'Precious Knowledge: Arizona's Battle Over Ethnic Studies' [DVD]
Ari Luis Palos and Eren Isabel McGinnis
If you are wondering why the Arizona legislature has appeared to turn into a Tea Party version of the Ku Klux Klan, the remarkable documentary “Precious Knowledge: Arizona's Battle Over Ethnic Studies” provides an invaluable insight into why. What's at stake is a battle over whether the US is going to maintain a White “Eurocentric” culture and power structure, or whether a secular democracy is going to prevail.
In “Precious Knowledge” this battle for the nation's future plays out in the state's now successful effort to ban Mexican-American studies, specifically in Tucson. While Mexican-American young people comprise the vast majority of public school students in Tucson, a couple of opportunistic politicians decided that teaching Mexican-American heritage and culture was threatening to the white power structure – although they state their objections in more euphemistic terms, such as the curriculum is “Anti-American.”
The director and producer of “Precious Knowledge” let the teachers, students and politicians have their say; there is no narrator. But the energy, drive, advocacy and intelligence of the students and teachers make the bigoted politicians seem like fossils from another age. Much of what is in contention here is based on a classic educational liberation book, Paulo Freire's “Pedagogy of the Oppressed.” Freire contended that institutionalized education is often structured to make minorities and the poor feel helpless and sets them up, as students, for failure.
Given that enrollees in the Mexican-American studies program in Tuscon graduated at twice the rate of other Latino students, you would think politicians would be tossing money at the curriculum instead of banning it. But the reality is that minorities and the poor who become educated become empowered, and that is what threatens the “Eurocentric” white power structure.
This is must-see film that is uplifting, because although the forces of prejudice have prevailed for the moment, one can see the power of an education that emancipates the oppressed through knowledge and the exercise of democracy.