Local Scholars: Proposed Textbook is ‘Worse than Racist’

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The proposed textbook, "Mexican American Heritage," was produced by Momentum Instruction.

Composite / Courtesy

The proposed textbook, "Mexican American Heritage," was produced by Momentum Publishing.

By now, educators, activists, and politicians across the country have taken their shots at Mexican American Heritage, a Mexican-American studies (MAS) textbook currently being vetted by the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE). The book has been criticized for being racist as well as intellectually sloppy and dull.

The textbook is winning consideration by conservative state education officials at the same time Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential candidate, continues to be met by protestors at every campaign stop who say he is a racist, pointing to his incendiary comments about Mexican immigrants. Hispanic population growth continues to outpace other groups, and appears to be the target of Trump’s nationalistic message.

State Sen. José Menéndez is among those actively speaking out against the MAS textbook and the state treating it as a serious work of history. Students, Menéndez points out, would be forced to read passages that would be insulting to Hispanics and potentially inflame anti-Hispanic sentiment. Here is one such excerpt on page 415:

“Chicanos, on the other hand, adopted a revolutionary narrative that opposed Western civilization and wanted to destroy this society.” 

St. Mary’s University Associate Professor of History and current O’Connor Chair for the History of Hispanic Texas and the Southwest Teresa Van Hoy said such statements are disturbing for their historical inaccuracy and blatant bias.

“I don’t think ‘racist’ goes far enough if we want to understand what’s problematic, but also what gave rise to the text,” Van Hoy said.

The deeper rhetoric of the book paints Hispanics not as nefarious individuals or even by their more ubiquitous social stereotypes. The book subtly and not-so-subtly builds a rhetorical basis for Mexican Americans as “an endemic and systemic threat to life as we know it,” according to Van Hoy.

This, says Van Hoy, is the framework for racial subjugation and, in extreme cases throughout the world, genocide.

“The controversial book is an exercise in political rhetoric,” said Michael Soto, associate professor of English at Trinity University and a former state school board member.

Menéndez said the textbook feeds into a radical nationalism increasingly evident in American politics.

“The timing of it all makes me even more angry,” Menéndez said.

Senator José Menéndez points to the rewards of earning a good job to students at Longfellow Middle School. Photo by Scott Ball.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Senator José Menéndez points to the rewards of earning a good job to students at Longfellow Middle School during a visit in November 2015. Photo by Scott Ball.

Much of the current anxiety has to do with preserving power structures already in place. Van Hoy poses a rhetorical question, the same one she poses to students in her classes when teaching them to interpret cultural artifacts from billboards to textbooks: “Who gets the money and the power if I believe X?” 

Multiculturalism is a grave concern to many conservatives, especially when it comes to what is taught in the classroom.

“What happens with history, especially in the elementary schools, is that it gets used as an instrument of identity building,” Van Hoy said.

In Texas, 52% of all public school students are of Hispanic origin, and most are Mexican-American. When they read their Texas history textbooks in 4th and 7th grade, they are far more likely to read about Austin, Houston, Travis, and even Hogg than Navarro and Seguín, let alone a name like Macario Garcia. In U.S. History, the lack of Hispanic representation is even more glaring.

In what critics say is a long overdue attempt to give the state’s student majority a more complete picture of their own place in Texas history, the state school board approved the inclusion of ethnic studies in the “special topics in social studies” curriculum, in 2014. It issued an RFP for textbooks pertaining to these topics, which include African-American, Mexican-American, and other underrepresented histories.

Submitted textbooks must be considered by the SBOE if they meet the standards of the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) requirements in subject matter. The textbook in question was submitted by Momentum Instruction, which reportedly has ties to right-wing activist and former SBOE member Cynthia Noland Dunbar.

The problem, of course, for those who would like to keep American identity closely aligned with Anglo heritage, is that it’s a false narrative, Van Hoy said.

In Texas, Anglo and Mexican histories are so deeply intertwined that Anglos have lost chunks of their own history as education ignores Mexican-American voices. She points to the prominent Anglo families of the past and present, from Patrick Henry to Red McCombs, who have married into Hispanic families.

Menéndez sits at this intersection personally. Married to an Anglo woman, his children have a blended heritage, and he desires to see them embrace both equally.

“I think we can do a better job without segregating ourselves,” Menéndez said.

