Texas Votes Against Mexican-American Studies Textbook

The State Board of Education’s vote marks a setback for ethnic studies advocates.

AUSTIN, Tex. ― The State Board of Education on Wednesday voted against adopting a Mexican-American studies textbook for public school use, marking a setback for educators and reformers who have pressed Texas authorities to make classroom materials more reflective of the state’s diverse student body.

The Republican-dominated board voted by voice, with critics citing both procedural problems and objections to some of the book’s content. The initial vote will be followed by a final vote on Friday, but the result is not expected to change.

Hispanic educators asked the SBOE three years ago to create a Mexican-American studies elective class in public high schools that students could take for college credit.

The board voted against that idea, but said that individual schools could create their own classes independently and issued a call for publishers to submit textbooks. More than half of Texas public school students are Hispanic.

But the only submission the board received over the next two years was a textbook titled ”Mexican-American Heritage,” commissioned by a notoriously conservative former SBOE member, Cynthia Dunbar. That text, which Chicano scholars criticized as error-laden and ideologically driven, was rejected by the board in a unanimous vote last year.

No major publisher, however, stepped in to fill the void. Several scholars considered attempting to write a Mexican-American studies textbook for public schools after the controversy stoked by Dunbar’s textbook, but struggled to do so before the deadline on June 7 of this year.

The only book prepared in time was the ”Mexican-American Studies Toolkit,” a multi-authored book edited by Tony Diaz, a professor at Lone Star College and a long time advocate for including Mexican-American studies in public schools.

A state panel report recommended dozens of revisions to the textbook after receiving it in June.

“The panel recognizes the short period the author had to create, form, edit, and write a text focused on Mexican American Studies,” the report read. But it went on to criticize the text for “grave lack of historical context” and “informal tone and language.”

Diaz worked through the summer and fall with the publisher to address those comments before resubmitting in September, he told HuffPost. Wednesday’s vote disappointed him, but he said he’d continue to promote the book and the wider adoption of ethnic studies classes.

“I came here because I thought we’d wind up getting a Mexican-American studies textbook, but instead they just kicked the can down the lane,” Diaz said in an interview. “We’ve been talking to them for years now. We said, ‘Hey, let’s make a course;’ they said ‘no.’ Then we said, ‘Hey, let’s get a textbook.’ We tried that twice and we’re still nowhere.”

Diaz has campaigned across the country for wider adoption of ethnic studies classes in public schools since the state of Arizona banned a Mexican-American studies curriculum from Tucson schools back in 2010. In August, U.S. District Judge A. Wallace Tashima ruled that the law passed by Arizona’s Republican-dominated legislature was unconstitutional.

Several board members who criticized Diaz’s submission said they supported the idea of offering ethnic studies classes.

“I don’t think anyone is against a good Mexican-American studies textbook,” said Barbara Cargill. “I think we all want that.”

But she said Diaz would need additional time to continue revising new material included in the revised draft, which she said would set a bad precedent. “It would be unfair to the published who submitted last year on this topic, who did not get more time,” Cargill said, referring to Dunbar.

“As a lifelong social studies teacher, I just want to say this is not a textbook,” Patricia Hardy said, describing the “Mexican-American Studies Toolkit instead as a supplementary text. But she added that she was “very much in favor of having that course of study offered throughout the state.”

Ruben Cortez, who championed the failed attempt to create an elective Mexican-American studies class in 2014, also told HuffPost he was disappointed in the result. When he pushed to reissue the call for a Mexican-American studies textbook last year, he said he told the board that they’d need to allow authors more time to write the work and move it through the approval process.

“It’s frustrating to say the least ― it seems as though nothing is moving forward,” Cortez told HuffPost. “It’s disturbing. But we’ll live to fight another day.”

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