Scholars Find 400 New Errors in ‘Racist’ Textbook Revamp (Updated)
Update, 11:33 a.m., November 18:
The State Board of Education made it official Friday morning, with another unanimous vote rejecting the Mexican American Heritage textbook. In another unanimous vote, the board reopened the call for ethnic studies texts — not limited to Mexican-American history — for use as early as 2018.
University of Texas professor Emilio Zamora, one of the scholars who released a critical review of Mexican American Heritage, has said he plans to write a textbook to submit for state review.
Under state law, the board’s review is only a non-binding stamp of approval — so schools are still free to purchase any texts they want, including Mexican American Heritage or any number of other books on the subject.
Update, 11:40 a.m., November 16:
After a long day of public testimony on Tuesday, the board reconvened Wednesday morning and voted unanimously to reject the textbook Mexican American Heritage. Wednesday’s vote was preliminary; the board will take its final vote on Friday.
David Bradley, the board member who suggested his colleagues find a way to “deny the Hispanics a record vote” on the book, wasn’t present for the 14-0 decision Wednesday.
In public schools across the country, expressions of racism and xenophobia have been on the rise since Donald Trump was elected president. On Tuesday, activists in Austin asked the State Board of Education not to add another one.
The board is scheduled to take a final vote this week on the Mexican American Heritage textbook, which has been widely criticized for its poor writing, factual errors and passages describing Mexican Americans as lazy and dangerous.
Ahead of public testimony on the book, activists and scholars with the Responsible Ethnic Studies Textbook Coalition gathered at Texas Education Agency headquarters to demand the board reject the book.
Cain Treviño, an eighth-grade student from Houston, issued a basic request: “When I get to high school, I don’t want to learn racist stereotypes about my people,” he said.
Since May, Mexican-American studies advocates have campaigned against the book, which was published by Cynthia Dunbar, a former State Board of Education member, and was the only ethnic studies text submitted for board approval this year.
Dunbar’s publishing house, Momentum Instruction, revised the book after experts who reviewed it found hundreds of erroneous passages. On Monday, Dunbar told Houston Public Media that she was “very, very, very proud of the work that we’ve done.”
But on Tuesday, the same expert reviewers said the changes only introduced more errors. The publisher offered 900 responses to critics, but University of Texas professor Emilio Zamora said he and other reviewers counted 400 more errors in those responses. What hasn’t changed, Zamora said, is the book’s depiction of Latino culture as anti-American. The book says that Chicano activists in the 1970s “wanted to destroy this society,” and suggests that immigrants arrive from Latin American countries with an appetite for revolution.
“They say it directly, and they say it indirectly,” Zamora said. “In fact, that’s the central theme of the textbook.”
Trinidad Gonzales, a South Texas College history professor, described the book as a polemic, not a reasoned work of history. The book, Gonzales said, falls into a tradition of writing “that looked at Mexican-American culture as a fundamental threat to the U.S. … If you strip away the racist stuff, it’s just, ‘Wow, I can’t believe somebody wrote this.'”
When the board considered an earlier draft of the book in September, members suggested its approval was extremely unlikely. On Tuesday, though, board member Erika Beltran said board members have still been getting emails in the last few days urging them to approve the book, and speculated “that people are feeling more and more emboldened by the recent election.”
In an email obtained by the Texas Freedom Network under an open records request, Republican board member David Bradley suggested that GOP board members find a procedural way to scuttle the book but “deny the Hispanics a record vote.”
Shortly after the meeting began, the board voted unanimously to open a new call for ethnic studies textbooks, before calling on Dunbar to discuss her book. Over two hours of testimony, she blamed “radical liberal groups” for the controversy around the text. “No textbook in the history of the SBOE has ever been attacked so prematurely,” she told the board.
After hearing public testimony Tuesday afternoon, the board is scheduled to take its final vote on Friday.