of supporters wanted U.S. standards to focus more on what the United States has done right than wrong on topics such as slavery and the treatment of Native Americans.

According to Schlesinger, the American identity was in jeopardy because multiculturalism and Afrocentricism placed race and ethnicity over national affiliation. Identity politics, according to Schlesinger, promoted separatist ideas of history.

Today, well-funded right wing foundations such as the National Association of Scholars have openly entered the culture wars. Their tactics are to purchase right wing scholars and fund their research.

In reality, Schlesinger’s position was not out of character. In an editorial in the New York Times Barry Gwen, “The C.I.A. and the Culture War,” wrote that Schlesinger’s early career was funded by the agency. The practice was part of the Cold War strategy.

In recent years Texas has been in the eye of the storm. Its fifteen member board of education is intent on promoting a curriculum that cultivates a suspicion of the notion of the separation of church, and indoctrinates students on the alleged contributions of the National Rifle Association to American history.

Texas is important because it in 2011 it had 4.8 million textbook-reading schoolchildren. The board that selects standards, selects what the children read. Special interests control the board because of a light turn out of voters and because of the contributions of wealthy donors that elect culture warriors.

This is not new. Since the 1960s, the selection of schoolbooks in Texas has been the target of the religious right.

Why do publishers tolerate these standards and demands to censor books? They are in it for the money. The State of Texas pays for the textbooks and the loss of this market could be a financial disaster.

In Arizona and Texas, the Mexican has replaced the communist as the boogeyman.

Witness the idiocy of Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne who justifies the censorship of books and the attack on Mexican American Studies by making absurd accusations that MAS promotes separatism and intends to reconquer Aztlán.

In conclusion, the banning of books or allowing right wing extremist to tell us what students should learn or not learn is thought control. It is undemocratic and we should fight back.

Rodolfo Acuña, Ph.D., is an historian, professor emeritus, and one of various scholars of Chicano studies, which he teaches at California State University, Northridge. He is the author of Occupied America: A History of ChicanosDr. Acuña writes various opinions and essays on his Facebook page and allows sites to share his thoughts.

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Texas Senate Passes Their Budget

With only two Democrats voting against the Texas Senate’s budget, the budget conversation continues, with the Texas House deciding on their budget in the near future. A conference committee will even out things between both budgets after all is said is done.

There’s been mixed reaction on the Dem side of things. Earlier in the day, I read a teacher’s union letter asking folks to call their respective senators to tell them to vote no. Although there is a slight increase in the budget for K-12 and higher education, it doesn’t come close to replacing what was cut two years ago. And, apparently, Annie’s List supports the Senators who voted no, Fort Worth’s Wendy Davis and Houston’s Sylvia R. Garcia.

Among other things, the proposed budget:

  • Under-funds public education by $3.9 billion

  • Funds public education at the lowest levels per student in two legislative sessions

  • Fails to include $310 million that would guarantee $7.7 billion in federal funds for Medicaid

  • Leaves money sitting untouched in Rick Perry’s pet project, the Rainy Day Fund

Other Democrats have released statements to back up their support of the SB 1, including one of my favorites, El Paso’s Jose Rodriguez:

Senate Bill 1 is an improvement from the last budget cycle. It contains items that are important for Senate District 29, such as tuition revenue bonds for UTEP and Texas Tech, as well as items that positively impact the state as a whole. This budget increases Medicaid reimbursement rates to pre-2011 levels, and overall spending on mental health services and graduate medical education. These funding increases will help increase access to care in a state with highest uninsured rate in the nation.

Nonetheless, this budget neither fully restores the cuts from 2011 nor adequately funds for population growth and inflation. For example, El Paso schools will only gain about a quarter back from what they lost in 2011. It also doesn’t expand Medicaid, which is fiscally irresponsible.

The good news is that we are still in the beginning stages of the budget process, and there will be several opportunities to fund these priorities as the session continues. I will continue to work to advance the ball on education and to find a solution to the Medicaid expansion stalemate.

Rodriguez pointed to alternative ways to fill those other voids, as did State Senator Leticia Van de Putte.

Senate Bill 1 is not a perfect budget, but I voted in favor of it because it at least moves our state in the right direction. As the legislative session progresses, I will be looking for other opportunities to restore funding that was cut in the previous session.

So, there you have it. As far as I’m concerned, I’m caught in between both sides of the “moving forward” and “just plain no” sides of this as I like that higher education has gotten a lot more than I would have expected after losing a billion dollars two years ago.

Let’s see where the less cooperative Texas House lands on this.

UPDATE:  ProgressTexas joins in on supporting 2 Senators who voted NO on budget.

