The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Proposed Texas textbook describes Mexican-Americans as ‘lazy,’ new coalition works to block it

A newly formed coalition of educators and advocates is pushing back against a textbook proposed for Texas schools, saying it is offensive and full of inaccuracies. (iStock)
Placeholder while article actions load

A proposed Mexican-American studies textbook for Texas high school students is written by authors with no expertise in Mexican-American studies, contains large sections that have little to do with Mexican-American history and includes language that depicts Mexicans as lazy, opponents of the book say.

A newly formed coalition of educators and Mexican-American advocates has banded together to try to prevent the book, Mexican American Heritage, from ever making its way into Texas classrooms. The Texas State Board of Education is set to review the book this fall.

Proposed Texas textbook says some Mexican-Americans wanted to destroy U.S. society

The Responsible Ethnic Studies Textbook Coalition, whose members include the Texas Latino Education Coalition, the Mexican American School Board Members Association, the Texas Freedom Network and the ACLU of Texas, on Monday decried the “poorly researched and written” textbook and the “offensive cultural stereotypes” they say it promotes.

The coalition pointed to a specific passage in the proposed textbook as an obvious example of the book’s flaws. Immediately after noting that Mexicans were stereotyped as being “lazy,” the authors “reinforce that stereotype in a discussion of relations between workers and American industrialists in Mexico in the late 1800s,” the coalition said. The group quoted from page 248 of the textbook:

“Industrialists were very driven, competitive men who were always on the clock and continually concerned about efficiency. 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.”

The Texas State Board of Education is reviewing the proposed book and will consider public comments and feedback in September.

In an article in the Austin American-Statesman last month, one board member said the textbook was okay with him:

Board member David Bradley, R-Beaumont, who opposed asking for a Mexican-American studies course and textbook, said the proposed book seems fine.
“It’s really kind of amusing. The left-leaning, radical Hispanic activists, having pounded the table for special treatment, get approval for a special course that nobody else wanted,” Bradley said. “Now they don’t like their special textbook? I bet they want everyone to also get an A for just attending? The one thing we can’t fix in this world is unhappy people.”

Activists who want the course but oppose the proposed textbook have been publicly attacking it on a number of fronts.

“This book purports to be about Mexican-American heritage, but it seems like it was written with very little consultation with Mexican-American scholars,” Celina Moreno, an attorney with the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said in an interview Monday. “It’s not only highly offensive, but it’s filled with factual inaccuracies. Even though this is supposed to be about Mexican-American heritage, much of the book actually talks about Latinos of other ethnicities. The publishers don’t know the difference between a Mexican and a Chilean.”

The proposed textbook, written by Jaime Riddle and Valarie Angle, is published by Momentum Instruction, a Virginia company headed by Cynthia Dunbar, a controversial former Texas State Board of Education member who once called public education “a subtly deceptive tool of perversion.”

Dunbar and Momentum Instruction did not respond to requests for comment Monday.

The disputed textbook ranges far beyond Mexican-American history to weigh in on other matters that Dunbar championed when she was on the Texas board, according to Dan Quinn, of the Texas Freedom Network.

“It casts doubts on the separation of church and state as a key principle of American democracy and it argues that the U.S. government and the Constitution are based on the Bible,” Quinn says. “That has nothing to do with Mexican-American heritage.”

Latinos represent a majority of Texas public school students. Advocates in Texas had long pushed the State Board of Education to provide textbooks that were more directly related to the experience of Mexican-American students as well as the experiences of minority groups in the state. The Momentum textbook is not what they had in mind.

“This text has the look of a task given to an intern who has been told to cobble together what they can using the Internet,” Jose Maria Herrera, an assistant professor in education at the University of Texas at El Paso, said in a statement. “It is criminally shallow and, in some cases, factually ignorant.”

This article has been updated.