The Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) preliminarily approved to rename the course “Ethnic Studies: An Overview of Americans of Mexican Descent” to “Ethnic Studies: Mexican American Studies.”
On Wednesday, the SBOE voted 15-0 to swap out course titles, propelling the high school elective closer toward final approval on Friday when board members cast their final votes.
In April, the SBOE actually approved the course based on the framework of an existing ethnic studies high school class offered in the Houston Independent School District. At the time, board member David Bradley (R-Beaumont) voiced concerns over the hyphenated term “Mexican-American,” commenting that he found “hyphenated Americanism to be divisive.” Bradley introduced an amendment to call the elective “Ethnic Studies: An Overview of Americans of Mexican Descent.” Despite Democrat board member opposition, the name passed.
Since then, Mexican-American Studies (MAS) advocates have contested it. This week, at the Austin-held SBOE meetings, MAS students and educators piped up during public comments. One speaker pleaded with the the board members to rename the class to “honor those who came before us,” adding that calling it “Mexican American” would not “de-Americanize” them.
Douglas Torres-Edwards, the curriculum manager for the Houston Independent School District and creator of their high school MAS elective, told the board, “We are all Americans first.”
Houston ISD is the state’s largest school district. In 2016-17, they reported that 62 percent of their enrolled students were Hispanic. That year, 52.4 percent of all publicly educated Texas children were Hispanic, according to the Texas Education Agency. In 2015, Houston ISD obtained state approval for their ethnic studies class through an “innovative” courses designation. Torres-Edwards authored the curriculum which is aligned to the state’s standards, the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS).
Still, for some, lingering reservations about ethnic studies courses remain, likely stemming from the Tucson public school scandal. In 2010, the Arizona Department of Education shut down their MAS program over allegations that incendiary class materials advocated for the overthrow of the United States government. In 2017, though, a federal judge overturned the Arizona law which banned Mexican-American studies.
Last year, the SBOE rejected textbook contender, The Mexican American Studies Toolkit, after a state panel of experts found highly-charged opinions and factual errors in the offering written by MAS activist Tony Diaz. The panel advised against the book’s adoption. Likewise, in 2016, the SBOE rejected Mexican American Heritage after MAS educators and students accused this textbook of being “error-filled” and “racist.”
Board member Georgina Perez (D-El Paso) formally proposed the preferred “Mexican American” studies title on Wednesday, prefacing there would be no hyphen in between “Mexican” and “American.” Bradley seconded the motion.
Later, Christopher Carmona, a MAS professor at the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley, who testified in favor of incorporating “Mexican American” into the course title, told The Texas Tribune by email: “We finally have our name back.”
The SBOE’s blessing will allow school districts to use state funds to pay for instructional materials, including textbooks. The Tribune noted no rule prevents schools from using a course title different from the official name “Mexican-American” studies. They may decide to identify as Tejano, Chicano, or something else.
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