The Texas State Board of Education last week voted against a proposed Mexican-American textbook, but agreed to discuss in January the option of creating an elective course in Mexican-American studies instead.
School board member Lawrence A. Allen Jr., a Democrat, attempted to impress upon members that providing ethnic studies is not a passing whim that can be brushed aside. He pointed out that the Houston Independent School District, in addition to adding a Mexican-American studies course, is also working on an Asian-American studies course. “We need to lead this because the sentiment is out there in the community and we need to address it,” he said.
The board rejected author Tony Diaz’s textbook “The Mexican American Studies Toolkit,” after a state review panel uncovered errors and also argued that the book didn’t encourage critical thinking, according to the Texas Tribune.
“The book requires substantial revisions in terms of its structure, pedagogical components, lack of citations, interdisciplinary and social studies content, and multiple perspectives,” the panel wrote.
The Fight Over Mexican-American Studies
Some school board members argued that Diaz didn’t have enough time and direction to do a proper rewrite of the text. Opponents of the Mexican-American studies course like David Bradley, a Republican, maintained that an ethnic-studies course should encompass multiple ethnicities, not just one.
Of the 5.3 million students in Texas in the 2015-2016 school year, 52 percent are Hispanic, 29 percent are White, 13 percent are African American, and 4 percent are Asian, according to the Texas Education Agency.
Diaz expressed skepticism on Twitter following the rejection of his textbook, writing of the school board: “They can adopt MAS [Mexican American Studies] if they want to. It’s clear they don’t want to.”
This is the board’s second rejection of a Mexican-American studies textbook for use in schools. Last year in November, the board rejected another proposed Mexican-American textbook that received widespread criticism for its portrayal of Mexicans as lazy and for its overall lack of accuracy and quality.
The board in 2014 had invited publishers to submit textbooks that high schools could use to develop their own Mexican-American studies courses, after Republican lawmakers nixed a plan to create a statewide Mexican-American studies course. Now the board has agreed to take another look at the course option that will likely be modeled after the new Mexican-American studies course offered in the Houston district.
Board member Patricia Hardy, a Republican, suggested that teachers and school districts were at fault if they want to offer an ethnic-studies course but haven’t developed one. “The State Board of Education and staff 20 years ago came up with a process so that any ethnic group, any teacher, any school district can develop whatever they darn well please in regard to ethnic studies,” she said.
But board member Marisa B. Perez-Diaz, a Democrat, objected to the idea, fearing that if development of a Mexican-American course is left entirely to schools, the quality of the curriculum would vary too much from district to district. She insisted that a set standard for what a quality Mexican-American studies course should look like is imperative.
“We wouldn’t allow a math standard to be willy nilly and every district decide what’s important and what’s not,” she said. “We need to set a standard for what’s important to teach in Mexican-American studies and that allows the opportunity for [students] to learn something consistent, substantive, and fruitful. I think that’s what we’re trying to accomplish in requesting a formal course.”
The Start of a Movement
The rise in ethnic studies course offerings in K-12 schools came about, in part, as a response to the shuttering of a popular Mexican-American course offered in schools in Tucson, Ariz. The Tucson school board cancelled the course after the schools chief at the time threatened to withhold from the school district $15 million in state funding, arguing that state law prohibits public schools from offering courses that are designed for a particular ethnic group, advocating ethnic solidarity, or promoting resentment toward a race or group of people. This past August, a judge ruled the ban had discriminatory intent.
Since the ban was first enacted, more and more educators across the country have advocated for ethnic studies classes as one way to engage diverse student bodies by offering courses that present the history of communities of color. Studies show the courses provide students several benefits. A 2016 study out of Stanford University revealed that taking a course examining “the roles of race, nationality and culture on identity and experience” improved grades, attendance, and graduation rates. A study by the University of Arizona of Tucson’s controversial Mexican-American studies program showed similar positive academic benefits for students.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.