By Any Other Name, Mexican-American Studies Class Finally Gets Texas Approval

By Stephen Sawchuk — April 13, 2018 2 min read
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The Texas Board of Education gave final approval Friday to a plan to create standards to guide a class focused on the experiences of Mexican-Americans, but in a decision that riled up board members and supporters, it won’t be called “Mexican-American Studies.”

Get ready for a mouthful. The new class will be known as “Ethnic Studies: An Overview of Americans of Mexican Descent.”

For advocates of the new class, getting it on the books has been an odyssey spanning more than four years. Back in 2014, the board nixed a proposal to create a Mexican-American studies class, though it left the option up to districts to offer as an elective. Effectively, this meant that that districts had to create the course guidelines all on their own and choose materials from scratch.

The state also opened up bids for textbooks that interested districts could use, but twice rejected what publishers came up with because the materials were stereotypical and lacked rigor.

So the new vote matters because it means that publishers will have a more detailed set of guidelines to aim for when they create these materials, and presumably a market of districts that might be interested in purchasing them.

What’s In a Name?

The course guidelines will be based on ones that the Houston district created to general acclaim in 2015, though the state department of education could make changes to those guidelines and will have to put a final set out for public comment.

The big debate at the April 11 board meeting, at which the class was given a preliminary thumbs-up, had to do with the title of the class. According to the Texas Tribune, Republican David Bradley proposed the new name, saying that he finds “hyphenated Americanism to be divisive.”

The Tribune reported that Marisa Perez-Diaz, a Democrat, had a quick retort: “As someone who identifies as Mexican-American, your experience is unlike my experience,” Perez-Diaz said. Ultimately, though, Democrats did not have the votes to nix the new name, despite a last-ditch effort today.

The final vote to approve the standards was accompanied by tears—some of them of anger at the new name, reporters covering the meeting noted.

Ethnic studies remains a growing phenomenon across the United States, with researchers as well as educators arguing that students are more engaged and when they have the opportunity to learn about their cultures and histories as part of history and social studies programming. It has also proved quite controversial, particularly in Arizona, where efforts to create the classes have led to a protracted legal battle.

Texas, for its part, also OK’d a process for the creation of additional ethnic studies classes. Whether they will avoid the longer name, though, is anyone’s best guess.

Photo: People rally in front of the Texas Board of Education building before a preliminary vote on whether to create a statewide Mexican-American studies course.--Ricardo Brazziell/Austin American-Statesman via AP

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.