Outrage Over Anti-Latino Textbook in Texas

     HOUSTON (CN) — A history textbook that describes Mexican-Americans as bent on the destruction of Western civilization has raised concerns about how the Texas State Board of Education solicits and vets books for public schools.
     In response to demands in 2015 that Mexican-American studies be phased into the state’s curriculum, the 15-member board voted to accept textbooks on the subject.
     The first and only submission to the board on the topic, “Mexican American Heritage,” has elicited a backlash from scholars, concerned about its origins and accuracy.
     Texas is one of five states considered “minority-majority” with Hispanics making up the largest percentage of the state’s minorities, and they are becoming increasingly outspoken about what’s taught in the state’s public schools.
     The book describes Chicanos as people who “adopted a revolutionary narrative that opposed Western civilization and wanted to destroy this society.”
     It is published by Momentum Industries, which is owned by former Texas State Board of Education member Cynthia Dunbar, a rightwing conservative Christian lawyer who homeschooled her children and released her book “One Nation Under God: How the Left Is Trying to Erase What Made Us Great” while serving on the board from 2007 to 2011.
     Dunbar calls public schools “tyrannical” and a “tool of perversion” in her book. She formerly taught law at Liberty University in Virginia, the self-described “world’s largest Christian university,” and was co-chair of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign in Virginia.
     Cruz announced his candidacy at the university, which was founded by the late evangelical preacher Jerry Falwell in 1971.
     Nothing in Dunbar’s biography on her Linkedin page suggests she has expertise in Mexican-American history. Nor do the book’s authors, Jaime Riddle and Valarie Angle, claim any background in the subject on their Linkedin pages.
     Angle did not reply to a request for an interview, via social media.
     The book lists three other people with connections to Liberty University as contributors, two of them former employees of the school.
     Brian Cody, an African-American, works as a “program editor” for the university, according to its website.
     Cody did not respond to a phone message or email seeking comment.
     Texas Board of Education Chairwoman Donna Bahorich said the board solicits textbooks by sending out a “proclamation.”
     “Basically, it’s a call for materials that would incorporate our TEKS, Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, so anyone can answer a call and submit materials, as long as you meet the criteria that’s sent out in the proclamation,” Bahorich said in an interview.
     The Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills are state standards on what students should know to graduate, according to the Texas Education Agency, whose commissioner sits on the board and advises it in a secretarial capacity.
     Bahorich, a Republican who lives in Houston, joined the board in January 2013, and Gov. Greg Abbott appointed her chairwoman in June 2015.
     Bahorich said that this “proclamation cycle” is different because the textbooks up for the board’s review are available online for public comment; in previous cycles commenters had to go to a state office to see them.
     The board’s vice chairman Thomas Ratliff, a Republican who for his day job lobbies the Texas Legislature for T-Mobile and Microsoft, said board members do not have the time or expertise to read and vet submitted textbooks.
     “I rely on subject matter experts and educators and other people to read them because they’re going to be more qualified to speak to factual errors or things like that,” he said.
     Ratliff said it’s important to note that independent school districts are not required to use the textbooks the board recommends.
     Houston Independent School District, the largest in Texas, offers a Mexican-American studies course at five campuses.
     HISD administrator Douglas Torres-Edwards said in an email that the course does not have a required text or instructional materials, but it includes a recommended list of material for teachers to draw from.
     Of HISD’s 215,000 students, 62 percent are Hispanic.
     Ratliff lives in Mount Pleasant about 120 miles east of Dallas. He said his wife is a Spanish teacher who incorporates lessons about Latino culture and history, touching on the Aztec and Inca Empires, in her classes.
     “Kids in her Spanish 1 class and my guess is a lot of Spanish 1 classes are also getting a pretty good coverage of some Mexican-American culture as well, so I’m not concerned about the potential damaging effects of one questionable book,” he said.
     The state board will decide in November what books to recommend as curriculum for the 2017-2018 school year.
     Bahorich said this proclamation cycle’s more inclusive textbook vetting process will ensure that the alleged inaccuracies in books like “Mexican American Heritage” are more likely to be noticed.
     “What’s going to happen with this proclamation and all future proclamation is that any material submitted lots of folks are going to weigh in and look at the materials and give us feedback on the errors they find, or whatever they want to point out,” she said.
     Texans have until September to comment on the proposed textbooks. Bahorich said it’s too late for publishers to submit books, as the vetting process has already started.
     Momentum Industries was the only publisher to submit an ethnic-studies book this cycle, Bahorich said, which surprised and disappointed her.
     “When the board called for materials I was hoping to get quite a few submissions on possibly African-American studies, Mexican-American studies, Chinese-American studies,” she said.
     “I was really surprised, to be honest, because we kept hearing about all these resources, particularly in the Mexican-American study area, but none of them were submitted, which would have been great because the public would have looked at all the materials.”
     Ratliff said in an interview he’d be surprised if “Mexican American Heritage” makes it through the board’s selection process, “because some of the statements in there not only are questionable in judgment but certainly seem to fall within the category of factual error. “
     The 512-page book states: “Economic disparity between the United States and Mexico is one major issue because it is responsible for the high rate of Mexican immigration which has continued since 1930, and which in recent years has been predominantly illegal rather than legal.”
     But a November 2015 report from the Pew Research Center concluded that in the five years after the Great Recession of 2008, more Mexican immigrants returned to Mexico than migrated to the U.S., for a net loss of 140,000 immigrants from the States.
     Marisa Perez, a Democrat from San Antonio, has served on the state education board since January 2015.
     Perez said she is delighted by the backlash over “Mexican American Heritage,” as it brought to light questionable information in the book.
     “I am aware of some of the erroneous and horrifically biased presumptions made in this text,” she said in an email.
     “As a third generation Mexican-American, I find the content of this instructional material to be offensive and highly misinformed. I also stop to think about what message a text like this is sending to the tens of thousands of Latino students in our public school system in Texas about ‘who they are’ and ‘what their heritage is.'”
     She said her newborn daughter is blessed to have a great grandma to teach her about her culture, but she worries that some Latino students without familial guidance will rely on textbooks.
     “This is why it is so incredibly important to ensure that the information in the text is factual and not opinion,” Perez said.

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