Educators fight textbook that vilifies Mexican Americans

Demonstrators at Texas Board of Education hearing. Credit: Texas Freedom Network

By Sabrina Holcomb

Critics consider a new Mexican American Heritage textbook so dangerous, hundreds of people braved the Texas heat to speak out against its adoption at a Texas Board of Education hearing.

The proposed textbook has offended and outraged activists who say the book is so riddled with factual errors, key omissions, and blatantly racist statements it has no place in any classroom.

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If this textbook is adopted, say concerned educators, students will “learn” that Mexican American workers are lazy, Mexican-American labor leaders wanted to destroy American society, and Mexican American people are cultural separatists—and that’s just a start.

“When you are a young person and you read a book that says people like you are lazy and uneducated and bad for society, you internalize that,” says Montserrat Garibay, Vice President of Education Austin and an early childhood teacher. “That’s what your friends are reading about you. It denigrates you as a person, and perpetuates institutional racism.”

Over half of Texas’ five million students are Latino, and the majority of them are Mexican American, leading some educators to advocate for a more inclusive curriculum that incorporates Mexican American history—a commonsense approach they say, given research that shows students who take ethnic studies courses perform better on state tests and are more likely to graduate from high school.

Instead of implementing an inclusive curriculum or full ethnic studies program, however, the Texas Board of Education called for publishers to submit textbooks for an optional social studies course. The sole submission, Mexican American Heritage—written by a publisher who had no subject matter expertise—provoked an incredulous backlash when the board released a sample.

“Over 140 errors have been identified in this book already,” says Education Austin President Ken Zarifis, “yet a spokesperson for the publishing company questioned having scholars review it. That statement stunned me. People who deny healthy scholarship shouldn’t be making decisions about our kids.”

A broad coalition of scholar-activists and organizations, including Education Austin and the Texas State Teachers Association, have organized against the adoption—coordinating scholarly reviews, holding meetings and press conferences, and circulating an electronic petition that has secured over 10,000 signatures.

Montserrat Garibay and Ken Zarifis

Coalition members and students, concerned about the negative impact of a book that “distorts history,” showed up in force at the Board of Education hearing last week, where over 100 people signed up to speak. They and other stakeholders must wait until November to hear the school board’s decision—a choice that could reverberate beyond Texas.

In the world of school textbooks, Texas is the giant in the room—a large and profitable market that exerts a powerful influence on the content of textbooks throughout the country. It’s not the first time the Texas Board of Education has been in the news. In fact, the publisher of Mexican American Heritage is a former member of the Board who once said that sending kids to public school is like “throwing them into the enemy’s flames.”

Despite an uphill climb, some educators have persevered, heartened by the “movement atmosphere” they say has taken hold in Texas and other areas of the country—such as California, which just passed a landmark bill ordering a model ethnic studies course for all state high schools.

“I can’t think of any time since the late 60s and early 70s the activism surrounding this issue has been so prominent,” affirms art professor and movement leader Juan Tejeda, who spoke at the schoolboard hearing along with other stakeholders. “We’re asking the Board to make the right decision in November.”

This issue goes beyond November and this textbook, says Ken Zarifis. “The salient question is how do you tell the history of all the people who make up this nation? Why are we scared to acknowledge the contributions others have made,” asks Zarifis. “When I taught 8th grade language arts, my kids were thirsty to hear their stories in the classroom. Why would we deny them that?” The only reason I can think of is we don’t want them to feel empowered by their heritage and the real story of those who came before them.”

Reader Comments

  1. Empowered by their heritage? I am not sure what that means. Teddy Roosevelt’s ‘quote’ is the essence of becoming an American. Come here legally, learn English, disavow allegiance to any other nation. That is what it means to be an American. There is no issue with celebrating one’s ethic/cultural background or heritage, but there is but one and only one allegiance, one and only one language, English, one nationality, American.

    As noted, it is not a simple process to become an American, but that is the way it should be. The benefits and freedoms enjoyed by the citizens of this nation came and are preserved at a cost: hundreds of thousands of American deaths in both foreign and domestic struggles. The rights and privileges we enjoy are not to be taken lightly nor just given to immigrants. They must be earned. Part of the price is adopting a new allegiance, to this nation only. Those who do not, can not be citizens and ought not to be here

    What the text in question says about Mexicans is obviously being slammed by the publisher of the article here-in. Perhaps they are correct but it is very naïve to simply believe what somebody else tells you on faith. It would have been a lot better to have presented facts extracted from the text(s) rather than gross, broad generalizations that the books vilify Mexicans.

  2. People seem to think that the process of becoming an American citizen is easy. The fact is that the process is complicate, lengthy and extremely expensive. with most immigrants making less than minimum wage for their labor, the process of becoming a citizen is beyond their reach. That is why we need immigration reform. Most immigrants would be happy to have full citizenship, but the process is financially beyond their means.

  3. Teddy Roosevelt:

    We should insist that if the immigrant who comes here does in good faith become an
    American and assimilates himself to us he shall be treated on an exact equality with every one else, for it is an outrage to discriminate against any such man because of creed or birth-place or origin.

    But this is predicated upon the man’s becoming in very fact an American and nothing but an American. If he tries to keep segregated with men of his own origin and separated from the rest of America, then he isn’t doing his part as an American. There can be no divided allegiance here. . . We have room for but one language here, and that is the English language, for we intend to see that the crucible turns our people out as Americans, of American nationality, and not as dwellers in a polyglot boarding-house; and we have room for but one soul loyalty, and that is loyalty to the American people

  4. Textbooks are made for profit. Period. They’ll say anything people want to hear, as long as it sells, much like FOX News.

  5. Textbooks are made for profit. Period. They’ll say anything people want to hear, as long as it sells, much like FOX News.

  6. I am speechless and can’t even comment. I know many Mexicans and have always had a high opinion of them. The problem is that these books, as many of our books used in schools across the United States, are written in Texas. That is the first thing that should be stopped. Then a wide assortment of educators from across the US should put together the books used in our schools. And have both sides of the issue. As in any race there are good and bad, lazy and hardworking, to just put in a couple of people’s opinions is an outrage to “Education”

  7. “Over 140 errors have been identified…”
    Examples? How can a reader judge the veracity of this statement without actual text from the book in question?

    “…a spokesperson for the publishing company questioned having scholars review it…”
    Does this shadowy figure have a name? For that matter, does the publishing company have a name?

    ” …the publisher of Mexican American Heritage is a former member of the [Texas Board of Education]…”
    Again, does this specter have a name?

    I could cite further examples, but you get the picture.

    This “story” is pure propaganda. It’s hard enough to defend the NEA against the union haters without pieces like this that pose as legitimate journalism. We’re supposed to be educators. Let’s behave like educators.

  8. Are there other cultures represented in the schools that are ufairly treated or are poorly represented in the textbooks according to the current activists, andif so where are they ….. orrrr is this problem one of discriination solely against MexicanAmercans?

  9. Texas buys a very large amount of textbooks that are used through out the whole state. Vendors who offer these “untrue opinions ” as facts in the text should be made to include just the” FACTS.”
    Losing a very large contract would hit these publishers in the pocketbook and send a message for the future. Good luck with this cause.

  10. Fear and ignorance are the basis of prejudicism, racism, and discrimination…shame on Texas Board of Education and publisher of Mexican American Heritage. These people want facts and real history of the United States conveniently forgotten.

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