Indeed, most educators would agree that Anglo children benefit from understanding the heritage and history of their non-Anglo peers. In San Antonio, the benefits should be even more obvious.

“We all lose if our children don’t learn (about diverse cultures),” Van Hoy said.

Mainstreaming MAS and other histories could have other benefits as well. The populations currently underrepresented in history textbooks happen to be the same populations on the wrong side of the achievement gap. While pointing at the multitude of reasons that Hispanic and African-American students statistically have lower educational outcomes, it rarely comes up that students who do not see themselves in the state’s past might not see themselves in the state’s future.

Such inclusion is the norm on the college level, Soto and Van Hoy said, where diversity and critical analysis are embedded in all courses of study. For many Hispanic and African-American students, however, that is too late. Too many fall out of the system before they reach college.

There is limited research to back the theory that racial inclusion would strengthen student outcomes, but Soto feels that it’s worth trying.

“I think it’s worth exploring the role that including Latino Studies into the curriculum could play in outcomes in Texas,” Soto said.

Of course, that curriculum would need to be something entirely different from what is promoted in Mexican American Heritage, according to its many critics.

Soto points to Houston Independent School District, which has developed its own MAS curriculum based on the work of leading scholars. It is nuanced and contextual, and a good reminder that, even if the textbook is approved, ISDs do not have to adopt it. With the rich presence of Mexican-American culture and scholarship in Texas, districts do have alternative resources to tap. Soto doubts any of the more than 1,000 ISDs in Texas would adopt the controversial textbook.

“Examples like Houston give me hope that when it really matters on the ISD level, Texas teachers and administers are going to get this right,” Soto said.


Top image: The proposed textbook, “Mexican American Heritage,” was produced by Momentum Instruction. Composite/courtesy images.

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13 thoughts on “Local Scholars: Proposed Textbook is ‘Worse than Racist’

  1. Can you give more than one quote from the book to prove why so many people are angry about it? Of course that quote is pretty bad but there must be some other ones in there too that should be publicly refuted.

    What arguments to Riddle and Angle give to justify their text?

    • You really don’t need any other quotes after you read that one about Chicanos.. That tells you everything you need to know. There is no reality where this is even remotely true. I As a 5th generation San Antonian from Alsacian and German immigrants after the Civil War on my mom’s side and from the Mayflower on my dad’s side,, even living through the 1970s and La Raza Unida does not even make part of this true.

      >>opposed Western civilization and wanted to destroy this society.<<

      If anything, my impression was/is that Chicanos wanted/want to be included as one of the contributing factors to the continuing advance of Western Civilization and part of society. It's a cliche because it's true,,, most didn't cross the border, the border crossed them.

  2. First of all, what Donald Trump and Conservatives have to do with this article?
    Second, why you haven’t interview the Authors of the book to see how they come up with their comments?
    Third, did you read the book, completely?

    • What do they have in common? Denigrating people of Mexican descent, for one thing. Interviewing the authors to ask why they make a given statement would not legitimize the statement or lend any credibility to the textbook as an acceptable teaching guide. In the Civil Rights era, interviews with defenders of segregation in our schools and society were common, but their views didn’t legitimaize their teachings or policies. –RR

      • Mr. Rivard ,
        Don’t confuse politics with education, I acknowledge that certain individuals had made certain comments that are discriminatory and or racist (On both sides of the political spectrum),but for this article to mention politics instead of why this authors decide to included this kind of comment and for certain SBOE members to even consider this educational is beyond my knowledge, this why this article needs to investigate the “WHY, WHO, WHEN”. I never mention that their views are or statements are correct, just show the world who they are so we would never forget their names.

          • Hello Palmer, I meant to respond sooner. With all due respect, we do not agree with you. Trump vilifies Mexicans and people of Mexican descent, much as the textbook distorts Mexican-American history in a way that can only be described as ignorant and insensitive. We see yet again this week this same pattern of exclusionary behavior from Trump with his bizarre attack on a sitting federal judge of Mexican descent who was born in the United States. The judge’s ethnic roots simply have no bearing on a commercial fraud lawsuit, yet there is Trump yesterday on a conference call with supporters and campaign workers exhorting them to join in his attacks challenging the judge’s impartiality, and urging them to label any reporters following the story as racists. We believe the cartoonist had license to make the connection. The Democrats, no doubt, will have their turn as a subject of a Branch cartoon, but let’s be candid: A reality television celebrity running for the nation’s highest office is unlike anything we have ever seen in the history of U.S. electoral politics. –RR

  3. I’m afraid I must agree with the critics above that this article does a woefully inadequate job of reporting on the issue.

