November 18, 2017

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Protests Grow Against Proposed Mexican American Textbook in Texas

EH_141209_TexasBootEducators, and at least one lawmaker, believe a proposed textbook, Mexican American Heritage (Momentum Instruction), aimed at teaching Texas public school kids about Mexican American culture, is discriminatory.

It is both “racist and wrong,” says Nolan Cabrera, an assistant professor with the University of Arizona’s College of Education, who has seen the book. It is proposed as an addition to the approved K–12 textbook list for the 2017–18 school year, from which educators at all grade levels can choose.

“The book blames the Latino community for problems right now,” he says. “This is the epitome of revisionist history.”

Mexican American Heritage is currently under review by the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE), with next steps to include a public hearing in September. Texas does not have a state-approved Mexican American textbook, and this would be its first, says DeEtta Culbertson, a spokesperson for the Texas SBOE.

The Texas SBOE used listservs to push out a request for publishers to submit books by April 15, and it received just one submission—Mexican American Heritage. The publisher, Momentum Instruction, is helmed by Cynthia Dunbar, who formerly served on the Texas SBOE. That connection is one protesters have latched on to, as well as the fact that Momentum doesn’t seem to have other books in its catalog. A request to interview Dunbar was not answered.

“Momentum had never published another book in its life,” says Tony Diaz, a Houston-based writer, activist, and professor who also runs a protest group called Librotraficante. “It seems like [Momentum] is a vanity press, and [that] also explains the shoddiness of the scholarliness of the work.”

Cabrera questions the selection process as well, suggesting that there may have been an effort to limit the number of proposed textbooks to just the one.

“You would imagine there are many publishers who would want their texts in the hands of students,” he says. “This was very much an inside job.”

Texas State Senator José Menéndez is asking why the textbook was even looked at by the Texas SBOE in the first place, and he has directed his office to start compiling a list of alternative books that schools can draw from when teaching courses on the subject. Menéndez cited passages referring to immigrant neighborhoods as “hotbeds for crime, exploitation and hostile views toward America,” and another describing Chicanos as people who “wanted to destroy this society,” in a statement his office released in May.

“It is reprehensible that Texas would consider a textbook from Momentum Instruction rather than reputable Latino scholars,” says Menéndez. “I would urge all school districts to choose a textbook other than Mexican American Heritage when teaching this important subject.”

Educators hope students, especially in high school, possess strong enough critical thinking skills so that they don’t take one single source as the final word on any subject. Indeed, Texas SBOE’s Culbertson says that schools and districts will not be required to use the book and can also choose additional or other titles for their courses. But a state-approved textbook is often one students—not to mention teachers—usually trust.

Librotraficante has also launched an online petition to have the book removed from the list of proposed textbooks. A free summit is also planned for Saturday, June 18 at San Antonio College, where concerns around the textbook, among other topics, will be raised.

Diaz is actually heartened by the protests around the title and the response from educators—and others—while the book is still in the proposed stage. He hopes to see the Texas SBOE re-open the submissions and allow new titles to be considered.

“This is an improvement,” he says. “We’re catching this book before it gets into the classroom.”

 

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Lauren Barack About Lauren Barack

School Library Journal contributing editor Lauren Barack writes about the connection between media and education, business, and technology. A recipient of the Loeb Award for online journalism, she can be found at www.laurenbarack.com.

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Comments

  1. Bookworm says:

    Why have a textbook dedicated to only a single group when so many people live in Texas, in this country? It’s odd…

  2. You know what’s “odd”? It’s “odd” that textbooks and websites about Texas history leave out or misrepresent the history of indigenous, latino and black people. And by “odd” I mean intentionally racist.