High school students in Texas can take, and get credit toward, electives like floral arrangement, team sport officiating, and turf-grass management. But not for Mexican-American studies, something activists, education groups, and several dozen state lawmakers are pushing to change.
They came out in force for Tuesday's State Board of Education meeting in Austin, urging board members to make the course a state-approved elective for high school students. Districts can currently offer such classes by developing and getting approval for their own "innovative course," but the process can be arduous; state approval would provide a standardized curriculum and textbook, making things much easier.
Their argument seems pretty reasonable. In a state where more than half of public school students are Hispanic, the vast majority of them of Mexican descent, and with Mexican-American leaders having been expunged from the social studies curriculum, it's only fair to give students a chance to learn about their heritage, which also happens to be intertwined with Texas history.
Texas Freedom Network's Kathy Miller puts it like this:
Right now there are more than 200 elective courses in the state curriculum, including classes on topics like floral design and web gaming. In a state where the majority of public school students are Hispanic, surely there is room for an elective course that teaches students how Mexican-Americans have helped shape our nation's history. And this is especially important just a few years after this state board actually debated whether Texas students should learn about revered Hispanic Americans like Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta and Sonia Sotomayor.
In the words of Tony Diaz, director of intercultural initiatives at Lone Star College in Harris County and one of the most forceful advocates of Mexican-American studies is more succinct:
"Texas must stamp out one of the last vestiges of discrimination. Our community will not be separated from its history," Diaz said.
The proposal has met with resistance from some Republicans on the board.who object to singling out an single ethnic group for study and say the "innovative course" option is sufficient. From the Houston Chronicle's preview of the debate:
"I'm Irish," says board member David Bradley, R-Beaumont. "So I'd like to propose an amendment to create an Irish-American Studies class."
He noted that many HISD students speak Urdu: "Why not Indian-American Studies? That may sound silly. But I'm raising a serious point. In Texas public schools, we teach American history and Texas history. We don't teach Irish-American history and Italian-American history."
Board member Patricia Hardy, R-Weatherford, said the state already includes a considerable amount of Mexican-American history in the curriculum. A former social-studies teacher, she argues that a Mexican-American studies class would do students a disservice if it displaces other social-studies offerings ...
[F]or the state to approve official curriculum for a class that focuses on one ethnic group, "whether it's the majority or not, is wrong," she says. "We're citizens of the United States, not citizens of Mexico."
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None of them raised those objections at Tuesday's hearing, where the only real opposition came from Lady Theresa Tombs, the flamboyant, supposedly knighted SBOE candidate from North Richland Hills who claims to be a "carrier of diplomatic papers" and, we learned Tuesday, is qualified to opine on Mexican-American issue because she was named to a "Latino Who's Who" for her ministry work.
Just because the board members stayed silent, though, doesn't mean they're on board with the course. Tuesday was just the public hearing. Today is the board discussion and the vote.
Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.