Monday, June 23, 2008

Latina teacher fired for not regurgitating the same old crap

crossposted from Feministe and Angry Brown Butch; written by Jack

Yesterday while listening to Democracy Now! I heard about Karen Salazar for the first time. She is a high school teacher who was fired from her position at a school in LA because her curriculum was too “Afrocentric” - instead of, you know, the usual Eurocentric curriculum that’s delivered to American students on the daily. From a letter by Salazar posted on the Vivir Latino site:

I am being fired because I am trying to ensure that my curriculum is relevant to my students’ daily lived experiences, and in the process, create a space for them to be critical of Eurocentric society and curricula that only serve to reinforce their dehumanization, subjugation, and oppression …

I have been observed in the classroom and evaluated by administration over a dozen times (almost twice a month) this school year, whereas in comparison, most teachers
are observed and evaluated 1-3 times per school year. The evaluations claim that I am creating “militancy” within students, promoting my personal political beliefs, and presenting a biased view of the curriculum. It has also been implied that I have been teaching students “how to protest.”

Three weeks ago, things began escalating when I was again observed, and in his evaluation, the administrator accused me of “brainwashing” my students and “forcing extremist views” on them. The class had been reading a 3-page excerpt of the Autobiography of Malcolm X (an LAUSD-approved text, of which we have several class sets in our school bookroom), in which Malcolm describes the first time he conked his hair…My contract is being terminated because according to the principal, I am “indoctrinating students with anti-Semitism and Afrocentrism.” The anti-Semitism accusation comes solely from the fact that I have an Intifada poster hanging in my classroom (a symbol of support for a free Palestine), and the Afrocentrism accusation comes from the fact my culturally-relevant curriculum reflects the demographics of my students, though I am surprised I am not being accused of Raza-centrism as well.
Needless to say, this shit is disgusting. And of course, as Democracy Now! reports, it’s not an isolated incident:

In 2006, Jay Bennish, a high school teacher from Aurora, Colorado, was briefly dismissed because one of his lectures was deemed “anti-American.” On the eve of the Iraq war in 2003, Deborah Mayer, an Indiana schoolteacher, was fired after telling her class, “I honk for peace.” A federal appeals court in Chicago upheld the school’s decision last year and ruled public school teachers do not have the constitutional right to express personal opinions in the classroom. But this isn’t just about expressing personal opinions; it’s about the restrictions imposed upon teachers who may wish to counter the so-called history in most history books with information that actually reflects the many cultures and histories that make up this country - histories that often don’t make the United States look so swell.
In her post on Salazar’s situation on Vivir Latina, Maegan la Mala writes: “I had to go outside my school system to learn about Puerto Rican history, activism and coalition building when I was about 17 years old.” Same here. Granted, I went to Catholic schools for both elementary and high school, where I’d expect even less of a balanced perspective, especially on issues of colonialism - because we know what kind of a role the good ol’ Roman Catholic Church played in that travesty. But I can remember learning about Puerto Rico’s later re-colonization by the United States; from the history books that I had and the lessons my teachers taught me, I would’ve thought that it was all a happy arrangement in which a benevolent United States swept in to protect hapless Puerto Ricans from themselves, since their independence and sovereignty would clearly only lead to disaster. Imagine my shock - and my anger - when I started to learn that this was simply not the case.

The Democracy Now! interview also includes a conversation with Rodolfo Acuna, a professor at Cal State who started the largest Chicano Studies department in the country and whose book, Occupied America: A History of Chicanos, will may soon be banned from Arizona public schools:

A legislative panel in Arizona endorsed a proposal in April that would cut state funding for public schools whose courses “denigrate American values and the teachings of Western civilization.” The measure would also prohibit students of state-funded universities and community colleges from forming groups based in whole or in part on the race of their members.
Acuna talks about the book that would be verboten should this legislation pass:

