Katerina Sinclair, an university educator and mother of a Tucson high school student, was not permitted to voice her concerns about proposed changes to the Mexican American Studies program in a Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) board meeting on Tuesday, May 3. Instead, Dr. Sinclair was arrested for criminal trespass and taken to the Pima County Jail.
In lieu of being permitted to address her concerns to the TUSD board members directly, Dr. Sinclair offers this open letter to the board.
On Tuesday, May 3rd, I stood up as a concerned parent at the TUSD School Board meeting and was arrested on a charge of criminal trespass. I was concerned that the Board had not voiced their agreement with Superintendent Pedicone’s recommendation to postpone their vote on Dr. Stegeman’s proposal until a town hall meeting could be held and all voices heard. I was concerned that members of the audience had asked the Board if they would hold a town hall meeting before they voted and were met with silence. Instead, the Board voted (3-2) to cancel the public meeting scheduled for this Thursday that would have been held in a high school auditorium to accommodate our community and include two hours of discussion. They refused the community’s request to extend the call to the audience to ensure that people’s opinions were heard. Instead, Dr. Stegeman announced that they would move on to the next item on the agenda—the vote.
As I was not allowed to speak beyond the first two sentences, I submit the following as an open letter to the TUSD school board:
My name is Dr. Katerina Sinclair and I am the mother of a TUSD high school freshman. Additionally, I hold a PhD in Human Development and Family Studies and a Masters in Applied Statistics from Penn State, along with three other university degrees. I have earned numerous teaching awards, recognitions, and certificates, and I research the effect of inclusive school policies and curricula on in-school victimization, academic outcomes, mental health and suicide risk for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth. Given the recent media coverage of these issues, I trust that I do not have to draw the parallel for this board between the risks faced by LGBT youth and those faced by Mexican American youth, and so this issue is of both personal and professional importance to me.
I stand before you as a concerned parent, but bring my academic background with me. Dr. Stegeman, I will address you directly as this is your proposal. As a fellow college educator, I am sure you are aware of the qualities that universities want in their students. We want students who own their own educations, who take initiative, who go beyond the lecture. We want critical thinkers who can draw parallels, question the status quo, and move themselves up Bloom’s taxonomy of educational objectives from simple recitation of facts to analysis and synthesis. If our graduates are to compete in this global economy, we need innovative, creative thinkers in the next generation of college students. Finally, and this is most relevant to this discussion, we need students who are able to think outside the box and challenge the assumptions of majority culture. We need students who have the background and ability to understand cultures that are not their own. For this reason, most universities require students to take courses that emphasize intercultural competence, including my alma mater and the University of Arizona.
As a white parent of a white student, this is of the greatest concern to me. I want my daughter to learn about the values and history of culture outside of that in which she was raised. Dr. Stegeman, I have read the articles and position statements that you have written regarding this proposal; you seem to believe that intercultural competence can be gained through incorporating materials on Mexican American history into general social studies classes. Although I appreciate your intention to broaden the coverage of Mexican American history, this is simply not how people learn. Consider if a colleague asked you to give a guest lecture on game theory, your area of expertise, in a freshman economics course. Would you then consider these students to be competent to discuss game theory? I think not. Similarly, we would not teach students the Cyrillic alphabet and then say they learned Russian. Intercultural competence is developed through immersion in another culture and a deep understanding of value systems in the same way that languages are learned through continuous contact.
As I raise my daughter in our racially and culturally mixed city, I want her to have the opportunity for this immersion; I want her to be competitive in an increasingly global context. The answer also does not lie in making these courses electives. Due to her advanced mathematical background, last year my daughter, who was then in middle school, took math courses at Tucson High. Due to the differences in schedules, she was unable to take any elective courses the entire year. As she should be finished with Calculus II by the end of her junior year and she will have to commute to a college to continue her mathematical coursework, we are anticipating similar problems with scheduling in the coming years. My daughter, who is brilliant in both humanities and mathematics, is the type of student we want in our college courses. She is well-rounded and enthusiastic. Please encourage her enthusiasm for learning about other cultures. Do not stifle it. Do not make these courses electives. Expand the course offerings instead to allow for more students to develop critical thinking skills and intercultural competence. Ensure the competitiveness of our graduates for college and job opportunities.
As a parent, as a fellow educator, and as a Tucson community member, I am asking that you remove your proposal from consideration, Dr. Stegeman. Thank you for your time.