High school students in Texas will likely soon be able to take a state-approved Mexican-American studies course — but it won’t be called that.
The state’s board of education gave preliminary approval Wednesday for the creation of the course, the culmination of a four-year fight by advocates and educators to add it as an elective. A final vote will happen Friday.
“This should have happened four years ago, but we’re pleased to see the board move forward on this today,” said Kathy Miller, the president of the left-leaning nonprofit Texas Freedom Network. “It’s important for students to learn that the story of Texas and our nation includes the experiences and contributions of Mexican Americans and other people from diverse backgrounds.”
The course’s creation won’t mandate its instruction to students across the state. Instead, it would be included as one of a raft of state-approved courses, the selection of which is left up to local districts and schools.
There are currently hundreds of TEKS for a wide range of courses, from guidelines for game programming and design to adventure/outdoor education.
To develop a set of curriculum standards — called Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills — for the subject, the board’s staff will tweak an existing Houston ISD Mexican-American studies course that was approved in 2015 by the Commissioner of Education under the state’s “innovative course” law.
That class looked at the history and cultural contributions of Mexican-Americans, as well as the geographic factors leading to Mexican migration, the history of the founding of Mexico and its relationship to the United States and the development of native societies and their interactions with Europeans.
At its earliest, the course will be available for students for the 2019-20 school year. The new standards will be presented at the next board meeting in June, followed by a period of public comment. Final approval of the revised standards won’t occur until September, said Texas Education Agency’s Debbie Ratcliffe.
While the vote to approve the course was nearly unanimous, it didn’t come without rancor.
A last-minute amendment from board member David Bradley, R-Beaumont, removed “Mexican-American” from the course title.
Instead, the new elective will be called “Ethnic Studies: An Overview of Americans of Mexican Descent.”
Three of the board’s four Latino members — Fort Worth’s Erika Beltran, Brownsville’s Ruben Cortez and Converse’s Marisa Perez-Diaz — voted against the amendment.
When pressed by Perez-Diaz on why he would push for a name change at this time, Bradley said: “I guess the argument for the gentlelady is, why not do this? I don’t subscribe to hyphenated Americanism. … I find hyphenated Americanism to be divisive.”
“I think a vote in support of the change in this language, like this, sends a message that we are not about inclusivity,” Perez-Diaz responded. “I do not want to go down this rabbit hole.”
Bradley’s comments echo what he said in 2014, when the board voted against a proposal to create the Mexican-American studies course. Instead, the board amended a textbook proclamation for the 2016-17 school year, giving the state the ability to bid for instructional materials for ethnic studies courses.
Bradley, who voted against the textbook measure, too, said that encouraging such courses would run against the idea that “we’re all Americans,” and would spur division among communities.
On Wednesday, more than 30 public speakers — including several high-school and middle-school students — spoke in favor of Mexican-American studies.
Rebecca Uribe, a sophomore at Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio, said that her exposure to the subject while in high school in San Antonio opened her eyes, eventually fueling her to create a League of United Latin American Citizens group at her college campus.
Without such instruction, she said, Mexican-American students “lack a self-identity; they are missing their history.”
Orlando Lara, the associate director of Comparative Race and Ethnicity Studies at Texas Christian University, said approval of a Mexican-American studies course wouldn’t eliminate “monoculturalism” from the classroom, “but it’s an important step.”
“Let’s get it done,” Lara asked. “It’s time for it.”
Tony Diaz, a Houston-based author and educator who fought for Mexican-American Studies, praised the Texas Board of Education decision. The new name is less than poetic, “long and clunky,” he said.
But, he added, “I commend the Texas State Board of Education for taking this large step in the right direction for Mexican-American Studies. I also commend our community for working so hard to get to this moment.
“This demonstrates the vast intelligence of our community, our creativity, our energy. And because of our numbers, because of our education, because of technology, because of our community’s increasing resources, we are the generation that can accelerate the genius of those who have come before us.
“Generations of students — from all backgrounds — will benefit from this knowledge.”
Staff Writer Dianne Solis contributed to this story.