Will the State Board of Education Dodge a Vote Killing Mexican-American Textbook?

Will the State Board of Education Dodge a Vote Killing Mexican-American Textbook?
Photo from Truthout.org

It turns out even State Board of Education members know the Mexican-American studies textbook they commissioned is a mess. What's intriguing is how they plan on handling this. 

Last week, the State Board of Education presented a (more or less) open-minded, united front when they met to get public input on the contentious textbook, Mexican American Heritage. But behind the scenes, at least some of the Republican board members are keenly aware of the problems with the book, according to emails obtained by the Texas Freedom Network.

Some, like Thomas Ratliff, a Republican from Mount Pleasant, are hell bent on ensuring the board never signs off on the textbook. Meanwhile, David Bradley, a Beaumont Republican, is taking a more pragmatic approach, judging by his emails. 

This isn't exactly a shock. In June Bradley described opponents of Mexican American Heritage as "left-leaning radical Hispanic activists" who just want "special treatment." But in emails between Bradley and Ratliff, Bradley says he wants to avoid having to make a decision on the textbook at all. "A lack of quorum on [sic] would be nice," Bradley writes. "Deny the Hispanics a record vote. The book still fails." 

Bradley advises simply allowing the book to die. "We don't have a motion to reject or kill it in November. It just fails to get approved. If it really is that bad and it can't be fixed then we all go for a walk," he tells Ratliff. 

Meanwhile, in their exchanges, Ratliff comes across as truly concerned about how bad the book is, noting people from both sides of the political spectrum have found it wanting. "From what I've seen, everyone is against the book. It's terrible. It's riddled with errors. Even the Truth in Texas Textbooks folks think it's bad from what I understand," Ratliff writes to Bradley.

In fact, Ratliff is very clear about his feelings on the textbook. In other missives Ratliff repeatedly tells opponents of the book he will do everything in his power to kill it. And he doesn't hold back when discussing the book with a particularly, shall we say, enthusiastic supporter,  Melody Gillett, a Houston lawyer who was a delegate for Sen. Ted Cruz at the Republican National Convention in July, according to KUHF. 

Gillett and Ratliff exchanged a slew of electronic messages about the textbook as Gillett urged him to support it and he politely, (and eventually, bluntly) explained that there was no way that was happening. He starts off explaining the position the board is in:

"The challenge with this kind of issue is to separate 'bias,'  'omission,' 'not covered enough,' 'misleading,' and things like [that] from factual errors. The SBOE doesn't have the jurisdiction over anything but factual errors and coverage of the Texas standards (adopted by the SBOE). So a book can be poorly written, biased, overtly political or things like that, but if it is factually accurate it meets the test. On the flip side, a book can be wonderfully written, illustrated and researched, but if it contains factual errors we must reject it."

This didn't play well with Gillett. "In the midst of what is nothing more than a hackneyed obfuscation of realities favoring an entitlement mentality, bent on degrading this nation, pulling it down to the level of failed systems of government in other parts of the modern world, I reject the faux guilt-ridden revisionism that is the whine-du-jour," she writes, closing by demanding proof and a list of inaccuracies. 

Gillett's take isn't novel. Some supporters have gone even further. A comment from a textbook supporter to Ruben Cortez, the Brownsville Democrat who first proposed having a Mexican-American studies class, for instance, went straight-up insulting and racist. “You well know that the Dumbocrats are the inventors of racism (i.e. KKK). You sound like another whining Mexican; nothing is ever to your liking," the email to Cortez stated.

On the bright side, Ratliff isn't the only Republican clearly against the book, based on emails released by Texas Freedom Network. Pat Hardy, of Fort Worth, told Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner's office she is determined to stop the book from being approved.

The board is scheduled to vote on the textbook in November. There are five Democrats and 10 Republicans on the board, and at least two of the Republicans are definitely voting it down. If at least one more Republican opposes the book, maybe that will be the end of the story. Maybe.


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