Mexican American Studies Lives On

Curtis Acosta

If you have seen the remarkable film Precious Knowledge, about the Mexican American Studies (MAS) program in Tucson, you’ll remember Curtis Acosta, the caring and charismatic high school language arts teacher. Despite its well-documented accomplishments and success in reaching historically marginalized students, Arizona politicians set out to destroy Tucson’s MAS program—through House Bill 2281, which singled out this program, and then through a decree from Arizona’s superintendent of public instruction, which ruled Tucson’s program out of compliance with state law.

Rethinking Columbus banned

Rethinking Schools was drawn into the controversy when Tucson Unified School District banned and confiscated our book, Rethinking Columbus, which was one of seven core texts used in the MAS program. We published several blog posts and articles (here and here) on the struggle in Tucson, including two by Curtis Acosta.

Here we publish an open letter from Acosta, announcing his departure from Tucson High Magnet School and describing his new plans to continue his career as a mentor to young people and defender of public education.

By the way, Curtis Acosta will be leading workshops at this summer’s Free Minds, Free People conference in Chicago, and will keynote the Northwest Teaching for Social Justice conference this Oct. 19 in Seattle, co-sponsored by Rethinking Schools.

  – Bill Bigelow
Curriculum Editor

Dear supporters, colleagues, and friends,

Last Thursday my career at Tucson High Magnet School came to an end. It was never supposed to be this way. I always believed that I would leave with a fully gray head of hair and thicker lens than those currently in my black frames. I imagined that there would be a legacy of former students who would take my place and would take our levels of success even further. Instead, I took down each poster and photo from my room with a deep sense of loss and the words of Langston Hughes’ “A Dream Deferred” in my mind. It was as if I was participating in self-ethnic cleansing. (A wonderful side note to this story is that Bob Diaz, a librarian at the University of Arizona, has decided to create an archive of our classroom so that it can live on forever. Have I mentioned lately how much I love librarians?)

However, the reality is that the room and the power of the space were lost far before the pictures came off the walls. This moment was fated as soon as Tucson Unified School District eliminated our highly successful Mexican American Studies program, banning my colleagues and me from our own curriculum and pedagogy, as well as boxing up books. Yet, I would like to thank my students, compañer@s, parents, and the local and national voices that supported us through these difficult years in building up my resiliency and resolve to stand up and never to submit to acts of educational malpractice.

Thus, I am happy to inform you all that a brighter day lies ahead. Yesterday, I held a local press conference announcing that through a partnership with Prescott College, Mexican American Studies lives on through Chican@ Literature, Art & Social Studies (CLASS) where high school youth will receive free college credit. This is a class that was born from the injustices performed upon our students in Tucson and my indignation toward political opportunists using our students, literature, and history to create a wedge issue founded in hate for their own selfish means.

CLASS had a successful first year as a collection of 10 amazing youth, who sacrificed their Sunday afternoons throughout the entire year to rigorously study, analyze, and read the world together. It was a thirst of justice and knowledge that fueled them and they will soon be sharing their voice with the world at Free Minds, Free People in Chicago—a national education conference centered upon education for liberation and youth empowerment. However, our youth need financial help to attend, and although I am using the stipend from Prescott College to pay for part of the trip, it is still not enough. We would be humbled by any and all support and you can follow us now on Facebook and donate here.

Along with CLASS expanding and continuing next fall, I am happy to announce that I have founded the Acosta Latino Learning Partnership, an educational consulting firm that will continue the work that we started in Tucson throughout the nation. It is my vision to help teachers, schools, and educational organizations empower youth to find their own voice and academic identity through culturally responsive and engaging academic experiences.

I look forward to this next chapter of my career as I continue to be an advocate for public schools. After all, we know public education works. We’ve seen it be successful time and again, and as teachers we are honored to be the guides and mentors of beautiful young people who will forge a better nation and world. By following the inspirational leadership of the powerful teachers, students, and parents in Seattle and Chicago, this devious trajectory to destroy public education will end. One day soon we will stop the obsession of measuring our children and teachers with corporate driven instruments aimed at eliminating all of the creative joy from public education. And this is why our work here in Tucson must continue, we must never comply with unjust laws and policies that dehumanize and degrade our children.

Let all the reformers be warned that we are aware of why you want to discredit our profession and the heights that we reach with our students every year. We are more than a budding marketplace or real estate to redevelop, and we will not rest until our children are treated with more love and respect than the banks and corporations of this country. Trust teachers to work with their students, parents, and communities as true partners; support us with resources that our children deserve, and then watch the magic of learning take root and grow.

I want to thank you all for your support through the years and truly believe that great victories lie ahead for communities of color, our students and public schools throughout our nation.

In Lak Ech (Tú eres mi otro yo / You are my other me),

Curtis Acosta
Chican@ Literature Teacher
Tucson, AZ

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