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Rage Against the Machine Defy Ethnic Studies Ban, Says Arizona Schools Chief


Arizona’s departing state superintendent of public education, John Huppenthal, spent his last day of work targeting the Tucson Unified School District for violating the state’s ban on ethnic studies, according to the Arizona Daily Star. In particular, the “notice of noncompliance” he sent the district’s superintendent, Dr. H.T. Sanchez, on January 2nd highlighted two music-related violations: the use of the Rage Against the Machine 1992 song “Take the Power Back” in Mexican-American history and an introduction to hip-hop written by KRS-One in an English class taught from an African-American perspective.

Huppenthal’s notice cited lyrics from “Take the Power Back,” with asterisks covering profanity, and linked to the rap trailblazer’s essay in which he defines hip-hop as “the artistic response to oppression.” Both instances were in reference to classes taught at Tucson’s Cholla High Magnet School. The notice also noted a handout that asks, “Why was American slavery the most brutal in history?” and the requirement for students to recite Mayan and Aztec teachings daily. The classes replaced a Mexican-American Studies class that was deemed to violate the education law.

The schools chief threatened to cut state funding for the district by 10 percent if it did not comply with the law by March 4th, according to The Arizona Republic.

Huppenthal claimed that these instances, along with others not listed in the complaint, were not in compliance with a piece of Arizona legislation, passed in 2010, that limited the contents of classroom curricula. Specifically, Huppenthal said that the courses “promote the overthrow of the United States government,” “promote resentment toward a race or class of people” and “advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals,” per the wording of the bill. A lawsuit seeking to overturn the law will go before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals this month, RawStory reports.

Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello commented on the matter on Twitter, claiming that his band’s and rap lyrics are “only dangerous if you teach [them] right.” Representatives for KRS-One and Huppenthal did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

“I am deeply concerned by the fact that the noncompliance appears to extend beyond classes taught from the Mexican-American perspective and now also includes classes taught from the African-American perspective,” Huppenthal said in a statement, adding that he wants “students, regardless of their race or ethnic background, [to] have access to a high quality education.” He also wrote, “In issuing this finding before classes resume, I am hopeful that the district will take immediate action to comply with the law.”

Sanchez did not immediately reply to Rolling Stone‘s request for comment, but released a statement last week saying that he had requested a meeting with the outgoing superintendent, but had not heard back from him. “These courses were developed specifically under the court order,” he wrote, according to the Republic. “That order – the Unitary Status Plan – requires us to develop and implement culturally relevant courses taught from both the Mexican-American and African-American perspectives.”

Sally Stewart, the spokeswoman for the state’s Department of Education, said that Huppenthal’s replacement, Diane Douglas, would “keep the ball rolling” and follow up on her predecessor’s notice. Douglas’ chief of staff did not reply to requests for comment from the Republic on Friday.

Although Huppenthal was the incumbent option for the Republican primaries last year, the Grand Old Party ultimately selected Douglas as its candidate. She won the general election last November and assumed office on January 5th.

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