cross-posted at Feministe
Yesterday while listening to Democracy Now! I heard about Karen Salazar for the first time. She is a high school teacher who was fired from her position at a school in LA because her curriculum was too “Afrocentric” – instead of, you know, the usual Eurocentric curriculum that’s delivered to American students on the daily. From a letter by Salazar posted on the Vivir Latino site:
I am being fired because I am trying to ensure that my curriculum is relevant to my students’ daily lived experiences, and in the process, create a space for them to be critical of Eurocentric society and curricula that only serve to reinforce their dehumanization, subjugation, and oppression …
I have been observed in the classroom and evaluated by administration over a dozen times (almost twice a month) this school year, whereas in comparison, most teachers are observed and evaluated 1-3 times per school year. The evaluations claim that I am creating “militancy” within students, promoting my personal political beliefs, and presenting a biased view of the curriculum. It has also been implied that I have been teaching students “how to protest.”
Three weeks ago, things began escalating when I was again observed, and in his evaluation, the administrator accused me of “brainwashing” my students and “forcing extremist views” on them. The class had been reading a 3-page excerpt of the Autobiography of Malcolm X (an LAUSD-approved text, of which we have several class sets in our school bookroom), in which Malcolm describes the first time he conked his hair…My contract is being terminated because according to the principal, I am “indoctrinating students with anti-Semitism and Afrocentrism.” The anti-Semitism accusation comes solely from the fact that I have an Intifada poster hanging in my classroom (a symbol of support for a free Palestine), and the Afrocentrism accusation comes from the fact my culturally-relevant curriculum reflects the demographics of my students, though I am surprised I am not being accused of Raza-centrism as well.
Needless to say, this shit is disgusting. And of course, as Democracy Now! reports, it’s not an isolated incident:
In 2006, Jay Bennish, a high school teacher from Aurora, Colorado, was briefly dismissed because one of his lectures was deemed “anti-American.” On the eve of the Iraq war in 2003, Deborah Mayer, an Indiana schoolteacher, was fired after telling her class, “I honk for peace.” A federal appeals court in Chicago upheld the school’s decision last year and ruled public school teachers do not have the constitutional right to express personal opinions in the classroom.
But this isn’t just about expressing personal opinions; it’s about the restrictions imposed upon teachers who may wish to counter the so-called history in most history books with information that actually reflects the many cultures and histories that make up this country – histories that often don’t make the United States look so swell.
In her post on Salazar’s situation on Vivir Latina, Maegan la Mala writes: “I had to go outside my school system to learn about Puerto Rican history, activism and coalition building when I was about 17 years old.” Same here. Granted, I went to Catholic schools for both elementary and high school, where I’d expect even less of a balanced perspective, especially on issues of colonialism – because we know what kind of a role the good ol’ Roman Catholic Church played in that travesty. But I can remember learning about Puerto Rico’s later re-colonization by the United States; from the history books that I had and the lessons my teachers taught me, I would’ve thought that it was all a happy arrangement in which a benevolent United States swept in to protect hapless Puerto Ricans from themselves, since their independence and sovereignty would clearly only lead to disaster. Imagine my shock – and my anger – when I started to learn that this was simply not the case.
The Democracy Now! interview also includes a conversation with Rodolfo Acuna, a professor at Cal State who started the largest Chicano Studies department in the country and whose book, Occupied America: A History of Chicanos, will may soon be banned from Arizona public schools:
A legislative panel in Arizona endorsed a proposal in April that would cut state funding for public schools whose courses “denigrate American values and the teachings of Western civilization.” The measure would also prohibit students of state-funded universities and community colleges from forming groups based in whole or in part on the race of their members.
Acuna talks about the book that would be verboten should this legislation pass:
It’s a standard history of Chicanos in the United States. It’s no more, no less. And it—one of the controversial places is that I say that the United States invaded Mexico. These people want to rewrite history. They want to build their walls, and they want to say what they say, and they want everybody else to say what they want them to say.
Keeping American students in the dark about America’s wrongdoings, keeping Latino, Black and other students of color from truly understanding their histories in the U.S. – that’s all key to maintaining white supremacy and white privilege in this country. If students need to go out of their way to learn the truth, they’re less likely to get angry about it, less likely to do something about it. That’s why community education is so crucial – to teach kids and adults alike everything that the schools are deliberately leaving out in an effort to exert control. And these elements of school curricula are so widespread, so normalized, so accepted that when an educator tries to break away from it even just a little, they’re the ones being accused of brainwashing students.
If it wasn’t so dangerous and so damaging, it would be funny. Instead, it’s fucking infuriating.
Here’s a video by students at the school responding to Salazar’s firing.