The Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) wrapped up their decision to maintain Mexican American studies on an elective status and not to elevate it into mandated coursework on April 11 despite a strong push from activists, who also worked overtime in creating a false perception that Texas was living in the Stone Age by not offering ethnic study classes at all. Breitbart Texas reported on the situation; however, a lot of other headlines rallied behind this erroneous narrative.
Mexican American and other ethnic studies were already on the books. Texas Education Agency (TEA) spokeswoman Debbie Ratcliffe told Breitbart Texas that “the contributions of Hispanics are already included in existing social studies classes.”
Ratcliffe also cited 4th and 7th grade Texas history classes where students are taught about Hector Garcia, Mexican American civil rights leader, and the contributions of Tejanos as far back as the 1500’s.
It is not only elementary or middle school either where Mexican American heritage and culture is folded into the Texas Essential Knowledge & Skills (TEKS) aligned content standards. In Houston ISD, teacher Alejandro Torrealba brings AP Spanish Literature and Culture to life for high schoolers.
He told Breitbart Texas “AP Spanish literature introduces students to the formal studies of a representative body of text from Spain, Latin American and U.S. Spanish literature. Our program includes masterpieces of Mexican American literatura: such as: Tomas Rivera, ‘Y no se lo trago la tierra..‘ Sabine Ulibarri: ‘El Caballo amigo’.”
Ratcliffe also added, “Districts have long been able to teach a customized social studies class, such as Mexican American Studies, Civil War history, Medieval History, etc., by using the ‘Special Topics in Social Studies’ general curriculum standards, section 113.47.”
SBOE member and former teacher Tom Maynard (10th District) supported the TEA spokeswoman’s comments. He told Breitbart Texas that Mexican American studies is an already welcome offering in Texas public education that can be taken in addition to the TEKS but do not replace Texas content curriculum. In fact, no elective ethnic course replaces TEKS required classes.
He said, “People need to understand that an elective does not supplant a student from taking American history, however. A student has to take Texas history too.”
Certainly, students are required to study subjects in accordance with the TEKS. However, it seems that the real heart of the matter in the recent Mexican American Studies (MAS) debate may be more about future textbooks, online and instructional materials that would be used to teach a course.
In fact, at the final vote, the SBOE agreed to a consider publisher requests for elective ethnic studies instructional materials. On the one hand, this was nothing new for Texas primary and secondary education. The SBOE broadened their language to allow book publishers to submit material for an even wider variety of heritage groups, such as German Americans or Czech Americans, or others, to add to those already included (i.e., Mexican American, Asian Americans, African American and Native Americans).
To ensure adherence to the TEKS, the SBOE and its review panel, the governing body that determines whether a publisher’s offerings are TEKS acceptable, would rely on a variety of ways textbooks find their way into Texas classrooms, according to Ratcliffe. This includes going through a state adoption process or through a school district. According to Ratcliffe, the process is stringent and, although no system is 100 percent, Ratcliffe wanted to assure parents that safeguards tend to screen out undesirable or inappropriate content.
Any book a district uses for an elective, not just MAS ethnic studies, is required to cover only at least 50 percent of the TEKS. Although 50 percent does not filter out all unaligned content, the TEA spokeswoman said that combined with other monitoring safeguards, the likelihood of inappropriate, erroneous or biased materials would be significantly reduced.
It may need to. Houston-based author/activist Tony Diaz, who orchestrated the PR game to push the existing elective into a mandated TEA course, may have been pushing for something more like California’s Assembly Bill (AB) 1750, which sits in the legislature right now and if passed, would mandate standardized ethnic studies courses grades 7-12.
Diaz is known as “El Librotraficante,” which means “book trafficker,” he told the Huffington Post. His recent underground Phoenix book drive was to raise copies of Occupied America, the bible of Chicano studies written by the father of Chicano studies, Rodolfo Acuňa, a professor at California State University Northridge (CSUN) in the Los Angeles suburbs.
In an April blog post, Diaz boasted that in 2012, the Librotraficante caravan smuggled banned books to Tucson. Back in 2010, Arizona not only shut down the core MAS program offered in the Tucson Unified School District, it outlawed it through House Bill 2281. Lawmakers shut the classes down because of the divisive nature of the curriculum.
The Arizona legislation stated that the “legislature finds and declares that public school pupils should be taught to treat and value each other as individuals and not be taught to resent or hate other races or classes of people.”
The high school teacher responsible for that course was Curtis Acosta, who, according to the Diaz blog, was in Texas recently. Diaz wrote “Now, one of founders of the brilliant and BANNED Mexican American Studies Program comes to Houston.”
In 2013, Acosta resigned from the Tucson Unified School District, creating Chicana/o Literature, Art, and Social Studies (CLASS), a high school dual credit course offered through a partnership with Prescott College in Tucson. He also launched the Acosta Latino Learning Partnership, a consulting firm that incorporates what the website dubbed his brand of “socially and community relevant” MAS and CLASS curriculum to “meet and exceed the Common Core…”, the federal educational mandate.
Arizona’s law was crafted in response to Acosta’s curriculum. Today, all Arizona school districts and charters, which are public schools, cannot include any courses or classes that promote the overthrow of the United States government.”
What was going on in Tucson?
According to the suburban Los Angeles community weekly, the San Fernando Valley Sun, “one of the confiscated books used in Tucson Unified’s MAS class was “one of the cornerstones of Chicano Studies — Acuña’s book.
“Occupied America,” was strongly condemned for its separatist values. It also included a racist speech attributed to University of Texas professor José Angel Gutiérrez, who said: “We have got to eliminate the gringo, and what I mean by that is if the worst comes to the worst, we have got to kill him…” (pg. 323).
Additionally, Gutiérrez‘s resume names him as a founding member and past president of La Raza Unida (“The Race United”) Party, which Breitbart News reported in 2012, had another co-founder in San Antonio mayor Julian Castro’s mother. She helped create the “radical, anti-white, socialist Chicano party that called for creating a separate country – Aztlan – in the Southwest United States.”
A 2011 Examiner article also cited Acuňa’s book for the same radical recommendation that Mexico retake seven Southwestern U.S. states to become a Chicano nation. La Raza is an extremist group that promotes this notion, according to recent Breitbart News reports.
In essence, the MAS saga may not have just been a flickering moment in front of the SBOE over a class. It may well prove to be a complex battleground of border state activists determined to dictate classroom text/online required reading lists and supplemental materials that are used in Texas public and charter school classrooms for all TEA Mexican American elective studies.
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