Racist Portrayal of Mexican-Americans Seen in Text of Proposed Texas School Book

Wednesday, May 25, 2016
Cynthia Dunbar (photo: Liberty University)

 

 

 

By Olivia P. Tallet, New York Times

 

Mexican-Americans might not recognize their cultural history as it unfolds in a new textbook proposed for Texas public schools.

 

Chicanos are described as people who "adopted a revolutionary narrative that opposed Western civilization and wanted to destroy this society."

 

In another passage, Mexican-Americans are linked to undocumented immigrants.

 

Illegal immigration has "caused a number of economic and security problems in the United States," the textbook notes. "Poverty, drugs, crime, non-assimilation, and exploitation are among some of these problems. Studies have shown that the Mexican American community suffers from a significant gap in education levels, employment, wages, housing, and other issues relating to poverty that persist through the second, third, and fourth generations."

 

These are excerpts from "Mexican American Heritage," the first textbook on this subject ever included in a list of pre-approved instructional materials for Texas public schools. Following an outcry from activists in 2015, who demanded that Mexican-American studies be formally included in state curriculum, the State Board of Education voted to include textbooks on this subject.

 

But instead of a cause for celebration among Texas Latinos, the new book is courting controversy.

 

"Paradoxically, we pressed for the board to include texts on Mexican- American studies, and we achieved it, but not in the way we were expecting," says Tony Diaz, host of Nuestra Palabra (Our Word) radio program in Houston and director of Intercultural Initiatives at Lone Star College-North Harris. "Instead of a text that is respectful of the Mexican-American history, we have a book poorly written, racist and prepared by non-experts."

 

The Texas Education Agency says it followed standard procedure for the call to submit instructional materials for Mexican-American curriculums under Proclamation 2017, so named because the materials are scheduled to reach classrooms in the 2017-2018 school year.

 

"The proclamations, once approved by the State Board of Education in a public meeting, are posted on the Texas Education Agency website and sent out on various public email listserves, which are open to anyone to sign up," says DeEtta Culbertson, a communications specialist with the agency. "All of the discussions and approvals are done at public meetings."

 

'Blatant opportunism'

 

There is still time - up until September - for Texans to submit comments and complaints about the proposed instructional materials in Proclamation 2017, Culbertson says. Ultimately, the books that are adopted by the Texas State Board of Education in November become part of the recommended instructional materials for statewide curriculums, although independent school districts are not required to embrace them.

 

The book is produced by Momentum Instruction, a company that appears to be owned or operated by Cynthia Dunbar, a member of the Texas State Board of Education from 2007 to 2011. A right-wing Christian activist who questioned the constitutionality of public schools in 2008, Dunbar labeled the education system "tyrannical" when she published her book "One Nation Under God" while she was a member of the board. More recently, Dunbar served as the Virginia State co-chair of the Ted Cruz campaign, according to her website.

 

Despite repeated attempts, the Chronicle was unable to reach Dunbar or any of the other listed authors on the book. Dunbar's is the only name familiar to local educators, who are already reacting to its contents.

 

"We never received notification that they were going to consider texts for this curriculum," says Nicolás Kanellos, University of Houston professor and director of Arte Público Press, the nation's largest and most established publisher of contemporary and recovered literature by U.S. Hispanic authors. Arte Público has published several titles related to Mexican-American studies, including "Chicano! The History of the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement," by F. Arturo Rosales, a professor at Arizona State University and a well-known authority on the subject. "Chicano!" accompanied a PBS documentary series and is part of school curriculums around the country.

 

Kanellos says the "Mexican American Heritage" book "appears to be blatant opportunism from certain people to make money and/or to water down the real Mexican-American history. No wonder they didn't issue a call to submit texts to be evaluated. They have wanted to ensure the adoption of that simulacrum of a textbook."

 

In Texas, more than half the students in public primary and secondary schools are Latino, most of them Mexican-American. Yet there is a long history of frustration among Mexican-American educators and activists who say their culture and history is often not represented or misrepresented in the public education system.

 

The lack of Mexican- American courses is "a big problem because what is happening to Mexican- American and Latino students is that they don't see a collective history that is part of their own history," says Jesus Cantú Medel, professor of Mexican-American studies at Houston Community College. "They see an American history but not their unique American experience."

 

While there are at least 25 black universities in the country that have contributed to the educational advancement of that community, Medel observes, Mexican-American and Latino kids have little chance to get in contact with significant educational materials related to their culture.

 

Local educators are not convinced that "Mexican American Heritage" is the right textbook to fill this need.

 

The book "is not a text that we have recommended, nor we will be recommending," says Douglas Torres-Edwards, coordinator of a Mexican-American Studies course that has been approved by the TEA and implemented in some Houston Independent School District schools. "Frankly, that author is not recognized as someone who is part of the Mexican-American studies scholarship, and most individuals engaged in scholarship will not recognize her as an author."

 

Academically, there seems to be an advantage for Latino students to learn about their contributions to collective history. Several studies, including one published in the American Educational Research Journal and another from Arizona State University, show a reduction in the dropout rate among Latino students taking courses in Mexican American studies at the middle and high school levels.

 

"By taking these courses and learning about their contributions, they gain a positive respect for themselves," Medel says. "They get motivated to complete courses and (to get) a high school diploma."

 

'Open season'

 

Yet the "Mexican American Heritage" textbook could be damaging, says Diaz, an activist who pushed hard for Proclamation 2017 and spoke out against the banning of the Mexican American Studies curriculum in Tucson schools a few years ago. Diaz even launched the Librotraficante movement to bring banned books back to Arizona.

 

If "Mexican American Heritage" is formally recommended by the state, "it's going to be considered by some schools," Diaz says. "And that is problematic especially in this election cycle that you have the Republican presidential candidate talking about Mexicans being rapists, and now you have what some people may mistake as a legitimate textbook saying that Chicanos are violent. ... It just seems like it's open season on Latinos."

 

To Learn More:

Right-Wing Conspiracy Theorist Could Be Choosing Texas Schoolbooks (by By Erik de la Garza, Courthouse News Service)

Texas Approves Controversial School Textbooks Still Laced with Ideologically-Driven Inaccuracies (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

California Senate Opposes Texas History Textbook Changes (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Racist Views of Blacks and Jews Taught in Texas Public School Bible Classes (by Noel Brinkerhoff and David Wallechinsky, AllGov)

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