Film Spotlight: Precious Knowledge

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The Latino population is growing every year in the United States and as a result schools are welcoming a new wave of Latinos students. They come with their own background, culture, language and they bring diversity into the classrooms.  As a Latinita, I feel that the inclusion of my culture in the curriculum could make the class more interesting and might give me more inspiration to go to school. There are many other Latinos who feel the same way and there have been movements to incorporate Latino heritage into the curriculum.  Latinitas, teachers and members of our culture have encountered resistance by groups of people who think Latino topics should not be taught in schools. With the rise in the number of Latino students, there should be classes offered that target the students’ background, heritage and culture.

A problem many students face is dropping out of school.  Annually, over 3 million students drop out and  approximately 17% of these students are Hispanic, according to the Education Week Children Trends Database. Once these students drop out of school the percentage of ending up in prison or committing a crime increases. What then can the education system do to help these students and motivate them to stay in school?

The 2011 film documentary Precious Knowledge directed by Ari Palos shows how Hispanic studies courses in Arizona helped Hispanic students feel more motivated to go to school and how they performed better in other classes. The school district of Arizona created elective courses targeted to Hispanic topics, especially Mexican. The classes discussed the Mexican-American history, culture and promoted critical thinking.  The classes created a community within the schools where it was okay to be a Latino. Many students enrolled in these classes, and as time passed they realized how many of the Hispanic students were graduating and going to the university at a higher rate.  One of the members of the program mentioned, “Everybody knew that the school system was discriminatory, there was an urgency for us to make a statement.”  This statement was greeted by many members of the Latino community, but it received a lot of negative attention by others.

Tom Horne, who during the film was the Arizona State Superintendent of Public Instruction, was one of the biggest protesters of these classes. He believed that the courses are “something that is very wrong, which is dividing students up by ethnicity and treating them separately by ethnicity. [He is] calling on Tucson Unified School District  to shut down the ethnic studies program and start teaching kids to treat each other as individuals and not on the bases of what race they were born into.” He had very strong negative opinions about these courses that were being offered, but he never went into the classroom to see what they were teaching. He made these comments on what he believed happened in the classroom instead of what he saw. Precious Knowledge shows how students battled against  what Tom Horne and his followers believed.  This battle is still being fought.

One of the main problems in classrooms it that they at times don’t make enough connection to real life events.  There have been philosophers such as Lev Vygostky, who believe that little of what is known as “living knowledge” enters the classroom. He believed that if we made a connection between students’ daily life and education, then not only was the student going to be more interested, but the education process would be enhanced. If we followed his line of thought, then the Hispanic Studies Program is a great alternative for students who wish to learn more about themselves and their background culture.

As Latinitas, we have to fight for our rights in education. As Latinitas, we have to strive for more. As Latinitas, we have to think about our future and the future of our children. As Latinitas, we have to be strong, powerful and proud women. We Latinitas are the future, let’s teach it to our children and fight for what is right in our schools.

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