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NCTE Raises Its Voice to Protest Tucson, Arizona, Book Censorship



January 30, 2012

Contact: Millie Davis, NCTE

NCTE Raises Its Voice to Protest Tucson, Arizona, Book Censorship

URBANA, IL –  Over two dozen organizations speak in one voice today to oppose the removal of seven books from the Mexican American Studies Program in the Tucson Unified School District (TUSD).  The National Council of Teachers of English joins them (read the joint statement below).  Kent Williamson, NCTE executive director, notes, “It’s unacceptable for state and local officials to deny students a rich and diverse curriculum presented under the guidance of qualified teachers.”

The TUSD board ordered removal of the books after State Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal threatened to withhold 10% of the state’s funding for the Tucson district, citing a 2010 Arizona law.  In his determination, and despite a program review to the contrary, the Superintendent ruled that the Mexican American Studies Program “contained content promoting resentment toward a race or class of people.” This law is currently being challenged in the courts. Now, though, students in Tucson have been both deprived of classroom texts and forbidden to learn about certain topics.

Through its Anti-Censorship Center, NCTE works on dozens of book challenges a year, continuing its century of support for the students’ right to read and for teachers’ expertise in choosing the materials that best serve the curriculum and their students.

The National Council of Teachers of English, with 35,000 individual and institutional members worldwide, is dedicated to improving the teaching and learning of English and the language arts at all levels of education.

January 30, 2012

The undersigned organizations are committed to protecting free speech and intellectual freedom. We write to express our deep concern about the removal of books used in the Mexican American Studies Program in the Tucson Unified School District. This occurred in response to a determination by Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal that the program “contained content promoting resentment toward a race or class of people” and that “materials repeatedly reference white people as being ‘oppressors. . . ’ in violation of state law.” The books have been boxed up and put in storage; their fate and that of the program remain in limbo.

The First Amendment is grounded on the fundamental rule that government officials, including public school administrators, may not suppress “an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.” School officials have a great deal of authority and discretion to determine the curriculum, the subject of courses, and even methods of instruction. They are restrained only by the constitutional obligation to base their decisions on sound educational grounds, and not on ideology or political or other personal beliefs. Thus, school officials are free to debate the merits of any educational program, but that debate does not justify the wholesale removal of books, especially when the avowed purpose is to suppress unwelcome information and viewpoints.

School officials have insisted that the books haven’t been banned because they are still available in school libraries. It is irrelevant that the books are available in the library – or at the local bookstore. School officials have removed materials from the curriculum, effectively banning them from certain classes, solely because of their content and the messages they contain. The effort to “prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, [or] religion” is the essence of censorship, whether the impact results in removal of all the books in a classroom, seven books, or only one.

Students deserve an education that provides exposure to a wide range of topics and perspectives, including those that are controversial. Their education has already suffered from this political and ideological donnybrook, which has caused massive disruption in their classes and will wreak more havoc as teachers struggle to fill the educational vacuum that has been created.

Book-banning and thought control are antithetical to American law, tradition, and values. In Justice Louis Brandeis's famous words, the First Amendment is founded on the belief:

that freedom to think as you will and to speak as you think are means indispensable to the discovery and spread of political truth; that, without free speech and assembly, discussion would be futile; . . . that it is hazardous to discourage thought, hope, and imagination. . . . Believing in the power of reason as applied through public discussion, [the Framers] eschewed silence coerced by law. . . . Recognizing the occasional tyrannies of governing majorities, they amended the Constitution so that free speech and assembly should be guaranteed.

The First Amendment right to read, speak, and think freely applies to all, regardless of race, ethnicity, sex, religion, or national origin. We strongly urge Arizona school officials to take this commitment seriously and to return all books to classrooms and remove all restrictions on ideas that can be addressed in class.

American Association of University Professors
Cary Nelson, President
1133 19th St., NW, Suite 200, Washington, D.C. 20036; 202-737-5900; 

American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression
Chris Finan, President
19 Fulton St., Suite 407, New York, NY 10038; 212-587-4025;

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Arizona
Alessandra Soler Meetze, Executive Director
P.O. Box 17148, Phoenix, AZ 85011-0148; 602-773-6006;

Antigone Books
Trudy Mills and Kate Randall, Owners
411 N. 4th Ave., Tucson, AZ 85705; 520-792-3715;

Arizona English Teachers’ Association
Jean Boreen, Executive Secretary
Northern Arizona University, English Department, P.O. Box 6032, Flagstaff, AZ 86011-6032; 

