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The Responsible Ethnic Studies Textbook (REST) Coalition, a community activist organization, rallied outside the William B. Travis building at the Texas State Capitol on Tuesday, Sept. 13 to lead the call for the rejection of a proposed Mexican-American studies (MAS) textbook titled Mexican American Heritage.
Educators, students, civic leaders, and organizations such as the League of United Latin American Citizens joined in the #RejectTheText effort, with more than 100 individuals signed up to testify in front of the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) that day after the rally.
For decades, Mexican-American/Chicano studies advocates have been engaged in a fight for inclusion into mainstream curricula in the state of Texas. Dating back to the Civil Rights era, Chicanas/os across the nation have been developing and implementing Chicano studies course work in higher education. In later years, the same studies were injected into the public school systems in California and other states. So what’s the hold up, Texas?
When this textbook was first made available earlier this year by Proclamation 2017 – legislation allowing instructional material for Ethnic Studies – SBOE member Ruben Cortez (D) established an ad hoc committee of experts in Mexican-American studies from across Texas to review it. The findings were profound.
The proposed textbook is filled with numerous errors, according to the committee’s scholars. The first step to address that issue was to create a system for reviewing and critiquing the discriminatory text that included three categories of errors: omission (errors pertaining to things that are completely left out of the text), factual (errors where information was incorrectly presented), and interpretive errors (where, with the information presented in the text, untrue judgments – in this case about Mexican-Americans – can be drawn and, thus, lead to further misunderstandings of the Mexican-American experience in the United States, and Texas specifically).
The committee’s report revealed more than 140 such errors.
“Adults are still dealing with the psychological trauma of not being reflected in the textbooks they learned from,” Cortez said during Tuesday’s press conference, referring to how Mexican-American contributions have been excluded from all Texas history textbooks. “Do we really want to do this to our children (too)?”
SBOE Member Marisa Perez (D) also strongly opposed the textbook. She eloquently delivered her opening remarks in Spanish before giving her position on the book. It was beautiful to listen to her talk about how proud she was to be from a family that contributed to the story of the Texas we know today.
“I’m here because I’m angry … that in the 21st century, we still have to have this discussion about how we talk about Mexican-Americans, today,” Perez said. “I’m also here because I’m an American.”
One of the biggest arguments against Mexican-American studies is that the subject “promotes racist ideas and anti-American sentiment,” meaning Mexican-Americans may resent the U.S. after learning about their collective experience throughout history and how much is actually excluded from Texas history books.
As many activists over the years have pointed out, Mexican-American studies coursework does not reject history, it rejects the way history has been taught as well as the image given to Mexican-Americans as a result of that inaccurate story. Through Mexican-American studies, one is introduced to the Mexican-American experience as it relates to other ethnicities within the existing U.S. narrative. It is not a replacement thereof.
Speaking to that inaccurate history and the kind of ideals it promotes, Trinidad Gonzalez, a South Texas College professor, said at the press conference that “This textbook is not only racist, it’s filled with fundamental and factual errors. We must address the moral question as well. Do we want a textbook being used in our public schools that promotes racism?”
Let’s talk about the publisher for a second: Cynthia Dunbar, a Conservative former member of the SBOE, and current CEO of Momentum Instruction – the company responsible for putting this textbook into circulation – maintains that “there’s never been a book in the history of the SBOE that’s been attacked so prematurely.”
Here’s a point of clarification for Ms. Dunbar.
One of the wonderful things to come out of Proclamation 2017 was that all proposed instructional material had to be placed on an online portal for this very reason. It’s not that activists are “attacking” her book “so prematurely,” but rather that for the first time in SBOE history proposed literature has been made available to the public.
Once the hearing began last Tuesday, it was standing room only. The SBOE had to make available an overflow room for those who weren’t allowed into the hearing area once it reached capacity. Legislators were afforded the privilege of going before community members who had traveled hundreds of miles and, in some cases, given up days at work to be present.
SBOE Chair Donna Bahorich (R), a homeschooler, has been appointed to lead a board slated to make decisions on public schooling in Texas. Republican board members David Bradley and Ken Mercer used their platform to attack Democratic legislators and repeatedly tried to derail the discussion on the textbook onto Senate Bill 6, which relieved the SBOE of its duty to review textbooks. Neither Bradley’s nor Mercer’s lines of questioning were directly related to the testimony the Democratic elected officials gave that day.
After the hearing, the ad hoc committee gave its testimony, which was followed by an overwhelming consensus from the community to reject the textbook. Both the community and SBOE members listened to hours of testimony but the question in many minds remained: What’s next?
The board will now go into “discussion” on this issue and others presented that day. As of right now, the vote is scheduled for Nov. 18. In the meantime, Dunbar has until Oct. 21 to address the errors pointed out by the committee. Some experts made the claim that there were so many errors that she would have to end up re-writing the whole book. When asked if the authors of the textbook could correct the errors, Emilio Zamora, a University of Texas at Austin professor replied, “There’s quite a bit of reading to do …”
Considering the current political landscape, the Latino vote has never been more important to candidates than it is now. If success with this demographic is truly at the forefront of politicians’ minds, they should start by addressing the issues that impact those communities specifically, beginning with education and considering all the societal issues people of color face. It becomes obvious that education is the bedrock for change.
When people don’t see themselves reflected in the books they’re learning from in the institutions we trust to teach them what they need to know, they detach from their own story and divest in their future.
Top image: Trinidad Gonzalez, a member of ad hoc review committee, speaks at the #RejectTheText rally. Photo by Léo Treviño.