A Mexican-American studies textbook proposed for Texas high schools is a racist whitewashing of history, according to some scholars and activists, who are urging the state to find an alternative.
Concerns about the book include:
- Simplistic treatment of Native Americans
- Describing the Chicano movement as an effort to reconquer the United States
- Using the term “illegal” to describe immigrants who are not authorized to be in the U.S.
- Describing immigrant neighborhoods as riddled with crime
The book, “Mexican American Heritage,” posted for public review on the Texas Education Agency’s website, is unfit for Texas students, more than half of whom are Hispanic, said State Board of Education member Ruben Cortez Jr., D-Brownsville.
“Based on the initial conversation with these experts, I don’t believe that this book should see the inside of any classroom in any shape, form or fashion,” Cortez said. “If it’s as bad as they’re all telling me, there’s not a chance in hell I’m going to support this book.”
Other board members say they’re reserving judgment.
State Board of Education Chairwoman Donna Bahorich, R-Houston, said that she and fellow members are checking with Mexican-American studies scholars on the book, adding that it’s too early to tell if the board should write off the book.
Board member David Bradley, R-Beaumont, who opposed asking for a Mexican-American studies course and textbook, said the proposed book seems fine.
“It’s really kind of amusing. The left-leaning, radical Hispanic activists, having pounded the table for special treatment, get approval for a special course that nobody else wanted,” Bradley said. “Now they don’t like their special textbook? I bet they want everyone to also get an A for just attending? The one thing we can’t fix in this world is unhappy people.”
The textbook is the result of a divisive measure 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.
The Mexican-American textbook was the only ethnic study area book submitted for consideration.
Although textbooks in any subject that the board approves are optional for school districts, many end up adopting them instead of finding other material.
Chicanos and other issues
Trinidad Gonzales, Mexican-American studies professor at South Texas College, said that incomplete treatment of Native Americans occurs in the first chapter of the book.
Gonzales said authors neglected to mention one of the largest urban communities in the pre-Columbian U.S. was a Native American city called Cahokia, located on the Mississippi River near present-day St. Louis. Instead, the book’s description of the Plains Indians is limited to their use of tepees and their reliance on buffalo — “the Hollywood definition,” Gonzales said.
“It’s a simplistic presentation of Native American history that is very problematic, that is not based on current scholarship,” Gonzales said.
Gonzales also said the book’s statement that colonial Protestants believed in the separation of church and state is incorrect.
Among the largest problems with the book, though, according to scholars and activists, is its portrayal of Chicanos. The book’s authors said Chicanos “adopted a revolutionary narrative that opposed Western civilization and wanted to destroy this society.”
“It is appalling this textbook would claim Chicanos want to destroy society. If a student turned in this textbook as a research paper, it would be graded an F,” state Sen. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio, said in a recent statement.
Gonzales said that the Chicano movement of the 1960s and 1970s, which has spawned generations of Mexican-Americans who identify as Chicanos, was fighting for equal access to social programs created under the Great Society, “not to destroy the U.S.”
Christopher Carmona, who is a committee chairman of the Texas chapter of the National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies, said that the discussion questions at the end of the Chicano chapter aim to penalize students if they do not interpret the historical events in a certain way.
For example, one reads, “Are Chicano Studies beneficial to Mexican-American culture? Explain. How did César Chávez challenge this vision?”
Chávez “couldn’t really get involved in the Chicano movement because he was involved in the farmworker movement,” Carmona said. “They are conflating two things that have nothing to do with each other, and they are bringing them together to form an answer: The Chicano movement is bad. That’s what they want you to say.”
The authors also repeatedly use the term “illegal immigrants” in reference to those who immigrate to the country illegally. The book also says that “crime and exploitation can circulate unabated in their neighborhoods.”
“We’re talking about human beings,” said Gonzales. “Calling individuals illegal is very problematic and very un-American.”
A call and email to the publisher of the textbook, Momentum Instruction, were not returned.
According to the left-leaning Texas Freedom Network, which typically analyzes social studies textbooks submitted to the state, the authors of the book — Jaime Riddle and Valarie Angle — have backgrounds in education but not specifically in Mexican-American studies.
Riddle’s online professional profile on LinkedIn says that she is a “professional developer of conservative instructional content.”
Rise of ethnic studies
Almost all Mexican-American studies courses offered in seven Texas school districts are college-level classes that were established in the last few years, Carmona said. He said the growing interest in the course is in response to the xenophobic treatment of Mexican-Americans as well as a link between student performance and ethnic studies.
A 2014 study in Tucson, Ariz., found that Latino students who took such a course were more likely to graduate and do better on state standardized tests. University of Arizona researchers conducted the study after the Arizona government —arguing that the curriculum was too political — eliminated the Tucson school district’s Mexican-American studies program in 2010.
Carmona said that the recent textbook controversy, along with presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s comments about Hispanics, will only serve to stoke interest in Mexican-American studies.
Three hundred people have signed up for this year’s summit on June 18 to implement Mexican-American studies in Texas public schools — a far cry from the 50 people who have attended the summit in the past.
The Austin school district, which educates about 50,000 Hispanic students, is considering offering ethnic studies, including Mexican-American studies, said Paul Saldaña, vice president of the school board.
Mexican-American students “are able to see themselves reflected in the curriculum, and it gives them more confidence and drive to educate themselves, whereas before they were lost in the system,” Carmona said.
Excerpts from “Mexican American Heritage” that some say are problematic:
“Illegal immigration has since caused a number of economic and security problems in the United States over which people are divided on how to solve.”
“The home ownership rate in the Mexican-American community is lower than the national average, but this is due to the substantial percentage of Mexican-born immigrants that form almost one-third of the Mexican-American population, many of whom are poor, undereducated, or illegal.”
“Due to the fact that illegal immigrants fear deportation and involvement with legal authorities, crime and exploitation can circulate unabated in their neighborhoods.”
The public can submit comments on the textbook through the Texas Education Agency’s website until September. The left-leaning Texas Freedom Network and a committee of State Board of Education member Ruben Cortez, D-Brownsville, will release their analyses of the textbook this month. A state committee of teachers and other members of the public also will review the book for its alignment with the state’s curriculum standards and any errors.
In November, the State Board of Education will vote whether to approve the textbook. If it’s rejected, the state wouldn’t be able to propose a book for another two years, to give publishers time to write a book. In the meantime, school districts could find and use their own textbooks as long as they prove to the state that the material is aligned with state curriculum standards.