July 21, 2016
Don’t Mess With Textbooks (unless they’re racist)
by Liam O’Brien
Ah, textbooks—that glorious intersection of two notoriously fractious and slow-moving fields of endeavor, publishing and government. Since they are the tools used to mold impressionable young minds and create good little citizens, a lot is at stake when you’re trying to get them approved for use — make one mistake and you risk a community backlash.
We’ve reported on this before — in China, in Japan, in Texas, in Texas, and in Texas. And now, a proposed textbook has sparked widespread ire in — that’s right, you guessed it, Delaware!
JK, it’s obviously Texas. Casey Quinlan reports for ThinkProgress:
A proposed textbook about Mexican-American history that would be read by Texas high school students is filled with inaccuracies and stereotypes about Mexican Americans, said a coalition of educators opposing the publication of the textbook.
Latino activists and educators have been urging the Texas State Board of Education to allow for more coverage of Latino Americans in the textbooks it reviews, so when a textbook on Mexican Americans was included among the textbooks to be considered for the school year of 2017-2018, it appeared to be a win for those advocates. But when excerpts from the textbook were released, it became clear to advocates for more inclusion of Latino American history that the book was far more harmful than helpful.
Among the issues educators, scholars, and activists take with the book is its representation of Mexican Americans as lazy. The coalition, called The Responsible Ethnic Studies Textbook Coalition, includes the ACLU of Texas, Texas Latino Education Coalition, and Mexican American School Board Members Association. On Monday, this newly formed coalition criticized what they called “offensive cultural stereotypes,” according to The Washington Post, that were found in excerpts that called Industrialists “driven” but said Mexican laborers “were not reared to put in a full day’s work so vigorously.”
Inadvertent homage to George Murphy aside, this is quite the rocky start to a well-intentioned attempt at focusing on the history of Texas schools’ majority ethnic group. The book’s series of unfortunate characteristics also includes:
- The handily stereotypical cover image, which depicts a bare-chested man in indigenous headdress
- A depiction of the Spanish conquest of the Americas described by Nolan Cabrera, an education professor at the University of Arizona, as an “overtly racist attempt to whitewash”
- Blaming advocates of indigenous studies programs for making the Cold War worse
- Accusing the Chicano movement of wanting to destroy Western civilization
Not great! Not even close to great! In fact…very bad! But who’s to blame? Roque Planas at the Huffington Post did a little digging, and it turns out that Mexican American Heritage’s publisher, Momentum Instruction, is owned by Cynthia Dunbar, former member of the Texas State Board of Education. Dunbar is known for loving intelligent design, calling Obama supporters terrorists, and pushing through a number of revisionist edits to Texas textbooks in 2010. If I was given to conspiracy theory, I’d say she was a leftist false flag for how assiduously she injects hard-right wingnuttery into Texas curricula. Neither she nor the book’s two listed authors have commented on the controversy.
The State Board of Education will issue their approval based on whether or not they determine the book passes state standards, but if they find it doesn’t, this doesn’t pose a legal barrier for any district that wishes to purchase it for their schools. The public will be given the chance to comment on the book before the decision is made in November, according to a spokesperson for the Texas Education Agency.
Liam O’Brien is the Senior Sales & Marketing Manager at Melville House, and a former bookseller.