“They Defiantly Walked Out”: Arizona Anti-Mexican American Studies Legislation and the Discourse of “Rude” Student Protest

Authors: Gloria Howerton*, University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire
Topics: Political Geography
Keywords: education, civility, race, politics, resistance
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/8/2021
Start / End Time: 9:35 AM / 10:50 AM
Room: Virtual 17
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

This paper addresses how the attempted erasure of Mexican American history and culture in public K-12 Arizona classrooms in was, and continues to be, rationalized through rhetoric concerning “rude” youth protest. Schools rarely offer officially sanctioned space for students to voice dissent. Students, however, take that space as they are able, often in the form of behavior dismissed as “rude,” particularly when performed by youth of color (YOC). This paper considers a civility discourse centered on perceived “rudeness” of youth, particularly YOC, which positions YOC protesters as both uncivil and lacking agency. I refer to this discourse as “rudeness rhetoric.” Arizona politicians mobilized the rudeness rhetoric as justification for legislation targeting Mexican American Studies (MAS) for termination. I find that, while politicians and the Arizona Department of Education engaged accusations that MAS promoted anti-white racism, they used rudeness rhetoric to frame the program as harmful for broader audiences, charging that it produced rude students based on protests politicians associated with MAS. Doing so allowed politicians to lay the blame for “rude behavior” at the feet of the MAS program, and move discussion away from racism in the legislation toward whether the program trained “future” citizen-subjects in the appropriate forms of civil discourse and debate.
Still, “rude” protest tactics such as chaining themselves to school district governing board member’s chairs made national news and gave the students a chance to speak to a larger audience than they would had they allowed themselves to be hidden within the structures of “civil” discourse.

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