Latina teacher fired for not regurgitating the same old crap

Karen Salazar at a rally in response to her firing

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.

24 Responses to “Latina teacher fired for not regurgitating the same old crap”

  1. 1 demolitionwoman

    omg, I am SO in love with those kids right now…

    This eurocentrism is so deeply ingrained – I know someone who works for a “progessive, alternative” school and even there, there are many obstacles.

    Here’s hoping Salazar’s days as an educator are not over.

  2. 2 Herschel Sarnoff

    I taught at that school for 35 years and I can tell you teachers like that do great harm to the students. The vast majority of the students cannot tell you the name of the country they live in, who is the mayor of LA. If you ask them when the Civil War was they think it was in 1975. Its sad and pitiful. These kids need teachers who will educate them and not indoctrinate them into leftist hate America doctrine.
    As far as Puerto Rico goes they have had referendum’s on leaving the USA. They are always voted down as they know full well they would lose their welfare payments and go down to standard of living similar to Jamaica or Cuba.
    “white supremacy and white privilege” someone should tell Obama about that.
    Oh yes, I am one of those who believe that the US is a special country not perfect but one dedicated to fighting tyranny and totalitarianism. There are plenty of hate America teachers indoctrinating students and we don’t need this one. Good riddance.
    A teacher has no business warping the minds of ignorant students with leftist crap or at least if you must present both sides.

  3. 3 Jack

    @demolitionwoman – Agreed – Salazar definitely needs to keep on teaching!

    @Herschel Sarnoff: All I can say is that I feel sorry for your students, especially any students of color that you had, since you clearly had no investment in teaching them truth or things of real relevance to them. America is invested in fighting tyranny and totalitarianism? Is that the lie that you taught your students? Are you aware of American history? Are you aware of America’s current state of affairs? Do you think Bush is anti-totalitarianist?

    Present both sides? I think that’s what teachers like Salazar are trying to do. The other side – the revisionist, Eurocentric side that you seem to love – is 99% of what’s taught to American students. And people like you can’t even handle 1% that tells kids the truth.

    Also, kindly shut the fuck up about Puerto Rico, since you clearly have neither a clue nor any business speaking on it.

  4. 4 Herschel Sarnoff

    Sorry, I did not realize I needed your permission to talk about Puerto Rico.

    Just an aside, my lessons and powerpoints have been published and are used in thousands of classrooms around the WORLD including Puerto Rico (oops, sorry).

    You know why, because they are based on the National Standards which relate to American History worts and all. On of them is called U.S. Imperialism which is in the standards. I believed in teaching the truth and apparently there are thousands of teachers who agree with me.
    The schools of education are controlled by leftist professors who agree with you and Salazar, which should make you happy, I try to give an alternative view, that America is not an evil country. Bad America is what most teachers are trained to teach.

    You have no idea who I am or what I taught but you are quick to criticize and jump to conclusions. You are a typical liberal/leftist, who condemns and attacks anyone that disagrees with you. And I think Bush is a good President who I do not agree with on many of his domestic issues but in foreign policy he is right on.

  5. 5 Bq

    Sarnoff, so I guess the fact that the US helped install numerous dictators and suppressed democratic movements around the world is simply a collective hallucination of “the left”.

  6. 6 Bq

    So anyway, lol @ “afrocentric” teaching being a crime. They might as well come out and say “white is right”!

    I want to be a teacher like that – a beloved mentor for beloved young people. I’m preparing to be broke ;).

  7. 7 Herschel Sarnoff

    No, the US has done things that I wished it hadn’t but there were reasons for them. I am not saying that this is a perfect nation there are tons of problems and I fear we are returning to conditions that existed around 1900 when concentrations of wealth were incredible. Lots of problems but if you study history you will see that other nations were much worse…this is not a justification just a fact.
    I know things were worse when the US was a neutral nation, we got WW 2. We may make mistakes but at least we are trying to make a better world.

  8. 8 Jack

    @Herschel Sarnoff: My “shut the fuck up” may have been a bit much, coming from a place of anger. Maybe what you wrote didn’t warrant that. But I do think that it still warrants an “I don’t give a fuck.” Frankly, I don’t give a fuck about what most people say about Puerto Rico’s status except for other Puerto Ricans, especially Puerto Ricans who actually live in or are from the island itself. They’re the ones with the ultimate authority on what happens to their country, even beyond Puerto Ricans like me who were born and raised and still live in the States.

