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SantaCruz: Textbooks should provide facts — not fiction — about history


Members of the State Board of Education took a unanimous preliminary vote on Wednesday to reject the adoption of a controversial Mexican-American studies textbook riddled with untruths. The final vote on Friday is not likely to be any different.

The book in question — “Mexican American Heritage” which was meant to teach high school students about Mexican-American culture — has been the center of controversy and made national headlines for its highly offensive and inaccurate account of the role Mexican-Americans have played in Texas history.

Media – including film, television and some news coverage – is inundated with negative stereotypes of people of color, including Latinos. These limited perceptions give Americans a false image of entire communities and set a low standard for respect that has allowed the public to accept stereotypes as blanket definitions of specific cultural groups. The bar, however, must be set much higher for academicians writing history books meant for high schools.

And that is where the problem lies with “Mexican American Heritage.” It wasn’t written by historical experts. To start, the textbook is published by Momentum Instruction, a Virginia company headed by Cynthia Dunbar, a controversial former Texas State Board of Education member who opposed the teaching of the separation of church and state and also once called public education “a subtly deceptive tool of perversion.” Its authors, Jaime Riddle and Valarie Angle, have backgrounds in education and curriculum development, but aren’t scholars on the subject of Mexican-Americans or Texas history. The absence of an expert is evident as the book is rife with stereotypes and inaccuracies – and they weren’t subtle.

For instance, initially, the textbook portrayed Mexicans as lazy in its comparison of American industrialists in Mexico in the late 1800s. The authors wrote: “Industrialists were very driven, competitive men who were always on the clock and continually concerned about efficiency. They were used to their workers putting in a full day’s work, quietly and obediently, and respecting rules, authority, and property. In contrast, Mexican laborers were not reared to put in a full day’s work so vigorously. There was a cultural attitude of ‘mañana,’ or ‘tomorrow,’ when it came to high-gear production.”

Other examples include addressing the issue of immigration, attributing to it an increase in “poverty, drugs, crime, non-assimilation, and exploitation,” saying Chicanos are people who “adopted a revolutionary narrative that opposed Western civilization and wanted to destroy this society.”

The book, as Patty Quinzi, an attorney for the Texas chapter of the American Federation of Teachers said during testimony before the board on Tuesday, “disparages and insults millions of our students and teachers alike.”

It is unacceptable.

Our nation is currently facing a challenging time in history. Once again, division among communities is rampant and fierce. Textbooks can bridge that divide by helping students understand one another. Those history books, however, must rely on facts, not stereotypes, to recount the meaningful and diverse contributions – both past and present — made by all.

There is plenty of evidence of the need for ethnic studies like Mexican-American history. When students see themselves in the pages of history, the effects are long-lasting. A University of Arizona study published in the American Educational Research Journal last year found that Latino students’ chances of graduating from high school increased by nearly 10 percent when they took a Mexican-American studies course.

And the National Education Association found that the positive impact of such studies is even higher with white students, who gain a much more sophisticated ethnic consciousness as they confront issues of race that are already familiar to students of color.

In a state where a significant portion of the population is of Latino ancestry and where Latinos are the largest ethnic group in public schools, Texas must do better in telling its full history.

Dunbar, who has said the book doesn’t include any racist content, submitted 20 pages of changes the authors have already made to the text. She told the board on Tuesday that the authors would address all errors if the book is approved. However, Dunbar’s words are a hard sell.

After the book was first proposed in May, a committee of educators charged with reviewing the book in September originally identified 141 factual errors. On Tuesday, the committee shared a 200-page report with Board of Education members detailing their review of the responses from the book’s authors to the committee’s initial findings, the American-Stateman’s Madlin Mekelburg reported. This review found 407 factual errors in the author’s responses.

Wednesday’s vote by members of the State Board of Education was clear: Texas students deserve better than what Momentum Instruction publishing company has to offer. They should confirm it again on Friday.

Contact Gissela SantaCruz at 512-912-5991.


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