It’s a standard history of Chicanos in the United States. It’s no more, no less. And it—one of the controversial places is that I say that the United States invaded Mexico. These people want to rewrite history. They want to build their walls, and they want to say what they say, and they want everybody else to say what they want them to say.
Keeping American students in the dark about America’s wrongdoings, keeping Latino, Black and other students of color from truly understanding their histories in the U.S. - that’s all key to maintaining white supremacy and white privilege in this country. If students need to go out of their way to learn the truth, they’re less likely to get angry about it, less likely to do something about it. That’s why community education is so crucial - to teach kids and adults alike everything that the schools are deliberately leaving out in an effort to exert control. And these elements of school curricula are so widespread, so normalized, so accepted that when an educator tries to break away from it even just a little, they’re the ones being accused of brainwashing students.

If it wasn’t so dangerous and so damaging, it would be funny. Instead, it’s fucking infuriating.

Note from Tami: Whenever the subject of biased curriculum comes up, I like to recommend James W. Loewen's book "Lies My Teacher Told Me" that discusses how "an embarrassing combination of blind patriotism, mindless optimism, sheer misinformation and outright lies" colors what all children learn in American schools. If I hadn't read this book, I would never know that Helen Keller wasn't just a lucky blind and deaf girl, but a radical Socialist who helped found the ACLU and gave money to the NAACP; that Woodrow Wilson, despite his reputation as a progressive, was a white supremacist who vetoed a clause on racial equality in the Covenant of the Legue of Nations; and that Ponce de Leon went to Florida mainly to capture Native Americans as slaves for Hispaniola, not to find the mystical fountain of youth.


Clueless said...

Your note also brings to mind the difference between Michelle Obama ("for the first time in my adult lifetime, I am really proud of my country") and Cindy McCain's response (that she's ALWAYS been proud of it). Blind belief in American superiority is not useful. Admitting that there are chapters (and individuals) in our history which are downright disgusting, however, is positive.

History certainly can't be changed, but it should be admitted to, and learned from.

Professor Tracey said...

This is a great post and a great story!

heartsandflowers said...

My mother always told us we were only getting a bias perspective and encouraged us to read a wide variety of books. So I had specific references to bring up in class when one aspect was discussed but not the entire perspective. Not all the teachers liked it.

Symphony said...

I enjoyed "Lies My Teacher Told Me" and Zinn's "A People's History of the United States"

Not teaching accurate history (American and world) is harmful to minorities and white students. The only way my son is going to learn anything is if I teach him. I've already started his Afrocentric library collection.

And when I watched "Prince Among Slaves" I made him sit down next to me and watch it.

I loved this post Tami, thanks for sharing it.

ac said...

Well this is just discouraging isn't it? I think Racialicious had an article the other day about an afrocentric school they were starting up in Toronto, Canada.
While my parents made every attempt to counter the "lies my teacher taught me" the bulk of my knowledge of afrocentric history is from college courses. And of course, reading Howard Zinn as an adult. I'd really like to see our young folks here in America given something to hold onto and be proud of while we can still reach them and engage them in the process of education.

I mean how can you blame the black community for this alleged culture of "education and learning is white" yet at the same time block all reasonable access to a curriculum that would not only engage them, but wouldn't enforce the falsity that all education, all great things, are achieved by whites. It seems like doing so (blocking afrocentric curriculum) contains the not so subtly message of "so don't even try to strive, reach or achieve - you ain't good enough, you've never been anything, you never will be anything". How counter-productive is that? And what a perfect example of the perpetuation of white supremacy.

What is also troubling is the blind adherence to "my country - right or wrong" that passes for patriotism these days. Another commentator long ago pointed out it isn't so much patriotism as it is nationalism and as such something to be watched closely less it give way to facism.

Thanks for highlighting this story Tami, I'm a little behind in my Democracy Now viewing. said...

Hey there Tami!

Thank you so very much for blowing the trumpet about this!

But I can remember learning about Puerto Rico’s later re-colonization by the United States; from the history books that I had and the lessons my teachers taught me, I would’ve thought that it was all a happy arrangement in which a benevolent United States swept in to protect hapless Puerto Ricans from themselves, since their independence and sovereignty would clearly only lead to disaster. Imagine my shock - and my anger - when I started to learn that this was simply not the case.

