Education chief needs educating on ethnics
Arizona Daily Star
Nov. 18, 2007

Opinion by Ernesto Portillo Jr.

Tucson, Arizona | Published:


Tom Horne, the state superintendent of public instruction, wants to know the costs and content of Tucson Unified School District's ethnic-studies programs.

He said it's not an investigation. If it isn't, then what is it? A hunting trip?

A little background: Horne generally doesn't like TUSD. I've interviewed him in the past and Horne, although he's praised individual TUSD schools and educators, has made clear his dislike for the district's administration.

There's nothing wrong with disliking TUSD. It's easy to find fault with one of the largest public-school districts in the state. And public education often serves as a punching bag for an assortment of social critics.

But Horne is doing more than taking a swipe at TUSD. He's going after a small department within the district because he doesn't like its curriculum.

He doesn't like the idea that Chicano, Latino, American Indian and black students have the educational opportunity to study the history of race and race relations in our country.

Horne, who strongly opposed bilingual education, recently boasted in the Star, "I have a long history of opposing ethnic studies and gender studies." When he was a school board member in Paradise Valley he helped derail a proposed women's-studies program, he added.

I talked to the superintendent Friday.

Ethnic and gender studies are inappropriate, he says. Students are taught "the opposite of what they should be taught in school." Schools and curriculum, Horne added, should teach students "to transcend their parochial background."

Parochial? If anything, ethnic and gender studies broaden students' knowledge and understanding. They learn about issues affecting our country and communities from a global, and often different, perspective.

It's U.S. education that's parochial. American students historically have graduated knowing little to nothing about the world they live in, especially when it comes to the many ethnic communities established before and since 1776.

"Ethnic-studies programs will always be essential in public education until our society truly embraces diversity," says Antonio L. Estrada, professor of public health and Mexican American studies and director of the Mexican American Studies & Research Center at the University Arizona.

Ethnic studies, which have been around for 30 years, have a valid place in the classroom, he said.

"Until we see adequate representation of the contributions made to society by African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans and Asian Americans we will always need ethnic studies programs," Estrada wrote me.

Critics are quick to claim ethnic and gender studies are "fake" and unequal to traditional social sciences. But ethnic and gender studies are valid and academic successes are beyond question, Estrada said.

"UA faculty have been involved and evaluated the outcomes. They are legitimate no matter what Tom Horne may think," Estrada countered.

But it does matter what Horne thinks because he is the state's public-education leader. Horne has the bully pulpit to advance his agenda and oppose what he dislikes in public education.

Fair enough.

But one of the problems Horne has, which I suggested to him, is that he bases his opposition to TUSD's ethnic studies on anecdotal information.

If that's the basis of his pedagogical inquiry, then it's time students and their families offer their anecdotal information to the superintendent. TUSD students who have graduated and participated in ethnic studies are also encouraged to offer their positive testimonials.

The program's educators should also chime in and send in test scores and examples of students' academic achievements.

Write Superintendent Tom Horne at: Arizona Department of Education, 1535 W. Jefferson Street, Phoenix, AZ 85007.

Educate him.


Opinion by Ernesto Portillo jr.

● Contact columnist Ernesto Portillo Jr. at 573-4242 or His blog is at