Creating a Texas State Board of Education-approved Mexican-American studies textbook must have seemed like a great idea at the time. Board member Ruben Cortez spearheaded the movement a couple of years ago, but has now changed course.
On Tuesday Cortez announced that the committee of teachers, professors and experts he put together to review the textbook had come out with a 54-page report documenting problems and errors in the book. He asked the State Board of Education to reject the book entirely. "The State Board of Education simply cannot adopt any textbook that lies to our children and insults their heritage as Mexican Americans," Cortez stated. "This book can’t be salvaged, and it should not be salvaged."
The board is slated to hold public hearings on the book next Tuesday. Why? Well, the old adage rings true: Be careful what you wish for, because you just might get a remarkably racist and factually inaccurate textbook that portrays your people as lazy criminals.
About two years ago, Cortez was the board member who proposed adding a Mexican-American studies class first as a history class and then to the list of electives offered by the state. The attempt to create a standalone course was voted down by the board, but Cortez and supporters of the idea got the rest of the board to ask publishers to create instructional materials for "ethnic studies courses," according to Cortez.
The plan was to have publishers come up with the textbook and instructional materials. Then, the board could approve the materials and this would give school districts state-approved materials to work off of so that school district officials would be able to choose whether to offer the elective class and control how the class was designed.
But it all hinges on whether the board approves the book. If Texas adopts the textbook, the state is such a big player in the textbook industry it could help the textbook find a market in other states as well. From there, any school that chooses to offer the class will subsequently, you know, purchase the textbook. However, if the board votes against the book, neither the state nor the school districts pay a dime for the textbook's creation, since nobody will be actually buying the book.
Things didn't play out the way Cortez intended.
Momentum Instruction, the company headed up by former State Board of Education Member Cynthia Dunbar, who is the CEO, was the only publisher to submit a textbook to the board. (Dunbar was the board member who questioned whether public schools were constitutionally allowed and called the public education system "tyrannical" in her book One Nation Under God, among many other dubious achievements.) The book, Mexican American Heritage, was quickly found to be, shall we say, problematic, according to the scholars charged with reviewing the text.
Cortez described the book during his Tuesday press conference. He didn't mince words:
"It is an utter shame that we as policy makers, educational professionals and communities across this great state must now deal with this racially offensive and poor attempt at academic work—clearly intended to be a political Trojan Horse into our schools. This textbook is a complete disaster and should not even be considered a 'textbook' but rather as a political manifesto aimed at distorting the perceptions of our most valuable resource- our children."
As other critics have previously noted, the book portrays Mexicans as lazy, claims their culture doesn't value work and argues Mexican immigrants only bring crime and drugs to the United States.
However, at least one other board member found the textbook to be perfectly serviceable. David Bradley was against the Mexican-American studies movement initially, but since then he's come out in support of the Mexican American Heritage. “It’s really kind of amusing. The left-leaning, radical Hispanic activists, having pounded the table for special treatment, get approval for a special course that nobody else wanted," Bradley said when the first outraged reports over the textbook came out, according to the Texas Observer. "Now they don’t like their special textbook?”
Cortez wasn't the only one to publicly urge the board to ditch the textbook. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner also issued a statement Tuesday decrying the book. “The purpose of instructional material is not to undermine our educational system, to push an ideological agenda or to disseminate inaccuracies, stereotypes and errors about our collective history," Turner wrote. “It is unbelievable that such a hateful stereotype appears in a textbook for Texas students. Politicized, prejudicial, erroneous textbooks must not be used as instructional materials for students.” (Turner doesn't have much say about what books end up in Houston Independent School District classrooms, but either way he was very clear that he's against this book.)
Meanwhile, the Houston ISD school board is scheduled to vote on the issue on Thursday. Manuel Rodriguez, president of the League of United Latin American Citizens, has asked the board members to vote to forward a letter to the State Board of Education in support of a Greater Houston LULAC resolution to oppose the adoption of the textbook. "HISD supports LULAC's position on this issue," the letter by Rodriguez states. "We ask that the State Board reject the Mexican American Heritage textbook. We further request that the period of review be extended, so that other textbooks can be considered that more fully reflect Mexican-American history."
So, the state board will hear from the public next week and then vote on the textbooks in November and the people that most wanted the book to exist are going to fight tooth and nail to keep the State Board of Education from approving it. Strange how things turn out sometimes, isn't it?