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INDEPENDENT LENS: Precious Knowledge

Airs Tuesday, May 22, 2012 at 11 p.m. on KPBS TV

Crystal leads demonstrations to save the ethnic studies classes in front of T...

Credit: Courtesy of Ari Palos

Above: Crystal leads demonstrations to save the ethnic studies classes in front of Tucson High.

"Precious Knowledge" reports from the frontlines of one of the most contentious battles in public education in recent memory, the fight over Mexican American studies programs in Arizona public schools. The film interweaves the stories of several students enrolled in the Mexican American Studies Program at Tucson High School with interviews with teachers, parents, school officials, and the lawmakers who wish to outlaw the classes.

A film by Tucson-based filmmakers Ari Luis Palos and Eren Isabel McGinnis, "Precious Knowledge" will premiere on the Emmy® Award-winning PBS series INDEPENDENT LENS, hosted by Mary-Louise Parker.

While 48 percent of Mexican American students currently drop out of high school, Tucson High’s Mexican American Studies Program has become a national model of educational success, with 93 percent of enrolled students, on average, graduating from high school, and 85 percent going on to attend college.

The filmmakers spent an entire year in the classroom filming this innovative curriculum, documenting the transformative impact on students who became engaged, informed, and active in their communities.

As the nation turns its focus toward a wave of anti-immigration legislation in Arizona, the issue of ethnic chauvinism becomes a double-edged weapon in a simmering battle, making front page news coast to coast.

Talkback

Do you think that teaching the history of specific ethnicities promotes a sense among students of their own ethnic superiority? Do you think it is important to dedicate class time to the history of minority groups? Share your thoughts

When Arizona lawmakers pass a bill giving unilateral power to the State Superintendent to abolish ethnic studies classes, teachers and student leaders fight to save the program using texts, Facebook, optimism and a megaphone.

Lawmakers and politicians respond with a public relations campaign to discredit the students, claiming that a textbook used in the classes, Paulo Freire’s "The Pedagogy of the Oppressed" teaches victimization and sedition. Officials ask that the classroom’s Che Guevara posters be replaced with portraits of founding father Benjamin Franklin.

Meanwhile, the students answer back by fighting for what they believe is the future of public education for the entire nation, especially as the Latino demographic continues to grow.

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Trailer: Independent Lens: Precious Knowledge

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Watch Ethnic Chauvinism or Modern Civil Rights Struggle? on PBS. See more from Independent Lens.

When a highly successful Mexican American Studies Program at Tucson High School comes under fire for teaching ethnic chauvinism, teachers and students fight back. This modern civil rights struggle is born at the epicenter of the immigration debate in the age of identity politics.

Video Excerpt: Precious Knowledge

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Watch Planting the Seeds for Precious Knowledge on PBS. See more from Independent Lens.

The Case Against Ethnic Studies

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Watch The Case Against Ethnic Studies on PBS. See more from Independent Lens.

Arizona State Superintendent Tom Horne calls for the banning of ethnic studies classes in Tucson.

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