The Hispanic population is the leading minority group in Arizona. According to the census, Arizona’s Hispanic population grew from 25% to 30% between 2000 and 2012. In 2010, the U.S. state of Arizona signed a bill into law that restricted public school districts from offering ethnic studies classes.
The law claims to prohibit programs in schools that promote resentment toward a race or class of people or advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.
In fact, the bill was passed into law to specifically target a Mexican-American studies program that had been taught in the city of Tucson public schools since the 1990s.
Critics of the law describe it as draconian as it seeks to deprive people from knowing their history. Activists have since taken up the matter to get the law declared null and void. In the last seven years, the case had been in the courts a couple of times, but the trial began in July.
Many Mexican-Americans in Arizona are hoping that the court would rule in their favor so that they could get the course back in schools.
Denise Rebeil, a Mexican-American, told NBC News in an interview that the Mexican-American studies classes she took while attending Rincon High School in southern Arizona were critical to shaping her cultural views and her civic engagement, hence her desire to see the course back in the classroom.
“I became a lot more connected to my community because of these courses. They encouraged us to use our voices and told us that, as young people, we have a power with our voices.”
In the 1990s, a group of teachers within the Tucson Unified School District, who were concerned about the widening achievement gap between Latino students and their peers, started the Mexican-American studies program.
As a way to motivate and empower Latino students, the teachers created courses aimed at offering a curriculum through the lens of the Mexican-American experience. They used the work written by Mexican-American authors and other writers of color that rarely appeared in the classrooms.
According to a study conducted by Nolan Cabrera, a University of Arizona associate professor, students who took Mexican-American studies courses were more likely to graduate from high school and pass standardized tests.
UPDATE: The law banning ethnic studies violates students’ constitutional rights, a federal judge ruled in August. NPR reports:
“With this news, a portion of the law, prohibiting classes designed for students of certain ethnic groups, has been struck down, but the federal judge has yet to issue a final judgment and redress for the violation.”