After rejecting a proposed Mexican-American studies textbook that critics lambasted as a racist portrayal of Latinos, the State Board of Education is considering adopting another textbook.
The board last November tossed “Mexican American Heritage” from a list of recommended textbooks, reopening bids for other books. The board on Wednesday considered the latest proposal — “The Mexican American Studies Toolkit” — and heard from its author Tony Diaz, a Houston area activist and Mexican-American studies professor at Lone Star College. If the board approves the book in November, it will be added to the recommended high school social studies textbook list for the 2018-2019 school year.
“I haven’t seen anything or heard from anybody that leads me to think there is an area of concern. That’s good news,” said secretary of the board Ruben Cortez, D-Brownsville, who was among those critical of the first proposed textbook. “I’m excited that the folks that were involved with this publishing house were actual content-relevant professional and university folks.”
More than 100 scholars, activists and community members packed the board room last September to denounce “Mexican American Heritage” for painting the Chicano movement as a “threat to society, ” omitting the contributions of Mexican-American female civil rights leaders and for suggesting immigration “has been increasingly tied up with an illegal drug trade.”
Critics said the authors as well as the publisher Cynthia Dunbar — a former Republican member of the board — had no expertise in Mexican-American studies and made as many as 141 errors in the book.
The book initially said that communism caused natural disasters. After this error was identified, authors changed the sentence to say communism “left in its wake famine, natural disaster and civil war.”
Dunbar denied racist intent and the authors of the book made 20 pages worth of changes but it wasn’t enough to win the board’s approval.
Critics of the book celebrated the decision, pointing out that the board appeared to be turning a new leaf after several years of ideological infighting over topics like evolution and slavery as the cause of the Civil War.
“I saw you convene and vote beyond party lines to put students first and I commend you for that,” Diaz told the board on Wednesday. “Let’s work together to keep this momentum.”
“Mexican American Studies Toolkit” is the only Mexican-American studies textbook that has been proposed since the board reopened bids. Diaz was the only person from the public to comment on the book before the board on Wednesday.
Board Chairwoman Donna Bahorich, R-Houston, and Vice Chairwoman Marty Rowley, R-Amarillo, said they’re optimistic about adopting Diaz’s book in November but the board still needs to ensure that the contents are error free and meet state requirements.
The road to adopt a Mexican-American studies textbook started in 2014. Instead of creating a statewide Mexican-American studies course as a high school elective, the education board opted to offer districts recommended textbooks for such a course and other ethnic studies areas.
Cortez said if the board approves the book in November, it will be the first step toward implementing such a class, which he has been advocating for since he was elected to the board in 2012.
The Austin school district this school year started offering an ethnic studies course, which includes coverage of Mexican-American studies, at Anderson, Akins, Austin, Travis, LBJ and Reagan high schools.
The number of Latino children in Texas is expected to double by 2050 to 8 million, comprising 61 percent of all children in the state, according to state demographer Lloyd Potter.
Bahorich said that studies have shown that students who see their heritage reflected in the material they learn in school tend to have better grades and attendance levels.
“Your history is part of our history and so, that to me, is the advantage of some of these more culturally specific studies,” Bahorich said.