by Pamela Powers Hannley
The state of news in Southern Arizona is fractured. Tucson's former flagship newspaper, the Arizona Daily Star, was loping along like a dinosaur trying to outrun an asteroid– until the owners fired dozens of writers and other staff last summer. Now a collection of wire stories and full-page ads, this dinosaur of the print era is barely viable.
Pesky blog sites like this one report the news while the newspaper is in typesetting. Still, a handful of beat reporters file regular stories, and the editorial page occasionally includes an opinion piece not written by an out-of-town pundit.
One of those beat reporters, the Star's Alexis Huicochea covers education– including the story too tough to die– the ongoing tug of war known as the Mexican American Studies Program (MAS). Along side, Huicochea's many articles in the Star are hundreds of blog posts by the Three Sonorans (pro-MAS), the Arizona Daily Independent (anti-MAS), and many others, including two Blog for Arizona bloggers– Dave Safier and me.
There are so many voices shouting and writing their opinions on MAS that to be truly informed, one must read multiple versions of the same story– with a critical eye– to understand the whole picture.
The saga continues after the jump.
Understanding the Players
There are many stakholders in the MAS saga. I picture Huicochea's office having a giant bulletin board with photos, names, and strings connecting the players and showing the multiple levels of relationships of the stakeholders in this struggle:
- the MAS teachers and administrators;
- the MAS lawyers, publicists, and fundraisers;
- the TUSD school board members;
- multiple TUSD superintendents and hapless administrators who have overseen the program;
- the bloggers who serve the Kool-Aid to MAS supporters and deniers;
- Chicano nationalists from the 1960-70s;
- Mexican American elected officials;
- Mexican American Studies Department at The University of Arizona;
- the MAS Advisory Board (which at has included members from groups 6,7,8 above);
- the authors whose books were used in the classes and the cadre of national MAS academics who gave workshops at the annual summer Transformative Institute;
- UNIDOS and other MAS alumni;
- right-wingers in the Arizona state government;
- candidates for TUSD school board;
- and, lest I forget, the students, parents, taxpayers, and voters of TUSD.
Applying Critical Thinking to MAS News
MAS proponents claim that the program taught critical thinking skills. I challenge the Tucson community to use critical thinking skills when seeking news about MAS and when reading blog posts, Facebook screeds, and newspaper stories. Often news stories are not balanced or complete– even Huicochea's. (I'm not picking on her. She's got editors and space limitations.)
For example, in recent weeks, MAS supporters– bolstered by out-of-state protesters– shut down a TUSD board meeting (again) with chanting and clapping and stormed out of the room. In Huicochea's story, there was no mention of the protest; she covered the business that got done after MAS left the building. In the Three Sonorans' version of the evening, there was a glorious protest showing national solidarity for MAS and the TUSD board was crippled by the protesters; there was no mention of what business transpired after the protesters cleared the room.
Coverage of the whole "book ban" fiasco and related protests at TUSD board members' homes also reveals different versions of the same events.
TUSD board member (and racist devil, according to MAS) Mark Stegeman offered a resolution to bring the seven books that were removed from the classrooms last spring back to classrooms, making them available to teachers and Auggie Romero, who is in charge of multicultural curriculum development. The TUSD board never voted on the books; back in January 2012, they voted 4-1 (with Adelita Grijalva being the only dissenter) to shut down the MAS program rather than be fined $15 million by the state for non-compliance with the law. School staff removed the books from the classrooms and put them in storage and later in TUSD libraries. This ham-handed move by staff was blown out of proportion and led to national, runaway bad press about the "book ban" and resulted in multiple publicity stunts.
Ironically, Stegeman's resolution to bring back the books was squashed when Adelita Grijalva (the strongest MAS status quo board member) spoke against bringing the books back. In other words, she joined anti-MAS board member Michael Hicks and board President Michael Cuevas who were also against making the books available in the classrooms. (Excuse me, but WTF?) I agree with the Arizona Daily Star editorial on this one, the books should be available for teachers and the new program director.
