How will history be told

Cómo se contará la historia

Demonstrations can be journeys toward new horizons, even if they only exist temporarily in the mind. Peaceful demonstrations offer hope for the future; for the poor man, it is a visible proof of discontentedness, for the wealthy it may be an anomaly. The walkouts in Jefferson School District in Colorado are ironically something the district is trying to prevent, civil disorder. The school board experienced a rude awakening as the community protested against the tyranny of a minority. The school board may have budged; but not much.

To allow the school board to prevent an Advanced Placement History class to be re-shaped without the voices of the community strikes of “taxation without representation,” and totalitarian governance. As the ACLU stated in its letter to the board of education, “Telling schools that they cannot use materials that ‘encourage or condone civil disorder’ in addressing these and other historical events is tantamount to telling them to abandon the teaching of history…The First Amendment ‘protects the citizen against the State itself and all of its citizens—Board of Education not excepted.’” The ACLU cited a variety of legal opinions expressed on this matter. It also stated, “Failure to expose students to the ideas and instructional materials widely available to their peers around the country will unfairly disadvantage them in college and beyond.”

The issue may have opened up a hornet’s. It appears that violation of a Colorado State Law may be happening; one gets the impression that many school districts have not particularly followed Colorado SB 22-0-104, which states, “In addition, the history and civil government of the United State, which includes the history, culture and contributions of minorities, including but not limited to American Indians, Hispanic Americans, and the African Americans shall be taught in all the public schools of this state.” In other words, the law does not just apply to Advanced Placement tests.

Although this goes against the grain of community organizing principles, the group that seems to have exercised some restraint is the youth as they decided to refrain from school walkouts during count day—a time when dollars flow into the coffers of public education—a time when the sacred cow of economics prevails.

Historians who previously painted the 1960’s Chicano youth walkouts as perverse rascality will have to reconcile a time in the history of Colorado when white youth in communion with brown youth who account for 24% of the school’s student population in Jefferson School District stood on the curbs of streets sloganeering about an injustice. Historically, painted as villains, the young protagonists of the Chicano Movement were really heroes. If nothing else, young brown counterparts of the current movement may change this perception considerably.

A more recent phenomenon was the La Raza Studies Revolt in Tucson, Arizona. In this case youth and families demonstrated against a similar injustice. I doubt that an inquisition will take place or that books will be banned in Jefferson County such as what occurred in Arizona, but I could be wrong. Dr. Roberto Cintli Rodríguez, an assistant professor in the Mexican American & Raza Studies Department at the University of Arizona, who has researched this issue informs us that a culturally responsive curriculum under the auspices of Tucson’s Mexican American Studies (MAS) Program in six high schools that graduates “93% of its college bound students” at a time when the pushout rate has been as high as 50%, was shut down. Youth in Tucson struggled against the same repressive forces over a curriculum titled, “La Raza Studies,” where books were banned, teachers fired and youth that protested incarcerated.

Through the use of critical pedagogy, the La Raza Studies curriculum offered alternative historical perspectives of the Chicana/o experience. The antagonists of this curriculum ran to the state legislature and assisted in pushing anti Ethnic Studies legislation. According to Rodríguez, Arizona HB 2281 “intends to push out ‘out-of-compliance’ ethnic studies programs and under vague interpretations that label their educational content as ‘promoting resentment toward a class of people,’ and ‘promoting the overthrow of the U.S. government.’”

Some of Denver’s youth activists took a vicarious stance in support of the movement. The mission of their group stated, “We are a diverse collective standing together in solidarity with the students and educators in Tucson, Arizona in order to promote culturally relevant education and defend the community from racist attacks.” HB 2281, particularly because it singles out Mexican American Studies, rather than promote tolerance, friendship and understanding, has created a hostile climate of prejudice against the Mexican and Mexican American population throughout the state.”

There is a stage in white suburban Jefferson County being occupied as an intersection of youth and adults gather in unity to demonstrate dissatisfaction at the making of history. It has gotten a wakeup call to battle against the repressive forces of educational hegemony as the collective critical consciousness of youth and adults has coalesced into a force and voice to be reckoned with. Temporary transformation may take place; but one thing is for certain, things will never be the same. How this story will be told in the chronicles of Colorado history remains to be seen.

Dr. Ramón Del Castillo is an Independent Journalist © 10/6/14

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