Arizona Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages
Craig Lefever, President
P.O. Box 881, Yuma, AZ 85366;

Association of American Publishers
Judith Platt, Director, Free Expression Advocacy
455 Massachusetts Ave., NW, Washington, D.C. 20001; 202-220-4551; 

Association of American University Presses
Peter Givler, Executive Director
28 W. 36th St., Suite 602, New York, NY 10018; 212-989-1010;

Atalanta’s Music & Books
Joan Werner, Owner
38 Main St., Bisbee, AZ 85603; 520-432-9976

Authors Guild
Paul Aiken, Executive Director
31 E. 32nd St., 7th Floor, New York, NY 10016; 212-563-5904; 

Center for Expansion of Language and Thinking
Dr. Kathryn F. Whitmore, President
The University of Iowa, N275 Lindquist Center, Iowa City, IA 52242; 319-335-5434;

Changing Hands Bookstore
Gayle Shanks, Bob Sommer and Cindy Dach, Owners
6428 S. McClintock Dr., Tempe, AZ 85283; 480-730-0205;

Comic Book Legal Defense Fund
Charles Brownstein, Executive Director
255 W. 36th St., Suite 501, New York, NY 10018; 212-679-7151;

Freedom to Read Foundation, an affiliate of the American Library Association
Barbara M. Jones, Executive Director
50 E. Huron St., Chicago, IL 60611; 312-280-4226; 

International Reading Association
Richard M. Long, Ed.D., Director, Government Relations
444 N. Capitol St., NW, Suite 524, Washington, DC 20001; 202-624-8801;

Modern Language Association
Rosemary G. Feal, Executive Director
26 Broadway, 3rd floor, New York, NY 10004-1789; (646) 576-5102;

Mountains and Plains Independent Booksellers Association
Laura Ayrey, Executive Director
8020 Springshire Dr., Park City, UT 84098; 435-649-6079;

National Association for Bilingual Education
Santiago Wood, Ed.D, Executive Director
8701 Georgia Ave., Suite 611, Silver Springs, MD 20910; 240-450-3700;

National Coalition Against Censorship
Joan Bertin, Executive Director
19 Fulton St., Suite 407, New York, NY 10038; 212-807-6242;

National Council for the Social Studies
Susan Griffin, Executive Director
8555 16th St., Suite 500, Silver Spring, MD  20910; 301-588-1800, ext. 103;  

National Council of Teachers of English
Millie Davis,  Senior Developer, Affiliated Groups and Public Outreach
1111 W. Kenyon Rd., Urbana, IL 61801; 217-278-3634; 

National Council of Teachers of Mathematics
Kichoon Yang, Executive Director
1906 Association Dr., Reston, VA 20191-1502; 703-620-9840;

National Education Association
Michael D. Simpson, Assistant General Counsel, NEA Office of General Counsel
1201 16th St., NW, Washington, DC  20036; 202-822-7035;

National Youth Rights Association
Alex Koroknay-Palicz, Executive Director
1101 15th St., NW, Suite 200, Washington, DC 20005; 202-835-1739;

PEN American Center
Larry Siems, Director, Freedom to Write & International Programs
588 Broadway, New York, NY 10012; 212-334-1660, ext. 105; 
PEN Center USA
Adam Somers, Executive Director
P.O. Box 6037, Beverly Hills, CA 90212; 323-424-4939;

People For the American Way
Debbie Liu, General Counsel
1101 15th St. NW, Suite 600, Washington, D.C. 20005; 202-467-4999;

Reach Out and Read
Anne-Marie Fitzgerald, Senior Director of National and State Programs
56 Roland St., Suite 100D, Boston, MA 02129; 618-455-0600

Reading Is Fundamental, Inc.
Carol Hampton Rasco, President/CEO
1255 23rd St., NW, Suite 300, Washington, DC 20037; 202-536-3500

Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators
Lin Oliver, Executive Director
8271 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90048; 323-782-1010; 
Spark Teacher Education Institute
Educational Praxis, Inc.
P.O. Box 409, Putney, VT 05346; 802-258-9212

Student Press Law Center
Frank LoMonte, Executive Director
1101 Wilson Blvd., Suite 1100, Arlington, VA 22209-2275; 703-807-1904;

TESOL International Association
John Segota, CAE, Associate Executive Director for Public Policy & Professional Relations
1925 Ballenger Ave., Suite 550, Alexandria, VA 22314; 703-518-2513;



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A Professional Association of Educators in English Studies, Literacy, and Language Arts