Why Mexican American Studies should not be a series of electives

by David Safier

I wrote yesterday the fix may be in to make the Mexican American Studies program into a series of elective courses rather than courses which fulfill core graduation requirements in history and English. My sources say Superintendent John Pedicone, who has taken a neutral stance on the elective issue in public, has three votes lined up on the TUSD School Board and may be pushing for the change behind the scenes.

Let me explain why I think making the courses into electives is a terrible idea. But first, it's important to understand what the change would mean.

Right now, students can opt to take one or two history courses in the MAS program starting their junior year which will satisfy their junior and/or senior history requirements. They can do the same thing with two English courses offered by MAS.

In an op ed, TUSD Board President Mark Stegeman proposed the MAS courses be turned into electives rather than courses fulfilling core credit requirements. If his recommendation were put into effect, all high school students would basically take the same two history and English courses their junior and senior years. If any of them wanted to take the MAS courses, they would take them as electives on top of the required courses. In other words, instead of taking, say, art or shop or band or choir, they would take MAS courses.

Here's why I think making MAS courses into electives would negate their most positive effects on the students who most need the program and very possibly sound the death knell for the program.

Imagine yourself back in high school. Imagine you're either a student who doesn't like school at all, or you're someone who maybe likes it a bit but isn't wildly enthusiastic about it.

Now, imagine you're faced with this decision: if you want to take an MAS history course, that means you'll be taking two history courses that year. Twice the reading, twice the writing, twice the studying, twice the test taking. If you want to take an MAS English course, you'll have to read twice as many novels, write twice as many papers, etc.

How many students who already don't much like history and English — or who just don't want to double their academic workloads — will elect to take the Mexican American Studies history and English classes on top of the ones they're required to take? Be realistic, folks. The answer is, not many. And yet those are the students who get the biggest boost from the courses. They're the ones who are turned on by their reading and the study of history and their essay assignments in those classes. They're the ones who understand, maybe for the first time, that schooling can be relevant to who they are, that it can actually be interesting, even exciting. They may not finish high school, or attend college, without the extra push those classes and the teachers give them. They are the main reason the program is in existence. But if MAS becomes an elective program, most of those students won't participate.

The only students who will take MAS as electives will be those enthused enough about the curriculum that they're willing to double up on their book-heavy academic coursework. I doubt that will be enough to keep the program going.

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