This Puerto Rican says:
Yes, preach on!

Thanks for this trumpet sound!


Anonymous said...

The culture of black Americans is not African in any way. Their culture, like that of most other Americans, is European, primarily Britanic. Black Americans have more in common culturally with most ordinary white Brits, Australians, and Canadians than they have with any groups in Africa. Afrocentric education is a kind of PC political propaganda. It is fictional rubbish that does more to cripple than to empower the youngsters upon whom it is inflicted.

Symphony said...

How does teaching that Black people were more to America and the world than slaves, Martin Luther King Jr and Rosa Parks cripple them?

Why do American text books speak of nothing but great White men and ignores their personal racism and sexism?

Tami said...


I would agree that black American culture includes many European influences, possibly more than African ones. But that isn't the point of the post, is it? Nice straw man, though.

The point is that the teaching of history in America is more centered on patriotism and Eurocentrism than fact. Because of that, ALL children get a skewed view of history. But particularly children of color suffer, because it is the role of people of color that is erased.

Professor Tracey said...

@Anonymous -

You need to pick up a few more African and African American history books. When Africans where brought to Europe and America as slaves, they brought their traditions, practices, and ideals from AFRICA! Do you think they left all their social, cultural, political, and academic knowledge behind when they got in enslaved?

African farming practices were introduced to Europeans. Who in the hell do you think introduced the yam, rice, peanuts, okra, and wild greens to white folks? How about the concepts of irrigation that the Africans introduced? Who hipped the Europeans and the Americans to Indigo dyes - the Africans!

The American banjo and drums are related directly back to an African influence. Not to mention American dance and storytelling. Joel Chandler Harris "collected" (more like stole) the stories of Native Indians and Africans and turned it into white folks beloved collection of Uncle Remus Stories.

Current American history text deny the existence of African American soldiers in almost all American wars, black inventors are skipped over, black leaders don't exist until MLK, the truth about the horrors of slavery, black women are barely mentioned in most U.S. History texts. The black power movement is skipped.

Latinos and Asians are rarely mentions as contributors to American History, usually as the bad guys, if they get mentioned at all!

Schools and Colleges spend weeks on the American Revolution and the Civil War, but only from the white perspective. That's not history, that's the wholesale reinforcement of white history as more important than anyone else's history!

African American culture and history is unique - well-grounded and well-connected to our African past and our black experience in American. You have no idea what you are talking about in attempting to deny that proven fact.

And what in the hell do black folks have in common with Australians? Black folks were not convicts dropped off on island, free to terrorize the native Aborigines. WE have nothing in common with them. We have a lot more in common with the native Aborigines that the white Australians.

quarter-life-crisis said...

Oh my gosh! Its like you just reached in my head and picked my brain. I love history and everything about it. However the only thing that bugs me is not having enough info regarding "my" history. I have been researching books so that I can personally start learning world history. Its extremely difficult to find material about us from the very beginning and when I do, it always protray us as "barbarians". I think a knowledge of our past (the real one) will liberate minds and give some pride in themselves.

Nicole said...

I agree that school history books need to be less Eurocentric, but I totally disagree with the hatemongering exagerations people are posting here. For example, one person says that no black leaders are mentioned in history classes before MLK. That is totally false. I went to a mostly white school and were were taught and tested on dozens of events and leaders from black history, most of which happened before MLK. It may very well be that that balance needs to be improved, but it is complete BS to suggest that only "whites" are covered. That is yet another racist lie. Personally, I am sick of all the haters--white, black, brown, or whatever.

Tami said...


It's great that you were taught the history of all Americans in school. Believe me that you are lucky and that most school districts are not so inclusive.

No one is saying that no school anywhere ever, ever teaches anything beyond slavery and MLK. Sadly though, as many recent news reports have shown, too many schools teach a whitewashed history that fails to reflect the important contributions of all Americans.


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