Arizona Education Officials Say It's Illegal To Recite This Poem In School

In this Aug. 26, 2010 photo, Republican candidate for state superintendent of public instruction John Huppenthal, front, talk
In this Aug. 26, 2010 photo, Republican candidate for state superintendent of public instruction John Huppenthal, front, talks to the party faithful at Sen. John McCain's campaign headquarters in Phoenix. Behind Huppenthal are Gov. Jan Brewer, left, Gary Pierce, Republican candidate for Corporation Commission, and Ken Bennett, Republican candidate for Secretary of State, right. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

The outgoing head of Arizona’s education department caught national attention earlier this month when, on his last day in office, he issued a letter saying that Tucson’s public schools are illegally promoting ethnic solidarity and the overthrow of the U.S. government by teaching Mexican history and hip hop.

What received less attention is the letter’s citation of a poem penned by Chicano playright Luis Valdes that aims to instill ideas of empathy and integrity. Teachers of a Mexican-American studies curriculum outlawed by the Arizona legislature used to open their courses with a recitation of the multilingual poem, which Valdes based on philosophical concepts from the ancient Maya.

Here’s the poem:

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 mi 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.

This section, recited in some Tucson classrooms, is part of a longer poem called "Pensamiento Serpentino."

Arizona's former Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal cited as a violation of the state's ethnic studies law the requirement that students recite the poem at the beginning of class and understand the concepts behind it.

Conservative lawmakers and public officials in Arizona led by then-State Sen. Huppenthal and then-Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne passed a law in 2010 aimed at shutting down a Mexican-American studies curriculum in Tucson that opponents said was politicizing students and breeding resentment against whites. The law forbids classes that promote the overthrow of the U.S. government, foster ethnic solidarity, breed ethnic resentment or treat students as members of a group rather than individuals.

“I think that what was going on in those classrooms was just offensive,” Huppenthal told The Huffington Post last week in an interview.

A state-commissioned audit in 2011 recommended expanding the courses. A study published last month in the American Educational Research Journal showed that students who took the prohibited courses performed better on state tests and graduated at higher rates.

Under pressure from state education officials, the Tucson school board shut down the controversial courses in January of 2011. Huppenthal’s letter from earlier this month once again found the state in violation, this time for a recently developed “culturally relevant curriculum” that teaches In Lak’etch, as well as Mexican history, Rage Against the Machine lyrics and a KRS-One essay.

The incoming head of Arizona’s education department, Diane Douglas, also a Republican, has also said that Tucson’s culturally relevant courses violate the ethnic studies law. She has said she’ll work with the district’s superintendent H.T. Sanchez to resolve the dispute by March.

If the Arizona education department finds that Tucson remains in violation by March, the state will cut off 10 percent of the district’s funding.

The three-judge panel at the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in a lawsuit against Arizona’s ethnic studies law brought by former students of the Mexican-American studies classes.

Let us know whether you think this poem should be banned from schools in the comments.



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