We took a tough vote at our State Board of Education meeting in Austin last week. Almost all of my colleagues and I voted against adopting a proposed Mexican-American Studies textbook. Like so many decisions we make as policymakers, the story started well before our vote. And I think it’s an important story to tell.
For many of you who have been following this conversation, you know that advocates have long been pushing for the board to develop a Mexican-American Studies (MAS) course. Educators and advocates have rightfully touted the benefits of culturally relevant pedagogy, citing the academic benefits of students seeing themselves in our history textbooks and in literature.
Unfortunately, both the SBOE and state Legislature have failed to deliver a MAS course for Texas kids. Instead, in April 2015, at my second meeting after being elected to the board, we called for a MAS textbook adoption. We figured if we couldn’t get a course, then perhaps, at the very least, we could get a textbook that classroom teachers could use to teach MAS.
Last year, you may recall that our call for instructional materials produced only one submission, “Mexican-American Heritage,” which was riddled with factual errors and included offensive racial stereotypes. Unsatisfied with that textbook, we unanimously voted to reject it and extended our call for materials in the hope that we would get more resources submitted.
That additional call also produced only one submission, the “Mexican-American Studies Toolkit,” a book that received tepid responses from a state review panel made up of Mexican-American scholars. The MAS Toolkit was a valiant effort to pull something together on an incredibly tight timeline, a task no one else tried because of the many constraints the board unnecessarily subjected upon authors and publishers.
After attempting this twice now, I was in the unfortunate position of voting against adopting this book as well. If you ask me, the board essentially set this process up for failure by asking authors and publishers to produce a textbook for a course that does not exist at the state level, with no real MAS curriculum standards, and on an impossibly short deadline.
I would be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed.
As I prepared for this meeting and this vote, I sought the counsel of many friends, colleagues, and even some of the scholars on the review committee. I understood the disappointment this would produce in my community and other communities of color whose stories are simply not told and not valued in our curriculum and in our textbooks.
So where do we go from here? The board’s failure over the past three years should make our path clearer — develop real standards for a MAS course and then issue a call for another textbook adoption. I am even more resolved to work with my board colleagues to implement this approach.
Perhaps a silver lining today is that I heard from board members who share that resolve to get us closer to my goal of valuing the stories and experiences of our community. Now we must do it.
Erika Beltran is a member of the Texas State Board of Education — District 13.