Teaching Our Tweens to Be Proud

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There are concerns regarding the opportunity for our children of diverse cultures in the United States to grow up learning history that mirrors their situations as it does to learn about European history so engrained in our culture.  Because Tweens – children between the ages of 7-12 – are developing their self-confidence, study habits, global views and more at this tender age, we have chosen to present the issue of the Arizona ethnic studies ban so our multicultural tween parents can be informed and sensitive to an issue that has a national impact. – Katherine and Cristy

Teaching Our Tweens to Be Proud of Themselves

By Silvia Rodriguez Vega, Ed.M.


How can we say we believe in “Liberty and Justice for all,” when in the United States of America, in the city of Tucson, Arizona, it is illegal to learn about your own history?

In May 2011, Governor Brewer of Arizona signed House Bill 2281. This law is now known as the Ethnic Studies Ban in the Tucson Unified School District (TUSD).  The ban prohibits any classes that “promote the overthrow of the US government, promote resentment towards a specific race, and any classes taught about a specific race.”  Other departments and classes affected due to this ban are Pan-Asian Studies, African-American Studies, and Mexican-American Studies (MAS).

These classes teach students how to be proud of themselves, how to love their skin, their hair and the things that make them different.  The Ethnic Studies classes illustrate the importance of knowing true American history, not just the Eurocentric American history currently taught in classrooms but history students can identify as their own.  Perhaps for the first time in their academic lives students will learn of heroes who had backgrounds similar as their own, and this is empowering. The stronger sense of self a student has, for example, the knowledge of one’s own history, the better they will perform academically.  After all, isn’t the purpose of education to educate?

Students in MAS classes are not simply learning to pass their class. They are so motivated and empowered by the knowledge and care they receive in these classes.  As a result, students in the Ethnic Studies and MAS classes are outperforming their peers not enrolled in Ethnic Studies in classes like math, science, and English. The students were also passing the Arizona’s Instrument to Measure Standards (AIMS) test, this standardized test does not take into account ethnic identity nor does it test on subjects such as Chicano Studies or Ethnic Studies.  Students who participate in Ethnic Studies programs are also enrolling in college at a higher rate than their counterparts who are not enrolled in Ethnic studies classes.

Now, that the Ethnic Studies ban has been implemented, teary-eyed students have had their books taken right out of their hands. These classes are not just about Mexicans—not just about social justice. They reflect their right to know who they are, and respect where they are going.  If we truly believe in the values of liberty and justice for all then we should understand that these classes help our children feel empowered to learn today and become someone they are proud of in the future.

For more information, please check out the film “Precious Knowledge” and support the UNIDOS students in Tucson, AZ.   They have not given up and neither should we. As Cesar Chavez said, “Once social change begins, it cannot be reversed. You cannot un-educate the person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore.”


About author:

Silvia Rodriguez Vega, Ed. M. is a community organizer from Arizona, born in Chihuahua, Mexico. Silvia graduated from Arizona State University with two degrees, one in Political Science and another in Transborder Chicana/o studies. Silvia received her master’s degree in Education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Presently, she is preparing to pursue a Ph.D. at UCLA, in Chicana/o Studies with an emphasis in Immigration, Child Development, and Community Arts for social change.


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