The Dismantling of Tucson Unified School District’s Mexican American Studies Program: A Case Study and Critical Analysis

SOIS PhD student Adriana McCleer recently won “best poster” at Student Research Day for her preliminary analysis of the following case study:

The Dismantling of Tucson Unified School District’s Mexican American Studies Program: A Case Study and Critical Analysis

The Mexican American Studies (MAS) program began as a 1998 grassroots community effort to address the Latino academic achievement gap in Tucson. It flourished into a Tucson Unified School District’s (TUSD) curriculum rooted in cultural relevance, critical thought, social justice, and academic rigor. The Mexican American perspective was centered in the classroom through history, literature, and art. This program has received national recognition in the field of education and has documented notable success in student achievement.

Arizona Revised Statutes § 15-111 “Declaration of policy” and § 15-112 “Prohibited courses and classes; enforcement” laws were enacted with the intention to dismantle the TUSD MAS program. The program was ruled in violation of the law and in January 2012, the governing board of TUSD suspended all MAS courses and subsequently removed textbooks and course materials from classrooms.

This exploratory case study uses Critical Race Theory as a framework to investigate the dismantling of the Tucson Unified School District’s Mexican American Studies Program in Arizona. The study investigates the suspension of courses and organized removal of educational materials as a restriction of intellectual freedom and act of censorship to formulate research questions for additional studies.

A literature review examines works on the topics of Critical Race Theory, the TUSD MAS curriculum and pedagogy, ethnic studies, and intellectual freedom and censorship in schools. Data collection includes document analysis of news articles, legal documents, government and community websites, press releases, and official statements from Arizona Department of Education, State Superintendents of Public Instruction, and TUSD.

Preliminary Analysis

In Critical Race Theory, Delgado & Stefancic (2012) outline the nationalistic viewpoint that supports ethnic studies and questions “the majoritarian assumption that northern European culture is superior” (p. 67). The text also illuminates the power of counterstorytelling, or “writing that aims to cast doubt on the validity of accepted premises or myths, especially ones held by the majority” (p. 159). Challenges to the nationalistic viewpoint and the power of counterstorytelling are “Color-blind, or ‘formal’ conceptions of equality, expressed in rules that insist only on treatment that is the same across the board” (p. 8). This approach is focused on addressing only the most obvious and visible forms of discrimination, but does not address institutional or systemic injustices, particularly in the form of policy.

Arizona Revised Statute § 15-112(A)(4) does not allow classes to “advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.” This notion is rooted in the beliefs of Arizona Attorney General, Tom Horne, that “People are individuals, not exemplars of racial groups” (2010). He is consistent in his claims that ethnic studies is fundamentally wrong in that it segregates students and does not treat them as individuals. However, the provision of ethnic studies and the treatment of students as individuals are not mutually exclusive. The validation of counterstories celebrates the unique qualities and experiences of individuals. In contrast, the elimination of ethnic studies and promotion of color-blindness discounts and discredits the unique experiences people have had as individuals. By adopting a colorblind position, there is a strategic veiling of discrimination. In a 2009 critical discourse study of Tom Horne’s attack on MAS, Michael W. Simpson stated, “By asserting ‘We are not racists’ and ‘We are not a racist society’, the dominant group has exercised a strategy of defense against charges of racism and constructed and maintained the dominant white consensus” (2009, p. 24).

This study continues the exploration and analysis of the censorship of counterstories veiled by the promotion of color-blindness.

Cited Sources:

Delgado, R. & Stefancic, J. (2012). Critical Race Theory: An Introduction (2nd ed.). New York: NYU Press.

Horne, T. (2010). Finding by the state superintendent of public instruction of violation by Tucson Unified School District pursuant to A.R.S. 15-112(B). Retrieved from

Simpson, M. (2009). Tom Horne, Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction verse Tucson Unified School District’s ethnic studies: A critical discourse study, 1-29. doi: