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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Column: Huppenthal — still a jerk

In hindsight, it was naive to think that John Huppenthal would leave office gracefully. After all, grandstanding and controversy largely characterized his single term as Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction. Instead of improving public education, Huppenthal appears to have spent his time posting bigoted comments on social media under pseudonyms.

So, really, it should not have been surprising when Huppenthal used his last days in office to renew his crusade against Tucson Unified School District’s ethnic studies program. His final act as superintendent underscores the destructive, self-serving agenda that Huppenthal began promoting shortly after he was elected in 2010.

But before tearing into Huppenthal, remember that the meritless attacks on TUSD’s ethnic studies program actually began with Huppenthal’s equally incompetent predecessor, Tom Horne. In 2010, Horne was the main proponent of HB 2281, a law banning classes that “promote the overthrow of the U.S. government, resentment toward any race or class, or ethnic solidarity.” The law directly targeted TUSD’s Mexican American Studies classes, none of which Horne ever actually observed. 

Meanwhile, as Horne was championing legislation that blatantly promoted white solidarity, Huppenthal was campaigning under the clever slogan, “Stop La Raza.”

Literally translated? Stop the race. 

And he wasn’t referring to a NASCAR race. 

Urban Dictionary, while perhaps not a credible source for a research paper, offers a definition of “la raza” that echoes Huppenthal’s intended meaning: “This word is used mainly by the Mexican or Hispanic people who live in the United States … often in conjunction with the concept of unity.”

The campaign slogan, therefore, roughly translates to “stop the Mexicans.”

Incredibly, Huppenthal won on this platform. Then, in 2011, he threatened to withhold 10 percent of TUSD’s state funding if it did not restructure its ethnic studies program, which he claimed violated HB 2281. Judge Lewis D. Kowal upheld Huppenthal’s action, despite a Department of Education-sponsored study that revealed no violations.

In response to Huppenthal’s threat, the TUSD school board voted to cut the program because it could not afford a reduction in its already insufficient state funding. It removed several textbooks from its Mexican American studies classrooms to comply with the law.
But, as demonstrated on Jan. 2, even book banning wasn’t enough for Huppenthal.

Unsatisfied with TUSD’s response, Huppenthal used his final day in office to inform TUSD’s superintendent that the program still did not comply with HB 2281. This time, Huppenthal did not simply go after Mexican American Studies, citing an African American Studies class as an additional violator.

Huppenthal’s successor, Diane Douglas, has decided to carry on the campaign against TUSD, announcing last week that she agrees with Huppenthal’s assessment of the program.

All this theater puts TUSD between a rock and a hard place, given that it originally adopted the ethnic studies program to comply with a 1974 federal desegregation order. In 2007, as part of a settlement deal, the desegregation order was lifted with the condition that ethnic studies would continue. If TUSD eliminates the program entirely, it could violate the settlement. At the very least, Huppenthal’s decision to target Mexican American and African American Studies constitutes a publicity stunt that only serves to detract from real issues plaguing Arizona’s public education system, like lack of funding. At worst, it is an attack on the right to free speech. By effectively censoring certain materials from TUSD’s classrooms, Huppenthal is imposing a “master narrative” of history upon students — a narrative told from white, Western viewpoints. 

“You’re not supposed to teach reality because they consider that teaching resentment,” said Mexican American Studies professor Roberto Rodriguez. “You’re supposed to sugarcoat history. There is nothing wrong with knowledge. You don’t have agree with the knowledge, but to teach it, to learn it — there’s nothing wrong with that.”

Classes like Cholla High Magnet School’s English From a Culturally Relevant African American Perspective do not “promote the overthrow of the government” or “promote ethnic solidarity.” They expose students to cultures that are overlooked by the “master narrative,” thus offering a picture of the world as it really is, not as John Huppenthal wants it to be.


Elizabeth Hannah is a biochemistry sophomore. Follow her on Twitter.

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