Textbook Wars: Officials Target Ethnic Studies in Texas and Arizona

Textbooks - Photo: Herzogbr/Flickr

Middle School Textbooks. (Photo: Herzogbr/Flickr)

Latino groups are testifying at a public hearing today in Austin, TX, in a last ditch effort to fight the Texas State Board of Education’s (SBOE) proposed changes to the social studies curriculum in public schools.

The right-wing revisions have engendered criticism on the center and left for calling into question the separation between church and state, the civil rights movement, and excluding the contributions of Mexican Americans to American history, among many other things.

Yet the SBOE approved the changes in March, (which include more than 100 amendments to the 120-page curriculum) and will cast a final vote this Friday.

The Texas SBOE is dominated by a powerful conservative bloc. As reported in the New York Times, one Hispanic board member walked out of a meeting in frustration, saying, “they can just pretend this is a white America and Hispanics don’t exist.”

One of the board’s recommendations, which was eventually rescinded, was to exclude César Chávez, a Mexican American civil rights leader who co-founded the National Farm Workers Association, from textbooks.

HB 2281, recently signed by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, arose out of a similar battle around public education and the telling of American history. It outlaws ethnic studies in public and charter schools in Arizona, and specifically targets one such program in Tuscon that incorporates the teachings of Paulo Freire, including his book “Pedagogy of the Oppressed.”

HB 2281 bans classes that

  • Promote resentment toward a race or class of people;
  • Are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group; or
  • Advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.

But officials of the Tuscon United School District say their Mexican American studies program doesn’t do any of those things—it’s only providing information about the role of Mexicans in American history.

Both Texas and Arizona have large Hispanic populations. As of 2008, according to Census Bureau statistics, 30% of Arizona’s population was Hispanic or Latino.  In Texas the figure stood at  36.5%.

What these numbers don’t show is that the majority of the Hispanic population in these states is young—and make up more than 40% of students in the public school system.

So while the curriculum may downplay the presence of Hispanics in America, the classrooms tell a different story.

AboutSarah Kate Kramer
Sarah Kate Kramer first got hooked on collecting stories as a StoryCorps facilitator, then traveled the world with a microphone for a few years before settling down in her hometown of New York City. From 2010-2012 she was the editor of Feet in 2 Worlds and a freelance reporter for WNYC Radio, where she created “Niche Market,” a weekly segment that profiled specialty stores in New York. Sarah is now a producer at Radio Diaries, a non-profit that produces documentaries for NPR and other public radio outlets.