|Directed by||Ari Luis Palos|
|Produced by||Eren Isabel McGinnis|
|Music by||Naïm Amor|
|Edited by||Jacob Bricca|
|approx. 70 minutes|
Precious Knowledge is a 2011 educational and political documentary centered on the banning of the Mexican-American Studies program in the Tucson Unified School District of Arizona. It was directed by Ari Palos and produced by Eren Isabel McGinnis, both founders of Dos Vatos Productions.
The film follows the lives of four students and several teachers in the Mexican-American Studies program at Tucson High School. It follows the progression of local legislation proposed by the Arizona Department of Education Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tom Horne, in order to ban the Mexican-American Studies program.
Precious Knowledge is centered around the Mexican-American Studies (MAS) program at Tucson, Arizona’s United School District, which has been under scrutiny since 2006. The main opponent to the program at this time, Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tom Horne, claimed in the film that the program was “un-American” and that it “taught students to hate white people”. Horne worked with John Huppenthal, an Arizona state legislator, to create a bill, HB 2281, which stated that schools could not include classes/courses that: “promote the overthrow of the United States' government, promote resentment toward a race or class of people, are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group, [and] advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.” Horne and Huppenthal designed this bill believing the program would fall under these conditions and be removed. The film follows the students of the MAS program at Tucson High Magnet School throughout the 2008-2009 school year and their struggle to keep HB 2281 from becoming law.
The documentary begins by introducing Crystal Terriquez, Priscilla Rodriguez, Gilbert Esparza, and Mariah Harvey, all Mexican-American students at Tucson High School who participate in the Mexican-American studies program. The film displays the program's positive impact on the lives of students who participate in the program, citing the decrease in the dropout rate and the increase in students attending college. Furthermore, the students in the film say the program has created a space where they can feel included and not outcasts, which Camille Z. Charles, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania accredits to that fact that it's necessary that students are able to find themselves "in the important parts of [American] history, as well as in the history being made right now.” 
The film also features two male MAS teachers, Curtis Acosta and Jose Gonzalez, who create a learning environment based upon what they call “social justice pedagogy.” Gonzalez explains that they teach students to “seek the root of the truth, [and] in that truth there is a greater justice.” They emphasize the importance of culture, politics, commitment to community and social activism—factors that contributed to the transformation of students’ lives. Furthermore, Eren McGinnis, one of the filmmakers, revealed the meaning behind the film’s title in an interview that appeared in the MELUS (The Society for the Study of the Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States) journal. “Precious knowledge” is a reference to the Mayan tenets, taught in the MAS program, which, according to Eren Mcginnis, say to “self-reflect (Tezcatlipoca), seek out precious and beautiful knowledge (Quetzalcoatl), begin to act (Huitzilopochtli), and ultimately transform (Xipe Totec).” This title’s focus on Quetzalcoatl—precious knowledge—highlights what the activists in the film are fighting for. This and other emphases on Aztec heritage throughout the film reveal the intent by the filmmakers to remind students of their own deep history and their indigenous ancestors. With this knowledge, Eren McGinnis hopes to support the same message supported by the Mexican-American Studies program that these Mexican-American students “are not ‘outsiders’ or invaders” to this country.
In the documentary, the filmmakers included scenes where Tucson Unified School District Superintendent Tom Horne argued that the true nature of the program bred racial segregation and “treated students separately by ethnicity”. The proponents of the program, however, argued in the film that discrediting and removing the program sends an underlying message that the Mexican-American students and the Mexican-American culture don’t belong in America. Members of the Arizona legislature filed many bills aimed at terminating the MAS program at Tucson Unified School District, based on claims it promoted a conspiracy to overthrow the government. The proposed bills shown in the film were SB 1108, introduced on April 16, 2008, which failed to pass committee, and SB 1069, introduced on July 24, 2009, which passed out of committee to be voted on by the full legislature.
The documentary also featured the teachers and students of the MAS program and their organization of several peaceful protests and rallies against the proposed bills. One such act of protest was against SB 1069, where members of the community gathered to run 110 miles from Tucson to the Arizona State Capitol in Phoenix. SB 1069 ultimately failed to pass. After this, Tom Horne worked with John Huppenthal to draft HB 2281, which was approved by the full legislature and sent to the governor of Arizona, Jan Brewer, to approve. The bill was signed into law by Jan Brewer in 2010.
