Heeding the calls of scholars and activists who said a proposed name for a Mexican-American studies course was insulting, the State Board of Education tentatively approved changing the name Wednesday.
Instead of “Ethnic Studies: An Overview of Americans of Mexican Descent,” the high school social studies elective course will be called “Ethnic Studies: Mexican American Studies” if given final approval by the board.
Although leaving “Ethnic Studies” in the title was proposed by board member Georgina Cecilia Pérez, a Democrat from El Paso, fellow Democrats took issue with it. They wanted the name of the course simply to be “Mexican American Studies,” but ultimately joined Republicans in the unanimous vote.
“Obviously, the fact that ‘Mexican American Studies’ is in the title is important,” said board member Ruben Cortez, D-Brownsville, adding that he hoped the board would strike “Ethnic Studies” from the title if activists protest its inclusion.
Pérez said she had proposed putting “Ethnic Studies” in the name because she wanted to set a precedent for other ethnic studies courses to be developed. Republicans on the board agreed.
“I hope we don’t lose sight over the furor of the name that we have passed a very strong course in Mexican-American studies,” said board member Marty Rowley, R-Amarillo.
The board in April voted to start developing a Mexican-American studies course but conservatives on the Republican-led, 15-member board feared that putting “Mexican American” in the title would promote divisiveness and un-American values. Many Democrats on the board decried the name as a form of discrimination.
Some of the Republican members on Wednesday said they felt more comfortable with adding “Mexican American” into the title after hearing from more than 40 Mexican-American scholars and activists during the board’s meeting Tuesday. Testifiers said the title approved in April didn’t reflect the identity of Mexican-Americans nor an established area of study.
Christopher Carmona, a professor and among those protesting the previous name, said he would have preferred the course title to exclude “Ethnic Studies” because the name doesn’t align with college course offerings, but said he was pleased with Wednesday’s vote.
Carmona said he and others will work to ensure that the board doesn’t make drastic changes to the curriculum standards.
On Wednesday, the board also approved adding to the “Mexican American Studies” curriculum that students must “discuss ways Americans interpret” citizenship.
“When you say ‘how Americans view citizenship’ rather than just talking about the different interpretations of citizenship, it creates an us versus them mentality, that Mexican-Americans are not considering themselves Americans,” Carmona said.
Texas would be among the first states to offer a Mexican-American studies course in public schools. The Tucson school district in Arizona has had such a program beginning in the 1990s, but it has undergone legal challenges that eliminated it for a time.
The State Board of Education on Friday will take a final vote approving the latest changes to the curriculum and name of the Mexican-American studies course, which would be called “Ethnic Studies: Mexican American Studies.” The board will continue to take input from the public over the summer. In September, members will take a final vote on the course, which could be offered starting in the 2019-20 school year.