A proposed Mexican-American studies textbook has drawn harsh criticism for what Latino educators and scholars in Texas are calling a lack of scholarly expertise, major factual inaccuracies and demeaning characterizations of Mexican-Americans.
“What we have now is a deeply flawed and a deeply offensive textbook,” Celina Moreno, of the Texas Latino Education Coalition, said at a Monday press conference.
Groups like Moreno’s came together with professors who specialize in Mexican-American heritage, and who had been independently scrutinizing the textbook, to share some of their disturbing findings.
Emilio Zamora, a professor of history at the University of Texas at Austin, reviewed material that covered the U.S.-Mexican War of 1846-48 to the present. He said he found “five to seven serious, serious errors per page,” which render the entire publication “useless and even counterproductive.”
The Texas State Board of Education is currently reviewing the book for potential approval. Although the book’s fate is far from clear, the board has previously approved textbooks and curricula that deny climate change, promote creationism, whitewash historical events and maintain that the roots of Western democracy are found in the Bible.
And last year, the board rejected a proposal that state-approved elementary and high school textbooks be fact-checked by academics.
Because of the state’s tremendous clout in the educational publishing world, Dan Quinn of the nonpartisan educational watchdog group Texas Freedom Network told HuffPost that content that makes the grade in the Lone Star State is likely to be adopted ― in some form or another ― well beyond its borders.
This text has the look of a task given to an intern who has been told to cobble together what they can using the Internet. José María Herrera, a professor at the University of Texas at El Paso
The Latino educators at Monday’s press conference were originally hoping that they’d be celebrating a victory, not fighting a battle.
The state board had rejected prior calls to formalize a Mexican-American studies curriculum, even though Latinos make up the largest percentage of Texas public school students (almost 52 percent) and advocates cite research indicating that such a curriculum would help boost student performance.
Then, a 2011 state law that enabled school districts to buy whatever materials they wanted with state money ― as opposed to just those approved by the board of education ― opened up the possibility of districts embracing Mexican-American studies. But only a handful of schools created their own curriculum to teach Latino heritage.
“In practice, [schools] almost always buy the materials the state board approves” as that makes it easier to comply with the state’s education requirements, Quinn said. So the thinking was that if there were an approved textbook on Mexican-American heritage, “schools would be more likely to adopt a course of study.”
But with the market still small, he said few publishers were willing to submit to the arduous process of Texas State Board of Education review.
The lone proposal for a Mexican-American heritage textbook came from Momentum Instructions, a company linked to Cynthia Dunbar, a former education board member known for her extreme conservative views. Quinn described her four-year term on the board as “one culture war after another.”
In a 2008 book titled One Nation Under God ― released while Dunbar was still serving on the state board ― she called public education “tyrannical” and a “subtly deceptive tool of perversion,” according to the Texas Observer.
As for the proposed textbook, Quinn suggested that Dunbar and its authors were seeking to “promote their own political and personal ideas.” He said the authors lack credible expertise in the field of Mexican-American studies.
Emails and calls to Momentum Instructions were not immediately returned.
Members of the Responsible Ethnic Studies Textbook Coalition agreed with Quinn’s assessment of the authors’ expertise, stating at Monday’s press conference that they failed to accurately or comprehensively portray either Mexican-American culture or history.
“This text has the look of a task given to an intern who has been told to cobble together what they can using the Internet,” José María Herrera, an assistant professor in education at the University of Texas at El Paso, said in a statement linked to the press conference.
The textbook doesn’t even bother to distinguish Mexican-Americans from other Latino or Hispanic communities, conflating Spanish and Colombian traditions with those of Mexico, according to Herrera.
Zamora highlighted inaccurate and just plain offensive characterizations of events and figures. “The authors characterized most Mexican-American civil rights and labor leaders as social and political threats to American society,” he said.
One such passage described the Chicano movement, a 1960s push for the empowerment of Mexican-Americans, as an effort that “opposed Western civilization” and aimed to “destroy this society.”
Another particularly glaring passage from the discussion of labor relations during the 1800s described Mexican workers as lazy:
“Industrialists were very driven, competitive men who were always on the clock and continually concerned about efficiency. They were used to their workers putting in a full day’s work, quietly and obediently, and respecting rules, authority, and property. In contrast, Mexican laborers were not reared to put in a full day’s work so vigorously. There was a cultural attitude of ‘mañana,’ or ‘tomorrow,’ when it came to high-gear production.”
“It is simply unworthy of consideration as a textbook,” Zamora said.
Their frustration is that a much better book would benefit not only Texas schoolchildren but the growing Latino population across the U.S.
“It’s not that people want to teach these courses out of separatism ― it’s so the students can see themselves in the cultural fabric of the American experience,” Quinn told HuffPost. “And right now, in a lot of ways, they don’t see themselves in these history textbooks.”