Let's put on our critical thinking caps now, why would Adelita Grijalva speak against bringing back the books? Why did MAS supporters protest Stegeman in front of his house after he made a move in favor of bringing back the texts– the "banned books" that MAS supporters have made media hay over for months? Politics.
MAS supporters say Stegeman (who is up for re-election) was playing election year politics and went back on his vote to ban the books. Maybe Stegeman was playing politics, but he didn't go back on his word (as the protesters claim) because the board never voted on the books. Also, when Adelita Grijalva spoke against bringing back the books, she, too, was playing politics. She was mimicking the behavior of Congressional Repulbicans: don't vote for anything that will make Stegeman (or Obama, in the case of Republicans) look good. It doesn't matter if the vote is good for the students, the parents, the school district, or the taxpayers. She went back on her word. Is Adelita Grijalva trying to tie the hands of the new multicultural curriculum director Romero before he even starts rebuilding the revised curriculum? Now the books that were touted as so valuable are not available to him or other teachers (except through the library).
KGUN Calls Out the Three Sonorans
On the home invasion protests [sarcasm alert], as part of the MAS Freedom Summer events, supporters protested in front of Stegeman's house; six or seven of them "pounded" on Hicks' door and scared his wife to the extent that she called the cops; and a group visited the house of Cuevas (who, according to the Three Sonorans Facebook page, called him and said his grandparents were afraid of the protesters). The home-based protests are an intimidation tactic to shut dissenting board members up and make them think twice about disagreeing with MAS stallwarts; in my opinion, they're inappropriate.
Apparently, I'm not the only one who thinks this way because MAS supporters on Facebook are now claiming that the MAS group didn't "pound" on Hicks' door; they were merely canvasing the neighborhood and "politely knocked" on a random door that happened to belong to the most vocal anti-MAS board member. The bravado that the Three Sonorans displayed in this interview with KGUN was a sound clip taken out of context, according to back-pedaling blogger D.A. Morales. (Critical thinking cap on: bullsh*t detected.)
Three cheers to KGUN News Director Forrest Carr for calling out Morales for making false statements about the KGUN interview. Carr wrote to Morales and insisted that Morales post the full text of his letter on his Facebook page. [Excerpt below. Full text jpgs of the Carr-Morales letter at the end of this article.]
…That statement is completely false from top to bottom. Your [Morales'] suggestion that KGUN9 is endorsing violence agains you and your followers would have been inappropriate and irresponsible even if you had presented it as obvious hyperbole or satire, which you did not do…
As noted, the MAS issue has been an extremely emotional one for all concerned. You and your supporters have chose lately to ramp up that emotion– which, of course, is your right. We make no judgements about it, other than our finding that your tactic is newsworthy. That is why we chose to do a follow-up story. But I submit to you that your attempt to stir up the passions of your supporters and direct their ire to KGUN9 News by falsely claiming that KGUN9 News things that shooting them would be just fine is reckless, irresponsible and probably immoral. It does nothing to help inform or guide our community in dealing with this very difficult topic through the democratic process, or to help move toward any kind of solution. In fact, by deliverately undermining trust in the media, your false statement works directly to undemine that democratic process.
I don't see your your action serve [sic] the public interest. Nor do I see how it serves your followers. I would suggest that they– as well as the public at large– expect you to base your opinions and your leadership on the actual facts. They do not expect you to make up facts designed to fit your opinions and position, or to stirp up distrust and even hatred through the use of falsehoods…[Emphasis added.]
Where does that leave us? Sort of where I started this post. The news is fractured, and some of the "news" is really spin and not news.
Different versions of the same events abound on the Internet. Below is a short list of recent TUSD stories published by multiple news outlets and bloggers. Use your critical thinking skills when you read. You can have your own opinion but not your own set of facts.
Forrest Carr's whole letter to D.A. Morales. (Sorry about the repeated text at the screen breaks. This thing is really long!)