The American Historical Association weighed in Tuesday on a heated debate over a proposed textbook on Hispanic Americans for Texas public schools. Critics say it’s racist and unscholarly, and the association expressed its own “deep concern” over the book’s content in a letter to the Texas State Board of Education. “This textbook does not adequately reflect the scholarship of historians who have worked in the field of Mexican-American history, or measure up to the broad standards of history as a discipline,” the association wrote to the board, which approves books for use in Texas public schools. The historical association urged the Texas board to reject the book as unsuitable, based on the findings of a recent customary review committee convened by one of the board's members.
Among other criticisms, the committee said that lack of “critical dialogue with current scholarship,” resulted in “a polemic attempting to masquerade as a textbook.” The book, Mexican-American Heritage, was the only one submitted based on the board’s call for a book on Hispanic Americans. It’s been controversial since excerpts were published earlier this year. Among them are assertions that leaders of the Chicano movement wanted to “destroy this society,” and a passage that describes Mexicans as lazy.
“Industrialists were very driven, competitive men who were always on the clock and continually concerned about efficiency,” the book says. “They were used to their workers putting in a full day's work, quietly and obediently, and respecting rules, authority and property. In contrast, Mexican laborers were not reared to put in a full day's work so vigorously. There was a cultural attitude of ‘mañana,’ or ‘tomorrow,’ when it came to high-gear production. It was also traditional to skip work on Mondays, and drinking on the job could be a problem.”
There’s also this: “Pressure exists that those of Mexican origin are not ‘Mexican enough’ or do not have enough sympathy and respect for their roots if they venture beyond the Spanish-speaking world. This belief, along with the idea that Latin culture must be held up as superior and separate from American culture, holds many back today.”
The book’s publisher, Momentum Instruction -- which is run by a former Texas education board member -- has stood behind it, saying the stereotypes were included to expose students to historical biases, not to reinforce them. Some parts are being rewritten. The Responsible Ethnic Studies Textbook Coalition has disagreed, saying the book perpetuates stereotypes.
The historical association in its letter also said it worried that no professional historians were involved in the writing of the book.
Most of Texas’s approximately 1,000 school districts use board-approved books, and because the state is so populous, its choices have an outsize impact on the national market. A number of Texas textbooks have proved controversial in recent years, including one that referred to enslaved people as “workers.” The board votes on the Hispanic heritage book in November. Some members already have spoken out against it.