by David Safier
Joseph Heller's Catch-22: You don't have to fly bombing missions if you're crazy, but if you say you don't want to fly bombing missions, you're clearly not crazy, so you have to fly them. (Lit lovers can read Heller's classic passage below the fold.)
TUSD's Catch-22: You can teach books used in the discontinued Mexican-American Studies courses -- unless you teach them in a way that promotes resentment. So if you're an ex-MAS teacher, you can't teach them.
The Catch-22-ishness of the TUSD/MAS banned books situation was reinforced when I read Board President Mark Stegeman's recent constituent newsletter. He made reference to the Save Ethnic Studies fundraiser I attended last night with special guest Matt de la Peña, author of "Mexican White Boy." The invite referred to de la Peña as a "TUSD banned author." Stegeman disagreed.
Someone sent me a copy of an invitation to a fund-raising event tonight, to support Mexican-American Studies, which will be attended by the author of a “banned” book. As far as I know, however, TUSD has done nothing to remove or restrict access to any of this author’s books.
It's true, Mexican White Boy is not on a banned book list at TUSD. It's possible for teachers to use it in their classes. But ex-MAS teachers are under strict orders not to teach anything that might promote resentment, since that would violate the anti-MAS law which ended the program. What does that mean exactly? No one knows, not even the administrators who have to enforce the rule, because the law is so intentionally vague, violation is in the eye of the beholder. So the teachers have been warned, don't use books that could possibly lead you into your old, MAS ways.
That's why Curtis Acosta was told he can't teach Shakespeare's Tempest . . .
That's why Curtis Acosta was told he can't teach Shakespeare's Tempest -- because he is likely to do what Shakespeare scholars often do: discuss the concept of "the other" as a central theme in the play. And that will be interpreted as promoting resentment, which is against the anti-MAS law.
Acosta is free to teach the Tempest, and another ex-MAS instructor is free to teach Mexican White Boy, but they can't deal with some of the major themes of the works -- which, by definition, they will do in the course of teaching the books, because that's how they teach. So they can teach them, until they decide to teach them. Then they can't teach them. Catch-22.
As a side note, I am truly saddened when I read disingenuous statements like the one I quoted from Stegeman's newsletter. I've had lengthy, enjoyable conversations with him in the past where neither of us let the other fall into sloppy thinking or half truths. His logic can be razor sharp. On more than one occasion, he caught me making half-thought-out statements and forced me to think my ideas out more clearly. But I doubt in any of our conversations I -- or he -- was guilty of a half truth as obvious as his statement above. Stegeman is either blinded by the need for self justification or he is cynically trying to win an argument by any means necessary.
HERE'S THE CLASSIC PASSAGE FROM CATCH-22:
There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one’s own safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn’t, but if he was sane he would have to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn’t have to; but if he didn't want to he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle. “That’s some catch, that Catch-22,” he observed. “It’s the best there is,” Doc Daneeka agreed.