Latino activists in Texas are demanding a public school curriculum that reflects the student body, calling on the State Board of Education to offer high schoolers courses in Mexican-American Studies.
At a board meeting Wednesday, activists will ask for Mexican-American history and literature classes to be added to the list of high school courses that can be taken for college credit, as well as to the list of “endorsed" special topics in the arts and humanities.
Despite the fact that more than half of the nearly 5 million students in Texas public schools are Latino, Mexican-American Studies are not currently in the state's planned curriculum. Librotraficante, a group founded to protest the Arizona legislature’s dismantling of a controversial Mexican-American Studies curriculum in Tucson, says the Republican-majority Texas board could help institutionalize the field by including it.
“We’re not asking for any laws to be changed,” Tony Diaz told The Huffington Post. “Mexican-American Studies is an accepted field of study.”
The idea has resonated with historian Emilio Zamora, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin.
“I think it’s high time for our public schools to demonstrate greater interest in the history and culture of Mexican-Americans, primarily because it makes pedagogical sense,” Zamora told HuffPost. “It’s going to encourage the kids and it’s going to provide a very creative perspective to study U.S. history.”
But the chair of the State Board of Education, Barbara Cargill (R), says supporters of Mexican-American Studies should pursue the idea through local districts, rather than asking the state to mandate the development of new courses.
“It takes a long, long time to develop a course,” Cargill said. “In the future, it could be a consideration, but just boom, developing a course like that by the time we’re going to vote in January, is not possible.”
Some high schools already partner with community colleges to offer Mexican-American Studies. Other programs are in development.
Tony Villanueva, the chair of Behavioral Sciences at Palo Alto College in San Antonio, began exploring the possibility of teaming up with local high schools to offer Mexican-American Studies courses for dual credit last year. The plan is still in development.
“Four schools immediately jumped in and said 'Oh yeah, that would be great,'" Villanueva said. “And it’s not exclusive to Mexican-American kids, it should be for anybody. We are a very Hispanic community here in South Texas, so it behooves all of us."
Juan Tejeda, an instructor of Music and Mexican-American Studies at Palo Alto, is spearheading the dual credit effort. He doesn’t oppose the idea that education in Mexican-American Studies should emanate from initiatives like his, but he says he’d like to see the education board take a more active role.
“Ultimately I would feel better if it were a sanctioned discipline and approved by the State Board of Education,” Tejeda says. “It would be an affirmation.”
Tejeda pointed to the comparatively high dropout rate among Hispanics as evidence for the need for a greater emphasis on Mexican-American Studies. The graduation rate for Latino students stood at 84.3 percent for the class of 2012, according to the Texas Education Agency, while it was 93 percent for white students.
“Unfortunately, there’s some institutionalized racism in our educational system that needs to be addressed,” Tejeda said. “Students are not seeing themselves reflected positively in the textbooks … If the schools are making you feel bad about who you are, you’re not going to be able to succeed.”
Some members of the board appear to agree.
Ruben Cortez, a Democrat from the heavily Mexican-American Rio Grande Valley, says he hopes to advance the proposal -- if not at Wednesday’s meeting, then further down the line, when the board takes up social studies development.
“I think it’s an outstanding idea,” Cortez said. “Given the change in our demographics, I think it’s important that Hispanic students have wider exposure to our Latino heroes.”
Occupied America: A History of Chicanos, by Rodolfo Acuña
The most successful book written by professor Rodolfo Acuña, "Occupied America" represents all that Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne opposed in the Mexican-American Studies program when he launched the attack against it. Horne viewed the curriculum as separatist and ethnically divisive. HB 2281, the law used to <a href="http://www.azleg.gov/legtext/49leg/2r/bills/hb2281s.pdf " target="_hplink">ban TUSD's Mexican American Studies</a> program, prohibits courses that "promote the overthrow of the United States government" or "are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group." "These people think you're a separatist if you want to teach and include people," <a href="http://articles.latimes.com/2011/jan/14/local/la-me-0114-tobar-20110114" target="_hplink">Acuña told the <em>Los Angeles Times</em></a> in 2011. "I don't want to be part of Mexico ... That's a stupid thing to argue."
500 Years of Chicano History in Pictures, compiled by Elizabeth Martinez
This compilation tells the story of Chicano history from before the European conquest of North America, through colonization and into the present day. The book describes the Southwest as "Occupied America" -- a term that Arizona conservatives often view as unjust and disparaging. Actor Edward James Olmos felt differently: "If young people read this book, they will be strong and proud in new ways," he said on the dust jacket to the 1990 edition. "It's a real education, in the true sense of that word."
Pedagogy of the Oppressed, by Paulo Freire
This seminal work by Brazilian education professor Paulo Freire argued that students learn best when treated as equals and engaged on their own terms. Freire argues against the "banking model" of education, in which teachers treat students as passive recipients of knowledge. His work is studied by education specialists throughout the hemisphere. In a 2012 interview, <a href="http://latino.foxnews.com/latino/news/2012/04/19/neither-banned-nor-allowed-mexican-american-studies-in-limbo-in-arizona/" target="_hplink">Arizona Superintendent of Education John Huppenthal </a> explained why he viewed the book as problematic: <blockquote>The title of Paulo Freire's book is 'Pedagogy of the Oppressed,' and so the question is, who is the oppressed? And as we looked at what was going on in the classroom and looked at what was in the materials, we saw they were putting together a Marxian model in the classroom in which the oppressed are the Hispanic students and the oppressors are the white Caucasian power structure. We came to the conclusion that it wasn't O.K. to be preaching that model in the classroom.</blockquote>
Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years, by Bill Bigelow
A collection of essays, interviews, lesson plans and other materials, <em>Rethinking Columbus</em> aims to change the way students understand the first interactions between the indigenous peoples of the Americas and the Europeans. One contributing author, <a href="http://www.salon.com/2012/01/13/whos_afraid_of_the_tempest/" target="_hplink">Tucson's own Leslie Silko</a>, boasts a Native Writers' Circle of the Americas Lifetime Achievement Award and a MacArthur Foundation genius grant.
Critical Race Theory, by Richard Delgado
The academic field of <a href="http://spacrs.wordpress.com/what-is-critical-race-theory/" target="_hplink">critical race theory challenges</a> traditional ways of looking at race and racism. The field's theoreticians argue that supposedly neutral concepts and institutions, like meritocracy or the legal system, mask systemic inequality and institutionalized racism. Richard Delgado's books is one of the discipline's classics. Some conservatives <a href="http://www.breitbart.com/Big-Government/2012/03/11/What Is Critical Race Theory" target="_hplink">view critical race theory as "dangerous"</a> because some of its proponents view the Constitution and the fabric of American democracy as imbued with racism. During the course of several interviews in 2012, Julio Cammarota, a professor of Mexican American Studies at the University of Arizona, "You can see the problem, can't you? One side doesn't want to talk about race, the other side wants to talk about race all the time."
Message to Aztlán: Selected Writings of Rodolfo "Corky" Gonzalez
The term "Aztlán" refers to the mythic homeland of the Nahua of Central Mexico. Intellectuals of the Chicano movement adopted the term to describe the southwestern United States. Mexican-American Studies teachers at Tucson Unified School District taught those concepts with books like this one, by Rodolfo "Corky" Gonzalez, a writer and political activist who helped found the Chicano Movement in the 1960s.
Chicano! The History of the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement, by Arturo Rosales
This well-regarded study of the Chicano movement serves as a companion to the 1996 PBS documentary of the same name.