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State Education Board to Vote on Controversial Mexican-American Studies Textbook

Todd Wiseman/Texas Tribune

Update (Nov. 16 11:06 a.m.)  ​ The State Board of Education unanimously rejected a controversial Mexican American studies textbook in a preliminary vote Wednesday morning. The vote was 14-0 with Board Member David Bradley absent.

Before the vote, Board Member Thomas Ratliff said he wanted the vote to be clear:

What we are not doing is censoring a textbook. Nothing prohibits either of these publishers to print the books exactly as it is. Nothing prohibits them from resubmitting the book in Proclamation 2018 and nothing we do will prohibit them from selling them to public school districts in Texas. What we are doing is we are following Texas Education Code and our rules. We are not engaging in politics or personalities.

The board is expected to take a final vote on the book Friday. 

Original Post: The Texas State Board of Education is expected to decide whether to approve a controversial Mexican-American Studies textbook this week. On Tuesday, the board took final public testimony on the book.

Historians from colleges and universities across Texas repeated their concerns that the Mexican American textbook has hundreds of factual errors and perpetuates stereotypes of Mexican people. During today's testimony, historians argued many comments were ignored by the publisher and when changes were made, they didn’t go far enough. Many board members also expressed concerns. 

“It’s just not about the facts you state, but how you state facts," said Christopher Carmona, a Mexican American studies professor at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. Carmona testified that the book’s thesis is that Latino culture challenges American cultural ideals. And that has not been changed. "Even though some of corrections change the language of it, it’s still the same sentence.  They’re still saying the exact same thing, but with different wording.”

Cynthia Dunbar, a former State Board of Education member who owns Momentum Instruction, the publishing company that wrote the Mexican-American Studies textbook, took questions from board members for hours this afternoon. 

Dunbar says her company has worked hard to address all the concerns. Dunbar says many of the issues with the book aren’t factual errors, but differences in philosophy.

“I do believe it’s a political and ideological fight," Dunbar said. "It’s a fight we’ve seen on this board along party lines a lot of times."

Trinidad Gonzales, a professor at South Texas College, is one of many historians who reviewed the textbook and has raised objection multiple times about the book's content on factual grounds. He also says its language stereotypes Mexican people and rejects the assertion that this is a political fight.

"Me and my brother grew up eating the same tacos, being loved by the same parents," Gonzales said, referring to his brother who passed away a few years ago. "He was a Republican and I was a Democrat. Our culture does not make us liberal. Our culture is a benefit to the United States, whether you are a Republican or a Democrat."

Dunbar has told reporters that she may sue if the book is rejected—something Board Member Thomas Ratliff was aware of when hearing testimony.

"I want to make sure that, both this board and testifiers, that we spend time on things were legally able to approve or reject a book," Ratliff said.  "Because it seems clear to me that certain people are planning to challenge us on whatever we decide, and I want to make sure we’re airtight on the things that we look at that are within our statutory authority.”

Emilio Zamora, another Mexican American studies professor at UT Austin, says he understands that.

“You have to deal with language and statutes. We're dealing with common sense and ideas of basic decency," Zamora said. 

"And you’re all dealing with 44 pages of being told, 'We don’t agree with what you are saying is a factual error,' Ratliff responded. "And I think that’s a red flag, to say the least.”

During public testimony, Dunbar also suggested the group most vocally opposing the textbook—the Texas Freedom Network—dislikes hers, but SBOE board member Lawrence Allen says that’s not what concerns him.

“Right now it’s about confidence," Allen said. "I told you, before I got up here, I wanted to make sure that people knew that Cynthia Dunbar was not a bad person, but I do believe what you submitted was a bad book.”

The board will take a preliminary vote on the book Wednesday and a final vote Friday.

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