Educators across Texas are backing a proposal for the state to create a Mexican-American studies curriculum for the state's public high schools.
Houston Independent School District, the state’s largest, became the latest to back the plan to offer the state-approved, elective course. The nine-member board of trustees voted unanimously to approve the plan on Thursday.
“The question that I asked my colleagues on the board is can you name five Mexican-American leaders in Texas and U.S. history?” Juliet Stipeche, the Houston board's president, told The Huffington Post. “When people struggle to come up with the names, it shows a missing component in our education system today.”
The passage of the resolution in Houston highlights growing momentum for the proposal, which faces a vote before the Texas State Board of Education on April 9.
“This is a big deal -- this is like history in the making,” author and activist Tony Diaz told HuffPost after the Houston meeting on Thursday. “I got chills.”
Diaz co-founded the group Librotraficante -- Spanish for “book smuggler” -- in 2012 to protest the banning of a controversial Mexican-American studies curriculum in Tucson, Ariz. The Houston-based group began calling for Texas to create a Mexican-American studies high school course in November, as the State Board of Education prepared to discuss creating new classes.
The idea resonated with state Board of Education member Ruben Cortez, a Democrat from the heavily Hispanic Rio Grande Valley who said Hispanic students would benefit from learning about the Mexican-American contributions to Texas and U.S. history and culture.
Many educators agree. Cortez has scooped up endorsements for his idea from several schools districts beyond Houston, beginning with Ysleta in El Paso last month. Professional groups, including the Texas Association of School Administrators, also have thrown support behind creating a Mexican-American studies curriculum.
“We believe that profound learning occurs when students have the opportunity to engage in meaningful and relevant learning experiences,” Johnny Veselka, the state Association of School Administrators executive director, wrote in a letter backing the Mexican-American studies proposal. “This can inspire and empower students to achieve and demonstrate profound learning by providing them with a broader, more well-rounded perspective of the past, and the necessary critical-thinking skills to better prepare them for the future.”
Hispanics make up more than half of the student body in Texas public schools, but lag behind other groups in achievement. The graduation rate for Latino students stood at 84.3 percent in 2012, compared with 93 percent for non-Hispanic whites, according to the most recent data from the Texas Education Agency.
But as the April 9 vote approaches, Republicans on the state board, who outnumber Democrats, are saying they'll oppose the creation of the statewide Mexican-American studies course.
Republican board member Pat Hardy, who has spent the last three decades working in Texas public schools, said creating courses should fall to local districts instead of the state.
"If Houston wants to do it, they can do it and if they do a good job other cities can do it too," Hardy told HuffPost.
Board Vice Chairman Thomas Ratliff, also a Republican, said he favors a single multicultural course that could be applied to the teaching of any Texas ethnic group’s history and culture.
“I haven’t seen the case to be made that the Hispanic culture is different enough that it merits its own set of standards versus any other culture,” Ratliff told HuffPost. “We’ve only got a certain amount of bandwidth to develop new courses.”
Cortez said he would support the creation of a multicultural course in addition to a Mexican-American studies course, but not as a replacement.
“I’m hopeful that the rest of the board will agree that this will be a benefit to young Latinos in Texas schools,” Cortez said.