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In winter 2011, the Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction, John Huppenthal, a former state senator, tried to ban a popular Mexican American Studies program that was being taught in the Tucson Unified School District. He claimed that the course was in violation of AZ House Bill 2281, which prohibits classes that: advocate ethnic solidarity, are designed for pupils of a particular ethnic group, promote resentment toward a race or class of people, or promote the overthrow of the United States government.

To support his claim, Huppenthal pointed to the materials that students were reading. He specifically cited a book called Pedagogy of the Oppressed, which was written by the Brazilian educational theorist Paulo Freire. Huppenthal argued that the text was inflammatory and promoted racial hatred. The hypocrisy of this charge was revealed when Huppenthal himself was later found to have anonymously posted several racist and conspiratorial screeds online.

And even though AZ House Bill 2281 was struck down by a federal judge in 2017, it’s worth asking why a run-of-the-mill racist Republican like John Huppenthal found the work of a long-dead Brazilian educator so threatening.