Textbook Reinforces Racial Stereotypes, Distorts History, Scholars Say
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 18, 2016
AUSTIN – A broad coalition of organizations from across Texas is calling on the State Board of Education (SBOE) to reject a proposed Mexican-American studies textbook that promotes offensive cultural stereotypes, distorts history and is plagued by factual errors.
“This textbook has no place in a Texas classroom, especially in a course that focuses on teaching about the contributions of Mexican Americans in our country’s history,” said Celina Moreno, representing the Texas Latino Education Coalition (TLEC), in speaking out against the Mexican American Heritage textbook from publisher Momentum Instruction. “The textbook not only insults Mexican Americans, but also African Americans and other people of color. Every parent and taxpayer should take offense that such a poorly researched and written textbook would even be considered for use in Texas public schools.”
Moreno spoke at a press conference launching the Responsible Ethnic Studies Textbook (REST) Coalition. Member organizations include education groups like TLEC, the Rio Grande Valley Coalition for Mexican American Studies, and the Mexican American School Board Members Association (MASBA). Community and civil rights groups like MALDEF, Texas LULAC, the Texas Association of Mexican American Chambers of Commerce, Texas Freedom Network and ACLU of Texas have also joined. A full list of organizations that have signed on to the coalition so far can be found at MASforTexas.org.
Scholars spoke at the press conference about serious problems with the deeply flawed textbook, including passages that reinforce offensive stereotypes, whitewash discussions about slavery and racism, and promote political agendas on topics such as church-state separation.
“The authors don’t even seem interested enough in the subject to know the difference between Mexican Americans and other Latino communities or the fact that their histories, in this nation, are completely different from each other,” said Dr. José María Herrera, an assistant professor in education at the University of Texas at El Paso. “This text has the look of a task given to an intern who has been told to cobble together what they can using the Internet. It is criminally shallow and, in some cases, factually ignorant.”
The head of the company that published the Mexican American Heritage textbook is Cynthia Dunbar, a controversial former SBOE member who wrote a book in 2008 condemning public education as “tyrannical” and a “tool of perversion.” During her time on the board, Dunbar opposed teaching students about separation of church and state, insisted that they learn about creationist arguments attacking evolution, and helped write new social studies curriculum standards that even the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute has called “a politicized distortion of history.”
Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network, noted that the textbook’s authors do not appear to have any expertise in Mexican-American studies.
“When a publisher is more interested in promoting a political agenda than working with real scholars and experts in the field, this is the kind of textbook you get,” Miller said. “The state board’s approval of this textbook would be a major embarrassment for Texas.”
Latinos comprise a majority of Texas public school students. The SBOE in 2014 decided to ask publishers to submit textbooks for local elective courses in Mexican-American, African-American and other ethnic studies. Mexican American Heritage is the only textbook submitted by a publisher for consideration.
Mexican American studies courses are critical in Texas, said Dr. Christopher Carmona, chair of the National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies-Tejas Foco’s Committee on Pre K-12 Education in Texas Schools.
“Currently, the Latinx population of students in Texas public schools is at 52 percent, and yet we do not have curriculum that reflects that in our school system,” Carmona said. “We need to take control of our children’s education and unify our efforts to lay the groundwork for culturally relevant curriculum for all students.”
Other speakers at the press conference included Dr. Lilliana Saldaña, an associate professor in Mexican American Studies at the University of Texas at San Antonio, and Dr. Emilio Zamora, a professor of history at the University of Texas at Austin. Saldaña spoke for Somos MAS, a San Antonio-based collective of Mexican American studies professors. Zamora is working with a group of scholars on a detailed, independent review of the Mexican American Heritage textbook.
The state board is set to hold public hearings on the textbook in the fall and then vote on whether to adopt it for Texas public schools in November.
Sampling of Problems in Mexican American Heritage
Following is just a sampling of the problems scholars have identified in the Mexican American Heritage textbook.
- Stunning lack of expertise and scholarship: The authors appear to have no scholarly background or other expertise in Mexican American studies.
- Unfocused narrative: In a textbook supposedly about “Mexican American heritage,” large parts seem to be about other topics, e.g., the U.S. Civil War, Reconstruction, and the Cold War. One scholar notes that an entire chapter on U.S. and Mexican history in the last half of the 1800s, for example, offers a dearth of primary source quotes, biographies and other material on actual Mexican Americans. Instead, students read primary source quotes from Mark Twain, Alexis de Tocqueville and Abraham Lincoln, extended discussions of the Civil War and Spanish-American War.
- Offensive racial stereotypes: Right after noting the offensive stereotype of Mexicans as “lazy,” the authors reinforce that stereotype in a discussion of relations between workers and American industrialists in Mexico in the late 1800s. From the textbook (page 248):
- Shockingly poor understanding of Texas and Mexican history: Discussions of post-independence Mexico, especially as it concerns Texas and the other territories that would be lost after the Mexican-American War, are exceedingly poorly written and researched. Considering the centrality of this era in the formation of “the Mexican American,” it is unacceptably shallow, uncritically examined and essentially ignores the history of areas like New Mexico and Arizona. Details that are common in the fourth-grade Texas history textbook (and one would expect would be well-examined in a high school level book dealing with Mexican American history) like the empresario system (and the various schemes to colonize), Manuel Mier y Teran’s inspection tour, and the Fredonia Rebellion are completely missing. Considering how overwhelmingly important the Texas Revolution is to the subject of the textbook, the thin and ill-informed coverage of that event is unacceptable.
- Discredited history on the Civil War and racism: The textbook inaccurately argues that “states’ rights” and the power of the national government, rather than slavery, were “the root” causes of the Civil War (page 210). Even worse, the textbook perversely suggests that persecution of white southerners rather than racism caused efforts to protect the civil rights of former slaves to fail in the decades after the Civil War (page 357):
- Agenda on religion and politics: The textbook provides a politicized and misleading history of the role of religion in the American founding. One passage, for example, suggests that the nation’s founders never intended separation of church and state as a key constitutional protection. In fact, the textbook even limits – misleadingly – the definition of that principle to simply barring government from involvement in the church while omitting the bar on government favoring or promoting any particular religion (page 289).
- Simplistic view of the Cold War: While the textbook accurately notes the tremendous repression imposed on various populations by the Soviet Union and other communist regimes, the authors appear to be largely interested in affirming a particular ideological perspective regarding the Cold War rather than focusing on a study of Mexican-American heritage. For example, the textbook misleadingly blames communist insurgencies for increases in organized crime, violence and other long-standing problems in Latin America.
“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.”
“Forcing civil rights on Southern states during Reconstruction failed be¬cause it bypassed representational avenues and trumped the beliefs of millions of citizens, including veterans and previous legislators from the South. While freed slaves were being mass registered for the Republican Party by Republican governors, southern white citizens had been disenfranchised.”