What would you do if your city school system offered a program targeted at a segment of the student population and the program was remarkably successful, raising graduation rates in that group from 52% to 93% and increasing standardized test scores? In a perfect world, the teachers and administrators would be honored for their contribution not only to those students but also to the community which benefits from that success. Alas, Arizona is not a perfect world. Despite Tucson Unified School District offering an effective program that has been copied by other districts throughout the nation, a bill was sponsored, passed, and signed by the governor ending Ethnic Studies programs but specifically aimed at the Mexican American studies program offered in Tucson.
Filmmakers Ari Luis Palos and Eren Isabel McGinnis spent a year in high school classrooms “filming this innovative curriculum, documenting the transformative impact on students who became engaged, informed, and active in their communities” for their independent film, Precious Knowledge.
Precious Knowledge is a somewhat-biased look at the programs offered to Mexican American students and the efforts of legislators and state education authorities to ban them, seemingly based on one book (The Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire) used in the curriculum. Only one of the critics expressing their fear of the seditious nature of the courses had spent any time observing any of the classes (his comments following his visit indicate he was less than open-minded about what he would witness). The critics’ arguments are weak, but apparently persuasive within the legislature, and no amount of protest by parents, teachers, and students could stem the tide of their movement.
In one particularly ironic scene, a man complains that the students were told that Benjamin Franklin was racist and that kids shouldn’t be told negative things about the “founding fathers.” He doesn’t dispute the concept that Franklin was a racist—if, indeed, he was; he just doesn’t want the kids going to school and being educated. We look forward to the next Arizona legislative initiative regarding education: only nice things can be taught about Americans (particularly white American males).
Participating in the film are students who have benefited from the Mexican American Studies program, parents, teachers involved in the program, educators and education experts, and legislators, among others. Precious Knowledge is an inspiring exploration of the positive results of Mexican American Studies, and a startling exposé of ignorance in politics.