In what could be the first step in integrating ethnic studies into Texas high school curriculum, the State Board of Education is considering a new English class that examines works of authors from different ethnic backgrounds.
Board member Georgina C. Pérez, D-El Paso, has proposed a comparative literature class for juniors or seniors that would include works by authors from diverse backgrounds.
The optional course would fulfill students’ English 3 or 4 requirement and would follow established curriculum, so the board wouldn’t have to take on the complicated and lengthy process of creating new curriculum standards.
“The definition of comparative literature is not exclusive of one ethnic group or one cultural group,” Pérez said. “It’s comparative literature of a variety of ethnicities and cultures and historical periods, but the most important thing for a successful comparative literature course is that it is responsive and reflective of the students in the classroom as well as the community.”
A committee of the board started discussing Thursday the possibility of creating a comparative ethnic studies literature course with hopes that the full board would consider it as early as its June meeting.
The board in the past hasn’t been amenable to ethnic studies courses. In 2014, the board rejected a push to create an elective Mexican-American studies course, fearing that it would teach divisiveness. The board offered instead to approve textbooks for districts who want to offer African-American studies, Native American studies and Asian-American studies courses.
Three lawmakers have proposed bills this session that would allow ethnic studies English and social studies elective courses to be taught in middle and high school. The bills, sponsored by Democrats, haven’t gained traction.
Pérez said that more students would take ethnic studies if it is offered as an English or history class rather than an elective. She is hopeful that the course will win board approval because it doesn’t require new curriculum standards and is inclusive. She envisions the course as the first step to integrating more ethnic studies into other core courses in lower grades.
“This sounds like something that even in the elementary years would be something to get started … and start working the way up. I think that would be excellent,” board member Sue Melton-Malone, R-Robinson, said during Thursday’s meeting.
According to a study by the University of Arizona, Tucson students who took Mexican-American studies courses were more likely to pass all state standardized tests, including math. Students started performing better because they saw their cultural background reflected positively in the material that they were learning, Angela Valenzuela, a University of Texas education professor, told the committee.
“A positive social identity, a positive sense of self, a positive sense of society, so it’s really these pro-social values that are so important,” Valenzuela said. “What they did in Tucson is that they really promoted a sense of ‘we-ness’ and not this othering of people who are different.”