Thankfully, two of our strongest Senators listened to your calls, stood up for what is right, and demanded we fight for the best possible future for Texas.

Help us thank Senators Wendy Davis and Sylvia Garcia for voting against this draft of the budget and showing they believe we should invest in the future of our state. We hope you will show your support for Senators Davis and Garcia today by calling them in their office or going to social media to show your support:

Wendy Davis - call her office to say thanks at (512) 463-0110

Sylvia Garcia - call her office to say thanks at (512) 463-0106

Kuff has a whole bunch more, including Senator Wendy Davis’ statement.

Judge Rules Texas Education Finance System Unconstitutional

Judge Dietz in Austin has ruled that the Texas school finance system is neither efficient nor constitutional. Of course, the Republican Attorney General Abbott is expected to appeal to the Texas Supreme Court.

Dietz ruled that the state had not provided adequate resources to lift students to the state’s new high standards.

“We either want increased standards and are willing to pay the price or we don’t,” Dietz said.

He also found that wide disparities had emerged school districts between school districts that are considered property poor and their wealthier peers. And he said the Legislature had effectively imposed a statewide property tax in violation of the Texas Constitution.

For the first time, charter schools joined in the school finance litigation and argued that the lack of state funding for classrooms and other school facilities is unconstitutional as is the current cap limiting the number of new charter operators. Dietz said the the Legislature has discretion over both of those issues and thus did not violate the constitution.

Here’s some reaction:

Sylvia R. Garcia, Democrat for State Senate District 6:  “I’m happy that Judge Dietz recognized in his ruling today that our public schools have been drastically underfunded, but this fight isn’t over. It’s important that we have people in the Texas Legislature standing up for public schools and our children and families, and that’s why I’m running for Texas Senate.”

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Mayor Parker Launches Parental Involvement Campaign

“Is My Child Ready?” was launched this week by the Mayor’s Office of Education Initiatives. The program’s work is to engage parents so that they may get more involved in their children’s education.

The campaign coincides with the release of students’ STAAR test results by area school districts scheduled for this spring.  The STAAR exams are part of the state’s new standardized academic accountability system.  The campaign will target “hard to reach” parents to encourage them to ask their schools key questions about their children’s performance on the STAAR test.

The commitment I liked most was this.

The campaign will promote parents’ long-term involvement in their children’s education with an emphasis on post-secondary readiness.  Currently, more than half of Texas freshmen in two-year colleges and nearly a fourth in four-year schools require remedial courses.  Deficient academic preparation also leads to low rates of college completion.

While Texas legislators are seeking ways of blaming college advising and student services offices as a means of cutting their budgets, it is good to see Mayor Parker promoting a solution, rather than some punitive measure, like I expect the Lege to do. It seems she knows one of the roots of the problem, so, hopefully, the Lege will follow suit and commit to these types of programs, too.

And it’s bilingual, too.

The multi-media campaign will deliver messages in various formats, including billboards, signage on METRO buses, electronic communications via SMS texts, emails and campaign websites and posters at libraries, multi-service centers and schools throughout the Houston region.  Public information sessions for parents will also be held.

TEXT “READY” or “LISTO” to 91011
The campaign invites parents to text “READY” to 91011 or visit www.ismychildready.org for key facts and specific questions to ask schools about their children’s STAAR test scores.  Spanish-speaking parents can text “LISTO” to 91011 or visit the campaign’s Spanish language website www.estalistomihijo.org.

“We want parents to talk with teachers and counselors and become informed on what they can do every day to help their children do well in the classroom,” said Mark Cueva, Mayor’s Office of Education Initiatives division manager.  “Asking questions about a student’s performance on the STAAR test and what parents can do to help that child do better is a good starting point.”

For full information about the campaign, visit www.ismychildready.org.

Way to go, Mayor! Every bit counts in this effort! Perhaps partnering with local higher education institutions is a good next step?

Spread the Word: Back to School Fest on Saturday

This event information comes to you from…

It’s time for Back to School!

Come out and join us as we celebrate the new school year with a

Back to School Fest

Saturday, August 6, 2011

8:00am – 12:00pm

FREE ADMISSION

George R. Brown Convention Center

backtoschoolfest@houstonisd.org

FREE

*School Supplies * HISD Educational Zone * City and Community Resources*

* Uniforms * Back-to-School Immunizations * Health Screenings * Kid Fun Zone * Entertainment *

* Prizes and Fun for the Family *

Available while supplies last

Shot Record required for Immunizations

Proof of HISD Enrollment : Student ID or Last Report Card