by David Safier
Look, I don't want to go too hard on the Star editorial writers, because I think they've written some fine stuff lately -- the piece, Bible in schools not a topic for the Legislature, is one outstanding example -- and today's editorial, Students forgotten in TUSD fiasco, has its good moments. But for the editorial to maintain the removal of books previously used in MAS courses is not a ban is semantically untenable. People whose stock-in-trade is words should know better.
"To ban" is " "To prohibit, especially by legal means. . . . To prohibit the use, performance, or distribution of <ban a book>." It doesn't have to be a total and outright ban. Something can be banned from use by an entire school district or by certain teachers. Whether it is a universal ban or a selective ban -- I choose to use the term "discriminatory ban" to make the point clearer and more dramatic -- a ban is a ban is a ban.
The Star editorial defends its assertion this is not ban by writing,
Officials boxed up texts used in the MAS classes and put them in storage, because the MAS classes are no longer being taught.
That's only a partial truth. The rest of the story is, TUSD is not prohibiting the use of the texts in all classrooms, only those led by former MAS teachers. The editorial writers should read an article by Alexis Huicochea in Wednesday's Star more carefully. She reports,
[TUSD spokeswoman Cara Rene] wasn't sure if other Tucson Unified School District teachers are using the books as part of their curricula.
A post on The Range by Mari Herreras repeats the same point.
Teachers not under the MAS banner and in other schools throughout the district can teach and are teaching from books that Huppenthal found objectionable or questioned — but not Acosta and his MAS co-workers.
Not all of the selected texts have been boxed up in all classrooms. They are only banned in classes taught by former MAS teachers. The fact that others teaching the same or similar classes can use the texts makes the partial, or selective, or discriminatory ban -- choose the adjective you prefer -- that much more objectionable.
I understand why TUSD and The Star both object to the term "banned books." It's a loaded term with all kinds of negative connotations. But it's accurate. Instead of denying the ban, TUSD should explain it. I'll talk about that after the jump.
Can you think of a public school that doesn't ban X Rated films? Does a public high school near you allow Henry Miller's "Tropic of Cancer" to be taught? Is child pornography allowed in schools, or anywhere in the U.S.?
Those are examples where books, films, photos and other materials are banned from schools (in the case of child pornography, it is a country-wide ban), and few people would object. The question about the prohibition of the use of certain texts by former MAS teachers isn't whether or not it's a ban. It is the very definition of a ban. Here's the real question: Is the ban justified?
The answer is best stated by teacher Curtis Acosta, one of the people who created the MAS curriculum. It may surprise some people that he thinks the ban is both "prudent" and "intelligent." But it's necessary to add, Acosta feels the ban is a "prudent" and "intelligent" response to a terrible law and an equally terrible decision by Huppenthal to declare Mexican-American Studies classes illegal.
"I believe our administrators advised me properly when they said to avoid texts, units, or lessons with race and oppression as a central focus. If we are asked to follow a bad law then absurdities such as advising I stay away from teaching “The Tempest” not only seems prudent, but intelligent."
If the laws and rulings don't make sense, neither do the responses, even if they happen to be "prudent" and "intelligent."
This is the crux of the issue, and the reason so many people, myself included, have chosen to use the accurate, emotion-laden term "banned books" to describe the TUSD decision rather than saying the use of the books in certain classrooms was "suspended." "Suspended" is a euphemism which hides the nature of the action. The jarring impact of the word "Banned" brings the actions of the TUSD administration and the whole anti-MAS fervor into the harsh light they deserve.