MAS: Use critical thinking skills when reading the news


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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:

  1. the MAS teachers and administrators;
  2. the MAS lawyers, publicists, and fundraisers;
  3. the TUSD school board members;
  4. multiple TUSD superintendents and hapless administrators who have overseen the program;
  5. the bloggers who serve the Kool-Aid to MAS supporters and deniers;
  6. Chicano nationalists from the 1960-70s;
  7. Mexican American elected officials;
  8. Mexican American Studies Department at The University of Arizona;
  9. the MAS Advisory Board (which at has included members from groups 6,7,8 above);
  10. 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;
  11. UNIDOS and other MAS alumni;
  12. right-wingers in the Arizona state government;
  13. candidates for TUSD school board;
  14. 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.

Effort fails; ethnic-study texts won't be back in Tucson Unified classrooms

TUSD MAS books will not be restored

Students protest after TUSD administrator changes tune on MAS books

Knock, knock! Protestors go to TUSD boardmember's home. Wife calls police

Mexican American Studies supporter admits to terrorizing family

Mexican American Studies supporters off-base on plan to return texts

TUSD board sees array of cuts, closures to fix $17M shortfall

Colbert Takes On Texas GOP's War On Critical Thinking In Schools (VIDEO)

Forrest Carr's whole letter to D.A. Morales. (Sorry about the repeated text at the screen breaks. This thing is really long!)













  1. In regards to the Freedom Summer protests at Stegeman’s and Cuevas’s houses, isn’t that precisely the sort of thuggish behavior that Pima County Democratic Party Chairman Jeffrey Rogers advocates when he demands that Stegeman be tarred and feathered and rode out of town on a rail?

  2. I used the example of “The House On Mango Street” as just one of many books that MAS teachers are prohibited from using. TUSD’s order that they must not use any books, materials or curriculum that they previously used in MAS classes means that MAS teachers Curtis Acosta and Yolanda Sotelo cannot use ANY of the books on the long list of books that they previously used. My point is that Stegeman’s resolution was meaningless because: (1) none of the seven banned books will be used in conjunction with the curriculum that was designed to use them and (2) none of the other banned books and materials will be brought back either. TUSD has disgraced itself by these actions.

    With regard to Augie Romero’s efforts to develop a new multicultural curriculum, first, do not mistake a watered down curriculum with MAS. He is NOT rebuilding the MAS curriculum and please DO NOT say that he is. Second, the multi-cultural curriculum is now part of the deseg case and is protected by federal law. Romero’s efforts are totally unaffected by Stegeman’s meaningless resolution. If Stegeman and his colleagues had sought the federal court’s protection for the court-mandated MAS program, it, too, would have had the same protection. (Last January they did not go to the federal court because they were afraid that the judge would protect MAS and Stegeman wanted to kill it.) Bottom line, Stegeman’s resolution would have accomplished nothing. That is why the community objected to the fact that the board member who killed MAS tried to make it look like he wanted to allow the books back in the classroom. As Adelita said, it was “the height of hypocrisy.”

  3. OK… got the org chart wrong. Auggie Romero is writing the new multicultural curriculum; I updated the article. I had heard he was asked to do that but couldn’t find any confirmation that he actually took the job. I mistakenly assumed he would report to Maria Figueroa but no. All of this still kinda makes me wonder what all of those people at 1010 do.

    BTW, the book you refer to is not on the list of books that were removed from the classroom and put into libraries district-wide. Since this is misquoted so often, here is the list of the 7 books.

    Occupied America: A History of Chicanos – Rodolfo Acuña

    Rethinking Columbus: The next 500 Years – Bill Bigelow

    Critical Race Theory – Richard Delgado

    Pedagogy of the Oppressed – Paulo Freire

    Message to AZTLAN – Rodolfo Gonzales

    500 Years of Chicano History in Pictures – Elizabeth Martinez (ed.)

    Chicano! The History of the Mexican Civil Rights Movement – Arturo Rosales

  4. Your post is misleading in many ways. Regarding the banned books, Supt. Huppenthal declared that “given the viewpoints expressed in certain excerpts from materials used in the MAS program,…there is no way to use the materials without being in violation of the law.” The books are illegal. Even worse, “given the viewpoints expressed” means the ideas are illegal.

    You misrepresented the role of Ms. Figueroa in the new Mexican Student Services Department. See today’s Daily Star article. She will not be “rebuilding the curriculum.” The new department will exclusively focus on “second tier” services, such as tutoring and mentoring. “First tier” services, not provided by the new department, would encompass classroom curriculum. So the books are not currently of use to Ms. Figueroa.

    TUSD administrators prohibited MAS teachers from using any books, materials or curriculum that they had previously used. So while “The House On Mango Street” is available in libraries and may be used by non-MAS teachers, it is banned from classes taught by MAS teachers.

    MAS curriculum is banned and Stegeman’s efforts to unban the seven books was meaningless. The books do nothing if the teachers can’t use them to teach the curriculum. His resolution is objectionable because he banned the curriculum and then tried to gain credibility for ostensibly bringing back the books, while the teachers would be prevented from using them because any attempt would be charged as being in violation of the ant-ethnic studies law.

    And in the interest of full disclosure, you should have added item number:

    15. The bloggers who serve the kool-aid to MAS haters.

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