Visiting professor stresses importance of ethnic studies

Story by Elizabeth Jackson

An ethnic studies program in Tucson, Ariz., schools, taught students positive self identity along with history and literature before being banned in Arizona, a director of the ethnic studies department at Tucson Unified School District said Thursday.

Augustine Romero, who spoke to students Thursday afternoon in Hibbard Hall and Friday morning in Davies Center Theater, stressed the importance of the ethnic studies program at TUSD for not only minority students but for all students who are involved in the classes.

In a slideshow presentation Romero let the audience examine the data, showing that students in the ethnic studies program at TUSD were three times more likely to pass reading examinations than the next highest group, four times more likely to pass writing exams and two times more likely to pass math exams.

“The craziest thing is this, we don’t teach math,” Romero said, “You ask the kids, ‘Why did you do well on the math test?’ ‘I just believed I could do it now.’”

Romero was one of six guest lecturers this semester in UW-Eau Claire’s Interdisciplinary Conversations Guest Speaker Series. The series, organized by the College of Education and Human Sciences and the American Indian Studies Program at Eau Claire, covers topics from stereotypes of American Indians to how Hmong issues can be incorporated into elementary and secondary education.

The courses taught at TUSD can have an impact in courses taught at Eau Claire and schools in the Eau Claire area, Romero said. Department of education studies faculty member Dr. Incho Lee, who was one of the organizers and who introduced Romero’s speech, said that higher level education at Eau Claire can learn from and base programs off of TUSD’s ethnic studies program.

“It also has implications for us in Wisconsin,” Lee said. “If you think about Mexican-Americans as one of the sub-groups of the underserved population, it has implications for all other under-represented sub-groups. It also has implications for curriculum development.”

The presentation by Romero comes at a good time, Lee said. The ethnic studies program at TUSD was first implemented in 2002 but has come under attack in the past year.

During his presentation Romero previewed for the audience the film “Precious Knowledge.” The film, which will air on PBS May 17, follows students and teachers at TUSD as they fight to retain the ethnic studies program, along with the argument from opponents of the program that it divides students up by ethnic backgrounds.

Students from multiple diversity programs at Eau Claire were at the presentation. Josh Ausman, a student in Education Studies 385: Social Foundations of Human Relations, said he was curious about the video.

“It looks like there were definitely two different sides and maybe a miscommunication between one party and the other,” Ausman said. “The lawmakers suggesting there was this anti-American movement following through the classes, and I really didn’t see anywhere in the information that was ever suggesting this.”

Jenna Dewitz, another student enrolled in Social Foundations of Human Relations, said the course and Romero’s presentation caused her to look at the biases and prejudices she holds, no matter how unintentional they are.

“We never really gave it a second thought until studying it here,” Dewitz said.

Both Ausman and Dewitz said that they belived that Eau Claire has done good job of incorporating ethnic studies into the university’s curriculum.

In the presentation, Romero stressed the difference of equity and equality in education.

“Equity, the way I look at it, is you offer whatever the child needs according to his or her social conditions and/or social context,” Romero said. “As he or she comes to us, what is that we need to get them to move forward as fast as possible?”