by David Safier
TUSD Board member Mark Stegeman cleverly outflanked MAS supporters, probably for the first time since he stepped into the controversy that led to the disbanding of the MAS curriculum. Stegeman is proposing that the ban on MAS books be lifted. Given the local, national, even international furor over the book banning, this makes it look like Stegeman is making an important concession, casting him as a fair guy who wants to meet the pro-MAS folks half way. But it's not so.
Back when Horne, Huppenthal, et al, were gunning for the MAS program, the entire focus of the program's supporters was on keeping it intact. When the Board voted to disband it, the efforts were focused on reinstating the program by demonstrating what an affront ending the program was to the community and to the students taking the courses (There are the legal battles too, but those aren't well known or understood). Unfortunately, it was kind of hard to get public to focus its attention on all the ins and outs of the anti-MAS legislation (HB2881), the fighting, the votes . . . It's hard to wrap your mind around all that if you're not paying close attention.
Then something unexpected happened. TUSD sent people into a classroom -- one filled with students -- who boxed up books previously used in MAS classes and put them in storage, effectively banning the use of those books in classrooms. Now that's something everyone can understand. When TUSD banned the use of Hispanic-themed history and literature books, it cleared away all the complexities and focused in on the nature of the effort to suppress the teaching of certain ideas at TUSD. The book ban theme was picked up by free speech groups, colleges, library associations and publications all over the country and around the world.
But the book banning was never the real story. It was an effective symbol for the story, the kind of thing a movement latches onto to help make its point. The real story was always the disbanding of the MAS curriculum. The easiest way to spread the story was using people's outrage over the book ban. The danger was, it made it look like the book ban was the central problem.
Now, most probably the book ban will be lifted. Since that's been the most visible element of the struggle, it sounds like a victory for the pro-MAS movement. But in fact it's not really a victory at all. The classes are as disbanded as they ever were. Any teacher who dares teach those books in a way Huppenthal can interpret as violating HB2881 could be in serious trouble. In other words, everything is exactly as it was when the TUSD Board voted the MAS curriculum could no longer be taught in the district. Things are as bad as they were the day before the books were boxed up.
It's going to be tough for the pro-MAS movement to make that point clearly without looking like sore winners. "Hey, you got what you want, you should be happy," people can say. But there's no reason to be happy when, really, nothing important has changed.