Raza Studies and the Battle Over Educational Reform

A thriving Raza Studies program helps a Tucson school keep high academic standards without standardization.

| November/December 2013

  • Since the readings reflected our students’ lives and experiences, they were able to continue to develop and grow in consciousness while sharpening their academic writing.
    Illustration By Simone Shin
  • Chicana/o and Latina/o students also dramatically improved and outperformed their peers in the math portion of the exam, although we offer no Mexican American/Raza Studies math class. The only plausible theory for this improvement was that the students began to hope, believe, and see themselves as having an academic identity regardless of the specific disciplines of history, composition, and literature.
    Illustration By Simone Shin

In Lak Ech

Tú eres mi otro yo / You are my other me.
Si te hago daño a ti / If I do harm to you,
Me hago daño a mí mismo / I do harm to myself;
Si te amo y respeto / If I love and respect you,
Me amo y respeto yo / I love and respect myself.

— Luís Valdez

Each day, my Students and I recite this verse from the poem “In Lak Ech,” by Chicano writer and activist Luís Valdez. It draws upon our indigenous history, roots, and cultura, and reminds us of our common humanity. Through these beautiful words, we are able to reflect upon the true essence of learning and are inspired to roll up our sleeves to help create a better world. With a unified voice, we affirm that teaching, learning, and education must always be about love.

In 2001, as the standardized testing movement exploded upon us in Tucson, Arizona, educators were immediately inundated with professional development that was geared to reeducate and train experienced maestros to be generic teachers. Administrators and district officials expounded on the need for the entire school and district to be in lockstep. Phrases such as “common curriculum” and “pacing calendars” began to take root in our professional discourse, while teacher creativity and innovation were discouraged; teachers could not be trusted to develop curriculum or create educational practices from their own wealth of knowledge, training, and experience.

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