* Editor's note: This story was updated Sept. 13 with additional comment from Ruben Cortez Jr.
The publisher of a proposed Mexican-American studies textbook that scholars, elected officials and Hispanic activists have decried as racist and inaccurate is defending the high school text ahead of a public hearing on the book Tuesday before the Texas State Board of Education.
"There's never been a book in the history of SBOE that's been attacked so prematurely in the process,” said Cynthia Dunbar, a former right-wing Republican member of the education board who now heads the educational curriculum company that produced the textbook.
The text, titled Mexican American Heritage and published by Momentum Instruction, was the only submission the board received after it issued a call in 2015 for textbooks to be used in Mexican-American studies classes at the high school level. The powerful 15-member panel sets statewide curriculum and approves textbooks.
A backlash against the book has ballooned since the Texas Education Agency published samples in May. Critics — including a Hispanic Democrat who serves on the education board — characterize numerous parts of the book as racially biased. (One says Chicanos “adopted a revolutionary narrative that opposed Western civilization and wanted to destroy this society.” Another says that "Stereotypically, Mexicans were viewed as lazy compared to European or American workers” and that “it was also traditional to skip work on Mondays, and drinking on the job could be a problem.")
Education board member Ruben Cortez Jr., D-Brownsville, was so alarmed by the textbook that he convened an ad hoc committee of professors and high school teachers to review it. The resulting report found that the book doesn't meet basic standards and guiding principles in the history profession and includes more than 68 factual errors, 42 “interpretive errors” and 31 “omission errors.”
“It is an utter shame we must deal with racially offensive academic work,” he said last week at a news conference in Brownsville.
But Dunbar, who had not previously responded to interview requests, told The Texas Tribune on Monday that criticisms have been overblown and that most of them are based on a draft copy that her company has since revised. Changes include corrections of at least a few factual errors — one identified by an SBOE-appointed review board — and other tweaks in response to public feedback. The passage that implied that Mexican-American laborers are lazy has been “clarified,” Dunbar said, while contending that critics took that particular bit out of context.
“It exposed a racial bias stereotyped against them,” she said, noting that the review board found that the book totally met state curriculum standards.
"The point is there's no hidden agenda here," she added.
Dunbar said she will not attend Tuesday's public hearing on the text.
The education board's initial decision to solicit a Mexican-American studies textbook was a big win for advocates who believe the state’s history curriculum doesn't adequately cover Hispanic culture and influence. Only about 10 high schools currently offer such a course, and they hoped that a state-approved textbook would make it easier for school districts to start offering the class.
But advocates are now urging the education board to reject the lone proposed text and consider alternatives. The panel won't take a vote until November.
When criticisms of her latest book first surfaced, Dunbar said she avoided talking to press because she thought it was "premature” but is doing so now because she thinks the media is being unfair and not telling her side of the story. Opponents declined to meet with her to discuss their concerns, she said, adding that she asked for copy of their report but didn’t get anything. (It is posted online.)
“We have absolutely no desire to do anything that's offensive to the Mexican-American community,” Dunbar said. "The way that I see it is a lot of these allegations are slanderous, libelous and defamatory statements that do not represent the content that's in the book."
Cortez said Dunbar didn't reach out to him or any other member of a coalition opposing the textbook.
The textbook is not Dunbar’s first foray into the publishing world. While serving on the education board in the late 2000s, she penned a book, One Nation Under God, that argued against the separation of church and state. Breaking down that “wall” in the state’s curriculum standards was a focus of the panel’s now-diminished social and religious conservative bloc of which Dunbar was a member.
In May 2010, she opened an education board meeting with a prayer in which she contended that the Bill of Rights and the constitutional founding of America were divinely inspired by her Lord Jesus Christ.
Read more of the Tribune's coverage:
- Spurred by frustration at a proposed Mexican American Studies textbook that has been called racist and inaccurate, over 200 educators, scholars and activists gathered for a statewide meeting on Mexican American Studies in public schools.
- Saying that a proposed Mexican-American studies textbook is "dripping with racism and intolerance," a group of educators and students is calling for the State Board of Education to reject the controversial book.