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Indoctrination and Common Sense Interpretation of Texts: The Tucson Unified School District Book Banning

Emily J. M. Knox


Throughout January of 2012, national news reports described the ongoing saga of “banning” books used in the Tucson Unified school District’s (TUSD) Mexican American Studies (MAS) Program.  According to MAS students and teachers, on Friday, January 13, school officials attended class sessions and told teachers to box and remove books that were out of compliance with a recently passed Arizona law banning ethnic studies in public education institutions.  TUSD administrators had decided that, in order to comply with the law, not only would the MAS program have to end but any books used in the curriculum would need to be removed from classrooms.  Books on the removal list included Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paolo Freire, Critical Race Theory by Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic, and, famously, Shakespeare’s The Tempest. The TUSD maintained that it has not banned the books since they are still available in the libraries throughout the school system.  This article, which focuses on the reasons for removing the books from the MAS program classrooms, is grounded in a social constructionist metatheoretical framework as well as the study of reading practices and previous research on book challengers. It is intended to demonstrate that those who argued for the dismantling of the program and the removal of the books employed what might be called a common sense or monosemic interpretive strategy with regard to texts and were particularly focused on the idea of indoctrination in public schools.


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