    All of your lesson plans and Powerpoints and what have you still don’t give you authority to talk about what’s best for a place that you’re not from. Beyond that, your comment about Puerto Ricans voting for the status quo because of fears that they’ll “lose their welfare payments” is insultingly reductionist and yet only goes to demonstrate how thoroughly the United States has fostered economic dependence on the US. The United States’ primary interest in any foreign affairs is itself; time and time again, this country demonstrates that it doesn’t really give a damn about the people in the countries that they invade, colonize, or destabilize in order to get more “amenable” people into power. It’s all about what’s in the best economic interests of the US. If you really think that the US is trying to make a better world through its foreign policy, you need to take off the rose-tinted glasses.

    Bad America is what most teachers are trained to teach.

    O RLY? Then how do you explain all of the people who are saying that they were taught a revisionist US history that conveniently glosses over much of the ill that the US has brought about in the world? Are we all making that up?

  9. 9 Just Me

    I don’t know the exact content of Ms. Salazar’s teaching. I do believe history should be taught in a balanced manner, which means everyone’s history matters. As a Caucasian myself, I think it is beneficial for us to know about all of our history, including the mistakes, and the injustices. This is not so we can passively become guilty about being white, but so that we can become inclusive and stop helping to perpetuate injustice. If the US is to be the great nation it claims to be, then we really must actually make it so, for everyone, and not just sweep the dirt under the rug and pretend it is not there.

    Any teacher who is serious about their job, realizes that those who fail to learn from history are destined to repeat it. (My respects to the author of that quote.)

  10. 10 Herschel Sarnoff

    First of all let me apologize for my comments on Puerto Rico, they were inappropriate. Do you think other Caribbean nations would have been better off if the US took them over? We did not take over Cuba in 1898 and that had been something groups in the US (pro-slavery) had been working for.
    I also agree with you that the US acts in its own best interests. This may not be to your liking but it is reality. Throughout history nations act in their own interests and I do not see that changing anytime soon. If we had been a serious imperialistic nation Mexico and much of Latin America would have been taken over by us. Look at what the other European nations did in the 18th and 19th centuries.
    I taught for 35 years at the same school that Salazar was fired from so that is why I am so interested.
    What social studies teachers are hired to teach, standards, reflect the multicultural makeup of the US and and very sensitive to minorities and women. I have been on many textbook approval committees and there are strict guidelines that must be in place to approve textbooks. We kicked one book because it did not discuss the Armenian holocaust but we never found one book that slighted women or minorities. You can go look up the national history or California state history standards to see how fair they are.
    Nothing is swept under the rug. You are just not aware of how far the pendulum has swung and I think you will be pleasantly surprised. My company has long wanted to do a power point on women’s history but we have been told, by the heavy players in the industry, that there is no market for it. Despite that we are moving ahead and have hired someone to do it.
    Salazar had a terrorist poster in her classroom calling for the destruction of Israel. Do you really think a classroom is the right place to put this? If you are going to discuss the middle east you must present both sides. Do you really think she has the right to put her hateful, racist views in front of the students? If she is an anti-Semite that is her business, please do not inflict it on the students. We have had teachers who actually preach fundamentalist religion in their classrooms and have had students pray. Unfortunately they had tenure and it took a lot of work to get them removed. NO TEACHER HAS THE RIGHT TO IMPOSE THEIR POLITICAL OR RELIGIOUS VIEW ON STUDENTS!

  11. 11 Sylvia/M

    I don’t understand why it’s impermissible for a teacher to bring her perspective into the classroom as a critical balance for the curriculum, and why it’s perfectly fine for the state’s mandated curriculum and political perspective — in all its irrelevant, whitewashed glory — to be shoved in students’ faces. Whatever happened to critical reading and analytics in the classroom? Diverse perspectives? Allowing students to draw their own conclusions and to take responsibility for their own minds? What you’re saying, Mr. Sarnoff, contrary to your beliefs on the matter, contradicts those principles. Salazar should not have been fired if we’re not going to take any actions to better incorporate the viewpoints of each side into the mandated schooling curriculum.