Throughout the film, they advocated for their civil right as citizens and community members. They touched upon political, social, and equity issues that affect a community of youngsters that aim to be scholars with Ph.D.'s . Civil rights are freedom of speech; the right to vote; freedom from involuntary servitude; and the right to equality in public places. Therefore, they were demonstrating that the education system needs to be deconstructed and rearranged in order to serve all citizens and non-citizens. The film also depicted discrimination occurring against these students civil rights. By denying them and interfered with their education because of their membership in a particular group or class. Although various jurisdictions have enacted statutes to prevent discrimination based on a person's race, sex, religion, age, previous condition of servitude, physical limitation, national origin, and in some instances sexual orientation individuals like Tom Horne went against this law. Instead aimed to dismiss Ethnic Studies and managed to get a bill passes to remove.
After the film
In 2011, following the events of the film, an audit was performed by the request of John Huppenthal, hoping to find the reason to remove the program. However, the audit’s findings showed that the program was in line with the bill passed into law, HB 2281. Despite the results of the audit, the Arizona state government informed the Tucson United School District that the school district would lose funding of $14 million if the program were to continue. As a result, the Tucson United School District cut the Mexican-American studies (MAS) program in early 2012.
Along with the program, books were banned from schools in the TUSD for the same claims of being anti-American and breeding resentment toward America, including:
Chicano! The History of the Mexican Civil Rights Movement by Arturo Rosales
Critical Race Theory by Richard Delgado
500 Years of Chicano History in Pictures edited by Elizabeth Martinez
Message to Aztlan by Rodolfo Corky Gonzales
Occupied America: A History of Chicanos by Rodolfo Acuña
Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire
In March 2013, Curtis Acosta, a teacher of the MAS program, and other teachers and students of the program took the issue to federal court. They challenged the legal validity of HB 2281 and its application, with the hope that if it were overturned, the MAS program would be reinstated. The plaintiffs took issue with (1) the constitutionality of HB 2281; (2) the fact that there was no “legal justification to eliminate the Mexican-American Studies Program”, (because it was in line with the law, evidenced by the audit performed in 2011); and (3) the vague language of the law, which presented opportunity for discriminatory misinterpretation. Ultimately, the federal district court left the law mostly intact. The court nullified only the section of the statute, that restricted classes "designed for a particular ethnic group," because it infringed upon the First Amendment. Unsatisfied with the results, the plaintiffs—at this point reduced to two students Korina Lopez and Maya Arce, as well as the director of the MAS program, Sean Arce (also Maya’s father)—filed an appeal. The case went to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on July 7, 2015, as Arce v. Douglas. The appellate court decided to return the case to the district court to give the plaintiffs a trial on their claims of racial discrimination. The trial has yet to take place.
The large controversy and banning of the program in Arizona led to a rapid spread of school districts in California and Texas to consider Mexican-American Studies programs. The result of this controversy also led Curtis Acosta, former teacher in the TUSD, to start a consulting business in 2013 meant to further spread ethnic studies classes in the states of California, Oregon, Texas, and Washington by guiding the creation process and training of such a program in these states.
Ari Luis Palos and Eren Isabel McGinnis began filming Precious Knowledge on October 31, 2008, after being granted permission by the Tucson Unified School District. The filmmakers were allowed complete access to the ethnic studies program in Tucson Magnet High School throughout the 2008-2009 school year. They also filmed students in and out of the classroom.
Eren Isabel McGinnis and Ari Luis Palos, filmmakers for Precious Knowledge, had a long history of filming documentaries centered on minorities before starting this film. Dos Vatos films, a co-producer of Precious Knowledge, according to McGinnis also, “give[s] voice to communities often silenced or stereotyped by mainstream media.” Along with this focus on allowing minority groups to be heard through the film, Eren Isabel McGinnis was particularly invested in this film because she had a son attending Tucson High School during the controversy. Furthermore, both filmmakers are of Mexican descent and have a “deep reverence and love of all things Mexican!”
In the MELUS interview, Eren McGinnis also revealed that her and Ari Luis Palos’ goal of the documentary was to promote the Mexican-American Studies program. In order for the film to do this and act as a “counternarrative” to those loudly speaking out against the Mexican-American Studies program, Eren McGinnis stated she and Ari Luis Palos intended the film to be “a space for students to speak on this controversy [because] their voices are often left out of the public discourse.” Eren McGinninis compares this cause to the Civil Rights movement because she says this movement needs, just as the Civil Rights activists needed, “the support of the nation” in order to “fight racism and ignorance.” Eren McGinnis also explains the purpose of following individual stories of students as a means to “humanize a large and complicated issue.”
The film received the following recognition:
Audience Favorite and Special Jury Award, San Diego Latino Film Festival (2011)
Premio Mesquite for Best Documentary, Cine Festival at the Guadalupe Cultural Art Center in San Antonio, Texas (2012)
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