    While it is impossible to tell from the article, I suspect some significant confusion here arising from the use of the word “Chicano” and what it is intended to mean in that single sentence cited from the book. What I strongly suspect the authors intended was to describe a certain political movement among Mexican-Americans (e.g., the “Chicano Movement”) that most people would say had some radical views and self-identified as “radicals” or “revolutionaries” (for those unfamiliar, you might analogize to the Black Panther Movement). You can debate what these folks were really after, how radical they, were, how large of a movement it really was, etc. but it is grossly misleading to suggest that this statement was intended to apply generically to all Mexican-Americans as folks seem to be suggested.

    Overall, the article gives the impression that the State Board of Education is considering something akin to Mein Kaumf as historical reading materials for students. Call me an optimist, but I sincerely doubt anything close to that is going on. I don’t take a position on the book because I haven’t read it but I do wish this article did a better job of critically analyzing the claims being made by Menedez and Van Hoy. Some of the claims (e.g., somehow subtly linking this book to genocide) are pretty outlandish but there is zero critical commentary in the article dealing with such an exposition of radical theory.

    To me, it seems that some folks appear to be trying to win an argument through dishonest arguments and misleading quotations. There should be a cost to that sort of dishonesty and it is up to outlets like the Rivard Report to impose that costs by calling folks out when they cheapen debate through these kinds of straw man tactics. The objective of folks like Menedez and Van Hoy, from what I can tell, seem to be to shut down anything critical of the Chicano Movement or its political allies. Those truly concerned about accurate history should also be concerned with this form of censorship and the impact political correctness has on how history can be taught in this day and age.

  4. After reading the above concerns with the article, I should point out a few things:
    1) This issues with the textbook content have been covered by many media outlets. Rather than re-write their criticisms, we took the approach of examining the book’s attempted contribution to a heated national conversation. Having read substantial portions of the textbook myself, I was struck by the rhetoric of conservative positions regarding immigration, Civil Rights, and English acquisition. However, not being a MAS scholar, I asked some local experts to give their thoughts. Hence the article.
    2) The scholars and Sen. Menéndez both pointed out that the book is political, attempting to enter national discourse at a highly charged time. Education and politics are inherently linked, I’m afraid, no matter how much we’d like to think otherwise. National discourse is shaped by pundits and curriculum alike.
    3) I did reach out to the publishers for comment, but I’m not holding my breath, as I have not yet seen their comments in any other publication. If they read this and would like to comment, we would most welcome it.
    4) I realize that people want more quotes that demonstrate the bias. However, the problems with the book go beyond simple one-liners, as do the problems of racism and privilege in general. They are less explicit in what we say, and more subtly communicated by what we choose to emphasize and ignore. Even data can promote an agenda. If anyone really wants a quote, I recommend reading Chapter 8, section 2 on Cultural Movements During the Cold War, and Chapter 9, section 1 on Contemporary Issues. The book is available on the TEA website.

  5. Bekah,

    Thanks for the response and the link. For the benefit of the readers, here is the full passage from Page 415:

    “The result of advancing La Causa de La Raza was a Mexican-American separatist movement that sought to work outside the American system. Chicano activists criticized and desired to replace that system for promoting Anglo racism that they believed a Mexican-American could never fully overcome, at least not without being compromised. This was a very different approach than of Dennis Chavez, Henry Gonzalez, and other Latino politicians who, at the same time, were working inside the American system to achieve reforms. It differed from the approach of civil rights leaders who organized Viva Kennedy clubs and mass registered Mexican-Americans to vote. The latter was led by Kennedy, Johnson, and others in order to help Latinos prosper within modern, democratic society. Chicanos, on the other hand, adopted a revolutionary narrative that opposed Western civilization and wanted to destroy this society. Two sets of Mexican-American activists, with similar hopes for their community, were pursuing two different approaches.”

