Precious Knowledge

Film. Directed by Ari Luis Palos and produced by Eren Isabel McGinnis. 2011. 70 minutes.
High school seniors become community leaders in Tucson’s embattled Ethnic Studies classes while state lawmakers attempt to eliminate the program.

Time Periods: 21st Century, 2001-
Themes: Education, Latinx, Laws & Citizen Rights, Organizing, Racism & Racial Identity

“Rarely has a film been so timely and downright revelatory.”
— Jeff Biggers, Huffington Post

What a timely and important film this is. We meet the inspiring educators associated with Tucson’s embattled Mexican American Studies program, and a few of the many students whose lives have been transformed by it. And, straight from central casting, we meet the scoundrels trying to shut the program down — politicians who wrap their racism in a language of opportunity, individual rights, and Americanism. The stars of the film are the young people who establish a new relationship to life and learning through their classes and activism.

As one of the students says in class: “I started thinking, “Oh, I’m a Chicana, I ain’t going to be able to graduate, I’m going to have kids young. . . . And then I started coming to these classes and I started seeing, like, why am I believing all this? Instead of believing it I should change it.” Precious Knowledge raises questions for all educators about how we can more authentically speak to students’ lives in the curriculum. And it confronts us with today’s Klan 2.0 —  bigots who quote Martin Luther King Jr. as they shutter Mexican American Studies classes and ban books. This is an essential film for professional development, teacher education, and high school classes addressing racial justice.


Precious Knowledge is a co-production of Dos Vatos Films, the Independent Television Service (ITVS), Arizona Public Media, and Latino Public Broadcasting, with funding provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB).


  • Audience Favorite and Special Jury Award, San Diego Latino Film Festival, 2011
  • Honorable Mention in the Best Documentary Category, Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival, 2011


Casting aside the inflammatory rhetoric and national headlines of the anti-ethnic-studies instigators, Precious Knowledge provides a clear-eyed portrait of students, teachers and their community struggling to deal with the nation’s most unnerving campus witch hunt in recent memory. Tracing the political roots of the legislative ban — and the program’s own mandate and success to alleviate the long-time achievement gaps among Latino students — Precious Knowledge‘s riveting pacing and compelling portraits will astonish, infuriate and inspire viewers. In truth, Precious Knowledge is the type of unique and powerful film that could ultimately shift public perception and policy on one of the most misunderstood education programs in the country. —Jeff Biggers, Huffington Post, read full review.

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