  12. 12 Herschel Sarnoff

    I don’t understand why no one reads what I am writing. The mandated standards incorporate everything you mentioned they are totally multi culturally orientated. In world history courses western/European history has been deemphasized in favor of Africa, Asia, etc. Please take a look for yourself or read this article,

    Please what you want is what should be taught. There are many of us who abhor the deemphasis of western history but we lost. Salazar and her ilk what more they want to brand the west as evil and somehow glorify non western cultures. I have news for you..these non western civilization were as bloody and racists and imperialist as Europeans were, of course that is not in the standards.
    Take a look at the California standards:
    Sylvia, “Whatever happened to critical reading and analytics in the classroom? Diverse perspectives?” is in the standards and teachers should be incorporating this.

  13. 13 Bq

    I had a high school teacher who claimed that there was no glass ceiling. My school was about 40% poc. Of course, no one gets fired for lying like that.

    Sarnoff, what you’re interested in is nation-building indoctrination of kids who probably have a bit more of a global perspective. A number of them probably know when they’re being lied to anyway. I did.

  14. 14 kieya

    “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”

    You said it friend! Working with teens today, I find that they are very much aware of this plot but are discouraged and completely apathetic b/c they don’t think they can do anything about this. Can you imagine the movement we’d have on our hands if more teachers educated their students of the true history of Black, Latino, & other people of color’s history? The TRUE history. Not the history that barely recognizes leaders of from various cultures or even worse – labels them as Terrorists.

    What’s that African proverb: “Until lions tell the tale, the story of the hunt will always glorify the hunter”

    Kudos to Ms. Salazar for daring to tell the tale of the lions.

  15. 15 CJ Roseman

    What does support for a free Palestine or having an intidada (shaking off / uprising) poster have to do with anti-semitism. The implication that supporting the Palestinian struggle for justice and self determination is equal to supporting terrorism reveals the strong anti-Arab racism of Mr. Sarnoff.

    Sarnoff is the new McCarthy.

  16. 16 Herschel Sarnoff

    You don’t need to worry. Your hero, Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad , wants to liberate Palestine to, with nuclear weapons. Looks like Obama will let him do it when he is elected president. Of course he might send a harsh note to Iran once they get nuclear weapons.
    Hey stupid..anyone who wants to murder (liberate) Jews in Israel is an anti-Semite. Your #1 hero Hitler liberated Europe from “Jewish control.” I’m sure you would have been there cheering him on.
    What is supposed to happen to the 6 million Jews after “Palestine” is Liberated? Maybe they will just disappear like the 6 million did in Europe. Go back to reading Norm Chomsky and Finklestein, they agree with you.

  17. 17 Jack

    Oh, give me a fucking break, Herschel. That’s enough of you using my blog as a soapbox for your frothing at the mouth. If you want to tar people who support Palestinians against Israeli oppression as anti-Semites who like Hitler, you can do it somewhere else.

  18. 18 Herschel Sarnoff

    good bye, you won’t be hearing form me again. It was fun.

  19. 19 Samuel Sukaton


    I’m an Asian-Am kid from San Bernardino County, two years out of high school, now at Ms. Salazar’s alma mater.

    I read Malcolm X’s “My First Conk” my junior year in high school and nobody said boo. That was in a multiethnic class with a white English teacher. In LA, a teacher teaches Malcolm X and gets fired.

    (And they say political correctness is a loony radical leftist thing!)

    “Out On The Stoop” mentions Karen teaching Langston Hughes:

    Hughes (and Malcolm X, though he wasn’t primarily a writer) represent some of the best literary work that America (and when I say “America”, I mean home-grown American nationals) has produced. Why is teaching good American writing “Afro-centric,” “subversive,” or a firing offense?

    They’re right: If you can’t teach Malcolm X and Langston Hughes in an American high school classroom, there is something deeply wrong with the US.

    My mom’s parents came from Indonesia to guarantee their children (and later, grandchildren) quality American education. Perhaps I should send my children back?

    The home-school and charter school movement have one thing right: Our public schools are weak, particularly because they don’t teach everything they can about our heritage as Americans–what it means to be American, and how our definitions of it have come to be as they are.

    Malcolm and Langston are part of the literary history of the country I love, the country that took my family in, they country I was born in and choose to live for. My younger cousins and my future children deserve to know about them.

  20. 20 Kate

    As a former teacher, who tried to teach alternative history as well (but was luckily not reprimanded), coming from a long family line of teachers, the treatment of Ms. Salazar makes me absolutely sick. How utterly horrifying.

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