Mexican-American textbook stirs cultural debate in Texas

A group of Mexican-American advocates, Monday morning, denounced a proposed textbook that’s been submitted to the state school board. The book is described as racist and filled with errors.

The people who gathered in the lobby of the Texas Education Agency came as a coalition with a unified message.

"I cannot see how the state board of education in their right mind could adopt this book,” said UT Austin History Professor Emilio Zamora.

The group announced that this proposed textbook gets a failing grade.

"Now for those of you who do know Texas history, know something about Texas history, the person who wrote the section on Texas history would fail a 4th grade exam,” said Jose Maria Herrera an Associate Professor with UTEP.

The textbook, titled Mexican American heritage, was written to support a new elective course for high schools. Its described as being offensive because of several passages. One links Mexican Americans to illegal immigration stating; they have "caused a number of economic and security problems in the united states," problems such as; poverty,  drugs, crime and non-assimilation.

"I'd like to add that the book is about 500 pages long and in the first chapter we found at least three to four serious errors on each page,” said Lilliana Patricia Saldana a professor with UTSA.

The state school board has scheduled a public hearing to take place in September with an up or down vote in November. Regardless of what the state school board does, ultimately each individual school district will have the final say.  That’s because textbooks approved by the state are no longer mandated to be used.

"School districts, number one, are not required to tech this course they can but not required to, and if they do teach it, and if this book is approved, they can have us purchase it for them or they can go into the open market and purchase any materials available,” said Debbie Ratcliffe with the Texas Education Agency.

The textbook is produced by a company called momentum instruction, which has connections to former conservative school board member Cynthia Dunbar. In a statement to FOX 7 Dunbar said " there was no intent, no goal, to paint Mexican Americans in a negative light." In her opinion, the errors cited by critics are "extremely subjective," and passages noted by the group seem to be “taken out of context." 

Dunbar went on to say she is familiar with the liberal group the organized the coalition, Texas Freedom Network, and also wondered why no one from that group submitted a proposal.   Momentum Instruction  is the only publishing house to respond to the request by the state to submit a textbook.

"This was really a high profile discussion about creating a separate Mexican American Studies area, it is an elective,  so my guess is that a lot of publishers didn't think it would be a lucrative area. I was surprised we only got one submission,” said Ratcliffe.

UT professor Emilio Zamora said he could have written a proposal – but did not have the time. He would now like TEA to have a do- over.

"I think we should try it again, I think they should either make a call that gives more time to historians or commission a group of top Texas historians to produce a fair rendition of Mexican American history in the US."

The goal for TEA is to start having the new history classes, not this fall but a year later in script

A textbook proposed to help teach the cultural history of Mexican-Americans in Texas public schools is under scrutiny by scholars, some of whom decry the effort as racist and not a reflection of serious academic study.

The Texas Freedom Network sent FOX 7 a press release outlining their upcoming Monday press conference.

According to the Texas Freedom Network the press conference will hosted by 'Representatives of coalition groups as well as scholars who have been reviewing the proposed textbook.'

Dan Quinn, Communications Director with The Texas Freedom Network says they will be 'announcing the formation of a broad coalition of organizations opposed to the adoption of an offensive, deeply flawed textbook proposed for Mexican American studies courses in Texas public schools.'

FOX 7's Rudy Koski will be attending the press conference today and will bring us the latest developments.

The textbook, titled "Mexican American Heritage," describes Mexican-Americans as people who "adopted a revolutionary narrative that opposed Western civilization and wanted to destroy this society." It also links Mexican-Americans to undocumented immigrants, saying illegal immigration has "caused a number of economic and security problems" in the U.S. that include "poverty, drugs, crime, non-assimilation, and exploitation"

The State Board of Education voted to include textbooks on Mexican-American studies after activists last year demanded the subject be formally included in state curriculum. "Mexican American Heritage" is the first textbook on the subject included in a list of proposed instructional materials.

"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," Tony Diaz, host of Nuestra Palabra (Our Word) radio program in Houston and director of Intercultural Initiatives at Lone Star College-North Harris, told the Houston Chronicle ( ). "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 for the 2017-2018 school year.

Texans have until September to submit comments on the proposed instructional materials, said TEA spokeswoman DeEtta Culbertson. She also said the proposed textbooks will undergo review by a committee that includes teachers and administrators and that committee will make recommendations to the board.

Ultimately, books adopted by the elected members of the Texas State Board of Education in November become part of the recommended instructional materials for statewide curriculums, but school districts aren't required to embrace them. Individual districts can use their state money to buy whatever textbooks they wish.

The book "is not a text that we have recommended nor we will be recommending," says Douglas Torres-Edwards, coordinator of a TEA-approved Mexican-American studies course that has been 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."

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. Dunbar, a right-wing Christian activist who questioned the constitutionality of public schools in 2008, labeled the education system "tyrannical" when she published her book, "One Nation Under God," while serving on the board.

The Chronicle was unable to reach Dunbar or any of the books other authors. A phone message and email to Momentum Instruction from The Associated Press were not immediately returned Monday.

The Texas Board of Education's members sanction textbooks for use statewide in a process that has for years been marred by ideological fights over lessons on subjects including evolution, climate change and the influence of biblical figures such as Moses on America's Founding Fathers.


The Associated Press Contributed to this story.

Information from: Houston Chronicle,