by David Safier
Christine Sleeter is "a professor emerita of teacher education at California State University, Monterey Bay, and the president of the National Association for Multicultural Education." I put that information first to acknowledge where her priorities are. Sleeter is a strong advocate for multicultural education.
That said, she has written a paper, The Academic and Social Value of Ethnic Studies: A Research Review, published by the NEA in 2011. The title is not a direct reference to the TUSD program. It discusses ethnic studies in a more general sense. It's a paper TUSD Board President Mark Stegeman should read, if only because it comes from a scholar outside of the Tucson area and therefore might be credible in his eyes. Not necessarily conclusive. Just credible.
Here is Sleeter's conclusion:
Studies have consistently found a relationship between academic achievement, awareness of race and racism, and positive identification with one’s own racial group. One study surveyed Black high school students. Those most likely to graduate and go to college expressed high awareness of race and racism, and high regard for being Black.
Studies with middle school students have documented high student engagement when literature by authors of the students’ ethnic background was used. In the Webster Groves Writing Project, middle and high school teachers used action research to improve writing achievement of Black students. Participating students made greater gains than non-participating students on the state writing test.
There are many other programs with documented results: . . .
You can link to both of the pieces above. Today, Sleeter has a piece in the subscription-only Education Week addressing TUSD's MAS controversy head on.
The success of Tucson’s [Mexican-American Studies] program is supported by social-psychology research documenting that black and Latino students who have a strong, positive ethnic identity and an understanding of racism and how it can be challenged tend to take education more seriously than those who do not.
The success of Tucson’s program is supported by social-psychology research documenting that black and Latino students who have a strong, positive ethnic identity and an understanding of racism and how it can be challenged tend to take education more seriously than those who do not.
Wait! I may have lost some of you by using the taboo words “racism” and “oppressed communities.” The problem is that these are realities students rarely study. Many people assume (incorrectly) that saying the word “racism” creates racism, rather than creating conditions that enable us to understand and confront it. My review of research found considerable evidence that ethnic studies benefits students of all racial backgrounds because, while young people see racial disparities in the world around them, they rarely encounter systematic instruction that helps them understand why disparities exist and what can be done to change them. Ethnic studies helps all of us examine racism, the elephant in the room many of us are afraid to name.
Dismantling a program that has demonstrated enormous academic benefits for Latino students because some people find it threatening feels to me like racism. So does censoring knowledge that resonates with conditions of life Mexican-American students experience every day. Censorship, which supports ignorance, flies in the face of education in a democracy. The banning of ethnic studies must be challenged, and Tucson’s Mexican-American studies program should be restored.
I am familiar enough with TUSD Board President Mark Stegeman to know he, as an academic, respects scholarly research. He owes it to himself to read Sleeter's paper carefully. He may conclude it's just another one of those slanted documents whose conclusions aren't backed up by the kind of rigorous economic research he applauds -- you know, like the economic research which led Alan Greenspan to believe the housing bubble really wasn't much of a problem or which touted Iceland's banking industry, now in shambles, as a model for economic growth [he said snarkily]. Then again, it may lend some credence to the value of lifting the scales from the eyes of students who believe they deserve the negative perceptions of themselves and their ethnic group they see and hear all around them. If they learn to recognize the pervasive attitude in society that they are inferior and destined to be undereducated and underemployed, maybe that will help them rise above the stereotypes and maximize their potentials.