Controversy over a proposed textbook, Mexican American Heritage, has dominated recent discussion on the subject of integrating Mexican-American Studies (MAS) into public school curriculum in Texas. While response to the book has been overwhelmingly negative from scholars, it has raised awareness of the need for Texas to “get this right,” according to Michael Soto professor at Trinity University, and former member of the State Board of Education.
In pursuit of that goal, the National Association of Chicana and Chicano Studies Tejas Foco Committee will be hosting the Summit on Implementing Mexican American Studies in Texas Schools on Saturday, June 18, from 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m. at San Antonio College’s McAllister Auditorium. The free event is open to anyone interested in contributing to the strategic plan to ensure that Texas students are given an accurate and robust MAS curriculum, and that this curriculum is equitably implemented with best practices in mind.
Members of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus and the Senate Hispanic Caucus have long been aware of the need for Texas to “get this right.” Mexican-American and Latino students comprise 51.3% of school-aged children in the state of Texas and this demographic is expected to grow to 67% by 2050 according to the Hobby Center. Their cultural invisibility from current state and U.S. history curriculum is problematic, according to advocates like state Sen. José Menéndez.
“I think we can do a better job without segregating ourselves,” Menéndez told the Rivard Report in May.
Tejas Foco points to research that indicates students who participate in MAS and other ethnic studies courses see improved performance in school. Researchers attribute this to being more engaged in the instruction, especially in the cases of minority students learning about their own heritage, and how their ancestral contributions shaped history. Once engaged in their coursework, it is more likely that these students will go on to graduate with higher test scores and grades than their previous performance would have predicted, according to this research.
It would seem that academic enfranchisement has benefits.
Other studies have shown that white students also benefit from ethnic studies. While they are emotionally challenging, students did find the classes interesting and engaging. One study showed a minor but observable increase in cognitive development for students engaged with diverse populations through study and experience.
At a fundamental level, research shows that the ability to see things from another’s perspective is critical to cognitive social development.
In April 2014, the State Board of Education approved a call for MAS textbooks and other ethnic studies texts under the umbrella of “special topics in social studies,” an elective that existed already under the current standard for Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS).
The guidelines for special topics in social studies are intentionally vague, according to Soto, and so it is not particularly difficult to find curriculum that meets TEKS standards, and thus require consideration for approval by the State Board of Education.
Lumping MAS into special topics in social studies, as well as including other ethnic studies, was a compromise ventured in 2014 by State Board of Education member Ruben Cortez (D-Brownsville). While many hoped for a designated course requirement for MAS, Cortez proposed the umbrella designation and call for text book submissions, which may have been the key to the proposal’s approval.
The controversial textbook demonstrated to many that while Cortez’s compromise was an important step forward, MAS does not have the definitive protections of other studies. Each district will decide on its curriculum, and it is very possible that books like Mexican American Heritage could be included.
The goals of the summit on Saturday are to identify institutional barriers, establish priorities, and develop a plan of action for the implementation of MAS in Texas schools from Pre-K to 12th grade and for increasing access to MAS courses and content within the broader community.
During this Summit there will be a press conference addressing the controversial Mexican American Studies textbook being proposed to the Texas State Board of Education, as well as other issues related to the Summit, at 11:15 a.m. in the McAllister Auditorium.
The summit is presented by the National Association for Chicana & Chicano Studies Tejas Foco Committee on Mexican American Studies Pre-K–12, and hosted by San Antonio College with co-sponsorship support from the Palo Alto College Center for Mexican American Studies, the Center for Mexican American Studies at UT San Antonio, Somos MAS/Mexican American Studies San Antonio, Tejas, the Center for Mexican American Studies and Research at Our Lady of the Lake University, MAS Unidxs, the Mexican American Studies Program at UT Rio Grande Valley, the Rio Grande Valley Coalition for Mexican American Studies in K-12 Education, Nuestra Palabra, Librotraficante, MAS Texas, and MAS for the Masses.
This story was originally published on Monday, June 13.
Top image: Charros hold American, Texas, and Mexican flags during the Western Heritage Parade in February 2016. Photo by Scott Ball.