    On Page 405, the Textbook contains this specific specific section making even more clear how “Chicano” is used in this chapter:

    “WHAT IS A CHICANO? Originally a derogatory term, the term “Chicano” is now a preferred term by many Mexican-Americans, although people disagree on its exact definition. Some use the term almost synonymously with “Mexican-American” while others use it to refer more specifically to American-born descendants of Mexican immigrants. Sometimes “Chicano” is used to mean Mexican-Americans who take special pride in their heritage, those who support more rights for Mexican-Americans, or those who rebel against the system. In the historical context of the 1960s, when the term “Chicano” began to be associated with an entire movement, the word carried with it a specific connotation of separating from the white American community. One famous Mexican-American journalist defined “Chicano” as “a Mexican-American with a non-Anglo image of himself.” [This definition is the one used and explored in the rest of this chapter.]”

    – The context here is crystal clear as to the meaning of “Chicano”. However, this is not in anyway clear from your article or any of the other media reports on this article (you are not alone here). I’m not sure if this was intentional but your usage without the context is incredibly misleading and seems calculated to inflame people’s passion on the issue. The fact that the authors included a specific section to make clear their usage of the term and that this gets completely ignored in media reporting on the subject is quite frankly egregious from the perspective of misrepresenting facts.

    I do find it quite ironic that in an article criticizing a book for bias and inaccuracy, you find such a blatant example of bias and inaccuracy.

    I suggest a correction is in order but that is obviously a decision for the Rivard Report to make.

    • Maybe page 415 says some nice things, but what students would learn starting on page 411 is FACTUALLY wrong. Having lived through it as a white guy. The authors say the word “chicano” means different things,,, then they use it universally to label actions of the Brown Berets specifically as those representing all chicanos. It’s sloppy and there is even disagreement as to whether that is what the Brown Berets meant at the time.

      The authors fixate on page 412 >>>They even attempted to occupy a small California island and claim it for Mexico. Following this, the Brown Berets were disbanded by federal officials. The only chapter to survive, in San Diego, reorganized itself as the National Brown Berets of Aztlán and continued to lobby for California
      to be returned to Mexico.<>The Chicano Liberation Front conducted urban warfare until 1976, taking credit
      for over a dozen instances of revolutionary violence.<>Chicanos who have made the claim that they are rightful heirs of the American Southwest are relying on an argument based
      on cultural and political solidarity, not legal or historical grounds.>>Chicanos, on the other hand, adopted a revolutionary narrative that opposed Western civilization and wanted to destroy this society.<<

      It's wrong, it's sloppy, it's very bad education. A TERRIBLE TEXT BOOK. It's enough to question their work on the remainder of the book and is cause for rejecting outright until a major overhaul..

      • I didn’t realize putting in the > symbol takes out the text in between. The problem with the text is that the authors use the word “chicano” incorrectly. They use it like if a textbook talked about the KKK in the late 1800 and 1920s, then casually glide over the mass re-registration of Dixiecrat Dems to the GOP during Nixon and Reagan and then every time after the 1920s… when talking about something, they use the phrase “white registered Republican” to basically stand in for the KKK. It’s not correct.

        • I can’t speak to the whole textbook, but it does seem that the authors made a concerted effort to define their usage of a particular word. They specifically say that they are using it in this sense in the chapter that follows. I don’t see how that is objectionable? It isn’t like they invented this term or its usage. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chicano_Movement.

          The meaning of language changes over time and decisions have to be made about how you deal with those issues in the textbook. While you can criticize the authors (I don’t see the basis), I think there should be about 1000% more criticism against those criticizing the book who are taking things completely out of context and intentionally misleading people about its content. Is it those critics that you think should be responsible for educating our children? I dearly hope because they are obviously either clueless or malicious.

          Your analogy to the KKK is illogical and incomprehensible (also wrong and sloppy). Your correct analogy would be if for some reason a larger ethic group (e.g., whites) started referring to themselves generically as the KKK without the baggage associated with then actual KKK, then the textbook continued to call the KKK the KKK. This is obviously absurd but I think in reporting history it does help to use terms that were in use at the time. So long as they explain that the current usage of “KKK” differs from the historical usage of “KKK”, then this should be fine.

          Again, I haven’t read the whole textbook (nor do I care to) but the critiques being offered are so sloppy and misleading that I’m afraid they tell me more about the critics and their agenda than anything else.

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