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First Person

‘My Other Me’

Why ethnic studies are good for all.

Photo by Travis Williams

By Maria Federico Brummer

Recently, I taught a unit on how a bill becomes a law in my government class. We learned all about the legislative process in Arizona.

The example I used was the law passed last school year to ban our ethnic studies program. It takes effect after Dec. 31.

One student responded, “These classes are the best education I have gotten. It hurts to know that children wanting to follow in our footsteps won’t have the opportunity.”

The state school superintendent claims we promote the overthrow of the government, but we’re promoting active citizenship, which is especially important for a community that has been marginalized.

One of my girls was selected for a leadership training program in Washington, D.C., organized by the League of Latin American Citizens. After the unit on law-making, she said, “This is just what I’m expected to learn about in Washington. It’s giving me a whole new understanding of our obligations to participate.”

Our opponents claim we teach hatred of “Whites.” There’s no truth to that. Our students see the anti-Mexican sentiment in Arizona, but we teach that we are all human beings and race is a social construct used to divide us.

We teach the Mayan philosophy of “In lak ech,” which means “You are my other me.” We ask students to look into each other’s eyes. What you see is your reflection. We teach that human beings should not just respect, but love one another.

In history, we teach from Glencoe’s American Vision, but the text has only one chapter on native peoples. We spend a whole quarter on indigenous people, supplementing the text with other materials.

One thing we learn is that people have migrated to earn a livelihood for thousands of years. In the past, the migrants were hunter-gatherers. Now, people move for the opportunity to earn money.

All of our students are self-selected. “What I learned changed my life,” one student shared with her peers. Another said, “I love these classes because this is like a family. I feel respected and heard. We learn how to transform our communities.”

Our students outperform their peers on Arizona’s assessments. They are three times more likely to pass in reading, four times more likely in writing, and two and a half times more likely in math.

Many of our alumni are in college or have recently finished college, on their way to becoming doctors, youth workers, and teachers, including two who want to come teach in our program.

HB 2281 is the law intended to eliminate our program. The state superintendent will withhold 10 percent of our district’s state aid if we’re not shut down, but our school district and community are behind us and we are determined to defend our program.

On October 18, I and 10 other teachers filed a lawsuit to stop this law from going into effect to ensure that this program continues to serve our students and their families.

María Federico Brummer teaches at Tucson High Magnet School and Palo Verde High Magnet School.


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