- Julie Chang American-Statesman Staff
Four years after rejecting a statewide high school Mexican-American studies course, the State Board of Education on Tuesday reprised talks about implementing one in the next few years.
“It helps them identify with their roots,” said board member Ruben Cortez, D-Brownsville, recounting what he’s heard from Mexican-American studies students. “One of them said, ‘My grades have improved because I now know that I’m not the only one dealing with these sorts of things and I’ve learned about people that have had these similar challenges.’”
Board member Marty Rowley, R-Amarillo, said he was concerned that creating a Mexican-American studies course and excluding broader Latino studies would be ideological.
Board member Marisa Perez-Diaz, D-Converse, disagreed, saying that by Rowley’s logic, the state’s current social studies courses would be considered ideological because they teach “pro-European colonialism.”
Notoriously divided along political lines at the time, the state board in 2014 rejected implementing a Mexican-American studies course. Mexican-American studies was added to a list of courses the board wanted to eventually develop, but in the meantime, school districts could choose to develop and implement such a course on their own. The board offered school districts a list of recommended textbooks for such a course and other ethnic studies areas.
Most school districts don’t offer Mexican-American studies courses, and the board has yet to adopt a Mexican-American studies textbook. Over the last two years, the board has considered and rejected two proposed textbooks — one book was considered racist by Mexican-American studies scholars and activists, and the other book was not considered comprehensive enough by the board.
The board’s discussion Tuesday focused on creating a set of curriculum standards — a blueprint of the specifics that would be taught in a statewide course. The course would lead to more school districts offering Mexican-American studies and more publishers creating a good Mexican-American studies textbook, proponents said.
“Having a course approved by the state board legitimates the work that teachers and educators across the state have already been doing,” said Christopher Carmona, a University of Texas Rio Grande Valley professor and committee chair with the National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies.
Carmona said that about 450 Texas high school students took Mexican-American studies last school year.
Of the two dozen people who signed up to provide public testimony before the board on Tuesday, no one spoke against creating a Mexican-American studies course. Carmona said the easiest way the board could speed up implementation of the course is if members approved using the Houston school district’s Mexican-American studies course as a template for the statewide version.
Carmona and seven other Mexican-American studies scholars have offered to help the Texas Education Agency create the course. Monica Martinez, an associate commissioner with the agency, said they can’t start developing a Mexican-American studies course until the end of the year because of other courses that need to be developed, financial constraints and lack of “staff bandwidth.”
The board did not make a decision Tuesday on whether to greenlight a Mexican-American studies course.
Board members decided instead they will take a formal vote during their next meeting in April about whether the course should be focused on Mexican-American studies or Latin-American studies.