AUSTIN, Texas (AP) – Activists and educators on Monday called a Mexican-American studies textbook proposed for use across Texas biased and poorly researched and argued that its contents are especially offensive in a state where a majority of public school students are Hispanic.
A battle over the high school text is shaping up to become the latest ideological clash for the Republican-controlled Texas Board of Education. Its members have long waged high-profile debates over the teaching of evolution, climate change and Christianity's influence on America's Founding Fathers to more than 5.2 million public school students statewide.
Democrats, who are outnumbered 10-5 on the board, pushed unsuccessfully two years ago to create a full Mexican-American studies program. Instead, publishers were asked to submit textbooks on a variety of ethnic studies topics that the board could consider for use beginning in the 2017-2018 academic year.
Texas got one submission: Virginia-based publisher Momentum Instruction offered a textbook titled "Mexican American Heritage." But the book is now being decried as racist and inaccurate by many of the same advocates who had wanted a broader Mexican-American studies course.
"What we have now is a deeply flawed and a deeply offensive textbook," Celina Moreno, an attorney with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said at a news conference in the lobby of the Texas Education Agency, where the board meets.
Moreno and other activists are part of the new Responsible Ethnic Studies Text Coalition, which scrutinized the proposed textbooks and detailed what it described as "multiple factual errors." The coalition said those included suggesting that Mexican culture promotes laziness, linking Mexican-Americans to immigrants who are not in the country legally, and characterizing leaders of the Chicano movement that advanced Mexican-American civil rights in the 1960s and '70s as adopting "a revolutionary narrative that opposed Western civilization and wanted to destroy this society."
"Industrialists were very driven, competitive men," the textbook says, according to excerpts. "In contrast, Mexican laborers were not reared to put in a full day's work so vigorously. There was a cultural attitude of 'manana,' or 'tomorrow.'"
A phone number for Momentum Instruction rang unanswered Monday. The liberal watchdog group Texas Freedom Network says the textbook publisher is controlled by Cynthia Dunbar, a former Texas Board of Education member who has advocated for state curriculum standards downplaying the constitutional separation of church and state.
Hispanics now make up 52 percent of Texas public school students, with most being Mexican-Americans.
The education board plans to vote in November on whether to approve the "Mexican American Heritage" textbook. Texas' more than 1,000 school districts don't have to use board-sanctioned classroom materials, but most do.
As a result, Texas has an outsized influence on school textbooks nationally. Its market is so large that edits made by publishers to meet the state's curriculum standards can wind up altering content in textbooks sold elsewhere.
David Bradley, a social conservative and veteran Board of Education member, said Monday that activists who forced Texas to solicit proposed ethnic studies textbooks are now angry with the results.
"You ought to be careful what you ask for. You got it," Bradley, a Republican from Beaumont, said in a phone interview.
He said Texas should focus on basics like reading, writing and math before worrying about more specialized courses.
"I'm Italian, Irish and French," Bradley said. "And I feel like I'm being discriminated against when we only have an exclusive minority studies program in Texas."