The State Board of Education indicated in a preliminary vote on Wednesday that it would change the name of Texas' new high school Mexican-American history course to “Ethnic Studies: Mexican American Studies.”
The unanimous vote came a day after activists urged the board in public testimony to scrap the title members chose for the course in April, “Ethnic Studies: An Overview of Americans of Mexican Descent,” saying the longer title was an assault on their ethnic identity.
The decision will not become official until Friday, when the board is scheduled to take a final vote.
The new title was proposed by Democratic board member Georgina Pérez and supported by David Bradley, the Republican member who suggested the longer title in April. Pérez was careful to point out that the new title would not include a hyphen between Mexican and American. When Bradley proposed the longer title two months ago, he said he found “hyphenated Americanism to be divisive.”
“It doesn’t make any sense,” Cortez said. “I think we should name the course what it is. Mexican-American studies is a field of study. It’s not ‘Ethnic Studies: Mexican American Studies.’”
But Christopher Carmona, a Mexican-American studies professor at the University of Texas - Rio Grande Valley who has campaigned against the longer title, said he considers the board’s decision to be a victory. “We finally have our name back,” he said in an email shortly after the vote.
The state’s curriculum standards for the new Mexican-American history course are based on a class that Houston ISD has offered since 2015. It’s not clear whether the title of the Houston course includes a hyphen. A Texas Education Agency overview of the course uses a hyphen at the top of the document but refers to the course title without a hyphen everywhere else.
During the meeting, Republican board members said the “ethnic studies” component of the new course title will open the door to future courses in such areas as African-American studies.
“By including ‘ethnic studies’ as a prefix, this board is essentially making a promise or at least implying there there is an intent from this board to create future content in ethnic studies,” said Tom Maynard, a Republican board member from Florence. “And I think that’s a positive thing.”
A number of Texas school districts already offer Mexican-American history classes. The board’s approval of a statewide framework for Mexican-American studies will allow those districts and others to use state funds to pay for instructional materials like textbooks. And no rule will prevent districts from using a course title different from the official one, whether “Mexican-American Studies,” “Chicano Studies” or something else.
In April, Pérez joined Republican members — who control 10 of the 15 seats on the board — in voting for the longer title, as part of a deal to secure approval for the class.
The vote on Wednesday was the result of another deal with Republicans, Pérez told The Texas Tribune. She said she discussed the naming issue with three Republican members — Barbara Cargill, Donna Bahorich and Pat Hardy — over dinner after the hearing on Tuesday.
Asked whether Republican members had insisted on including the words “ethnic studies” in the proposed title, she said, “It’s a happy compromise.”
For his part, Bradley told the Tribune he supported Pérez’s proposal primarily because he wants the board to move on to “more important work.”
“It’s done, we’ve disposed with it, and we’ve spent enough time on it,” he said.
The board included the name change in a list of curriculum standards for the Mexican-American studies course. A second review of those standards is scheduled for September.
Disclosure: The University of Texas - Rio Grande Valley has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.
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