Back in 2010, Arizona passed a somewhat controversial law that effectively banned ethnic studies within the collective school system. Now, John Huppenthal, a state superintendent of public education, is claiming that the use of Rage Against the Machine and other politically-charged music in the Tucson school curriculum is a direct violation of that law. In a “note of noncompliance” complaint sent to Tucson’s school district chiefs last week, Huppenthal argued that when U.S. History students at Cholla High school are asked to dissect the lyrics of a politically charged rap-metal band Rage Against the Machine – then band’s 1992 single “Take The Power Back” — a song that was being taught as part of a Mexican-American history lesson — this defied the restrictive law. An “Introduction to Hip-Hop” essay penned by rapper KRS-One that’s used in an English class was also cited as a violation. Huppenthal pointed to the lyrics of “Take The Power Back”, noting that that type of “content” was forbidden in Arizona classrooms and that courses that taught it were breaking the law. That is, these classes are working to promote “the overthrow of the government” and “resentment toward a race or class of people” while advocating “ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.”
Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas added that she agreed with the finding by her predecessor John Huppenthal that TUSD is in violation. However, Douglas said she will uphold the 60-day compliance period, and believes the two entities can work collaboratively to ensure that culturally relevant courses are taught in accordance with the law but said ““This is a serious situation. Under my oath of office I have to enforce the law and if no progress is made, the penalty will be imposed. This would have significant negative impacts on the TUSD budget,”
Rage Against The Machine guitarist Tom Morello took to Twitter to comment on the controversy, saying that the band’s lyrics are “only dangerous if you teach it right.” Meanwhile, Corey Jones, the teacher behind the Mexican-American history lesson in question, told Rolling Stone that, although he wasn’t surprised by Huppenthal’s complaint, he was “a little embarrassed to live in a state with these politics.” He explained that the purpose of using “Take The Power Back” was from a “social justice perspective” and that the course was simply “designed to encourage students to want to change the world for the better” and said that “Arizona’s becoming a more fascist state.
Though Jones claims that he will not change his curriculum, the entire Tucson school district could be hit with penalties as a result. The District has till March 10th to change the curriculum and/or eliminate the courses entirely before 10% of its annual funding is cut. According to RawStory, a challenge to the 2010 law has been launched with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.