When teachers and activists demanded schools in Texas, where more than half of the public school students are Hispanic, teach more Mexican-American studies, the State Board of Education responded by calling for more textbooks on the subject.
So far, though, the only book submitted for approval has drawn fierce criticism.
This week, activists voiced that criticism in front of the Texas Board of Education in a public hearing in Austin. Dozens attended, with some driving hours to the capital from Dallas, Houston and other parts of the state.
Some scholars on in the subject say that the textbook, “Mexican American Heritage,” is riddled with factual errors, is missing content and promotes racism and culturally offensive stereotypes, such as Mexicans being lazy, not valuing hard work and bringing crime and drugs into the United States.
“There’s no way this textbook can be corrected. The errors are so extensive,” says Trinidad Gonzales, a history professor at South Texas College. “The reason it can’t be corrected is it really is not a textbook. It is a polemic.”
Gonzales led an independent review of the material for Texas Board Member Ruben Cortez, a Democrat from Brownsville, and points to one stereotype he finds particularly offensive: “The lazy Mexican sleeping under the tree, and the mañana idea that Mexicans will put off everything off till tomorrow that they should do today.”
The publisher, Momentum Instruction, stands behind the book. Its CEO, Cynthia Dunbar, a former Republican member of the Texas Board, said in an interview that some passages have been taken out of context, such as the one about Mexicans being viewed as lazy by industrialists in the 1800s.
The proposed text read:
“Industrialists were very driven, competitive men who were always on the clock and continually concerned about efficiency. They were used to their workers putting in a full day’s work, quietly and obediently, and respecting rules, authority, and property. In contrast, Mexican laborers were not reared to put in a full day’s work so vigorously. There was a cultural attitude of “mañana,” or “tomorrow,” when it came to high-gear production. It was also traditional to skip work on Mondays, and drinking on the job could be a problem.”
Dunbar said that her editors have since pulled the passage to try and rewrite it “in a better light.”
“The reality is there is nothing racist in the book,” she says.
The state’s review only found one mistake in the material, that it suggested English is the official, national language. The United States does not have an official language.
The controversy is the latest fight over school books in Texas, which has one of the largest markets for learning materials with five million students.
In the last few years, experts have criticized Texas books for calling Moses a Founding Father and downplaying slavery as a cause of the Civil War. Last year, a mom in Houston called out McGraw Hill after her son pointed out his geography book referred to slaves as “workers.” The mega publisher apologized and revised the book.
Tony Diaz, a writer and activist known as El Librotraficante, says there’s a silver lining to this latest controversy.
“We actually caught this terrible, racist book before it snaked its way into classrooms. This is part of the growing pains,” Diaz says.
He explains that it’s become easier to review proposed materials online before they reach the board for approval. And activism has grown. Diaz organized a bus caravan for 100 people to protest in Austin this week.
Diaz says that ethnic studies are important because demographics are changing in Texas. Proponents say that culturally relevant courses both engage students and also help them graduate in higher numbers.
The Texas Board of Education won’t make a final decision on approving the Mexican American Heritage book until later this fall, after the November elections.