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Why We're Only Talking About One Mexican American Studies Textbook

Marjorie Kamys Cotera
Texas Tribune
Dr. Christopher Carmona, chair of the National Association of Chicana and Chicano Studies-Tejas Foco's Committee on Pre K-12 Edu. in Texas Schools speaks during a press conference on July 18, 2016.

The State Board of Education is hearing public comment today about a controversial Mexican American studies textbook. It was the only Mexican American studies textbook submitted for review to the board this year.

Three years ago, State Board of Education Member Ruben Cortez asked his fellow members to create a Mexican American Studies elective course for public schools. Instead of adding the course, the board asked publishers to submit new textbooks on the subject through an existing elective: Special Topics in Social Studies.

Only one book was submitted by a small publishing company called Momentum Instruction. So far, it hasn’t gotten great reviews.

“It is littered with too many factual errors created by individuals with no subject matter expertise,” said Ruben Cortez at a press conference earlier this month denouncing the textbook. “Dripping with racism and intolerance.”

Cortez organized a committee of professors and one high school teacher to review the book. The committee found 141 errors in the book.

UT Austin history professor Emilio Zamora has also criticized the textbook.

“They do not make use of ongoing discussions, debates, treatments of themes and topics, the literature is vast and they’re not engaging that literature at all,” he said.

But Zamora doesn’t just blame the textbook authors. He says the State Board of Education set itself up for this situation.     

“When they decided not to adopt the course in Mexican American studies, they in effect denied publishers or discouraged publishers from submitting books for adoption,” Zamora said.

Since there’s no Mexican American Studies course, there’s no real market for these textbooks, and no incentive to write one.

“Publishers have to invest an impressive amount of resources. They are businesses after all and they can’t just enter a market, when a market doesn’t exist or barely exists.”

Zamora, who specializes in Mexican American history, recently wrote a Texas History textbook for the publishing house, Pearson. It was approved by the State Board of Education last year. Zamora says one reason he was brought on by Pearson to write that textbook was because of his background in Mexican American studies.

“They wanted to broaden the curriculum so it would be more relevant and more appealing to districts, and teachers and students," Zamora said. 

Pearson did not return a request for comment before KUT’s deadline. The State Board of Education will just hear public comment today. They will decide whether to approve the textbook in November.

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