Mexican-American history makes sense in Texas schools

Terry Canales

April 9, 2014 at 12:01am

The State Board of Education and the Texas Commissioner of Education oversee the public education system in the state. They decide what Texas public school students can be taught.

Wednesday morning, the SBOE, a 15-member elected body, will vote on whether to implement Mexican-American studies as a legitimate course option for every school district in Texas, or continue to ignore the great importance of Mexican-Americans to our state and nation.


With more than 50 percent of the 5 million Texas public school students being Hispanic, there is significant support statewide for including Mexican-American studies in the list of curriculum already approved by the SBOE.

Currently, Mexican-American studies can be taught in Texas public high schools. However, each school district must create its own curriculum, which is often too burdensome for teachers and administrators whose resources already are stretched thin.

The SBOE has the ability to create and standardize new curriculum standards for Mexican-American studies. This would create a model that school districts would be able to use to help inspire the next generation of Texans.

By developing curriculum standards for Mexican-American studies to be taught as an elective course, the SBOE will not be mandating that the course be taught. Rather, the SBOE’s adoption of curriculum standards for Mexican-American studies will continue to allow school districts to independently decide if they want to offer this course based on the needs of their local communities.

For the overwhelming majority of students in Texas, lessons on Tejano leaders have been nonexistent or lacking for many years. Yet, scores of Texas counties, cities and schools, in addition to rivers and other geographical features, have Spanish names, demonstrating the significant Hispanic influence on our state’s history and culture. The implementation of Mexican-American studies would start to rectify our past mistakes and provide a better knowledge of Texas.

I support the implementation of Mexican-American studies because it would provide the inclusion of Mexican-American heroes in our social studies classes. History shows that Hispanics died defending Texas in the Battle of the Alamo, but how many students are actually taught that in school?

The majority of what I know, with respect to Tejano history, I learned from my father and other family members who shared stories of Mexican-American pioneers and civil rights trailblazers whose names and accomplishments were nonexistent in my textbooks. If not for my family, I probably would have never been exposed to these truths about Texas.

We need to also consider the academic success of our Hispanic students.

Hispanic students currently represent more than 50 percent of our public schools and, according to the 2010 census, they are more than twice as likely to drop out of high school when compared with non-Hispanic, Anglo students. Importantly, national research has proved that Hispanic students who take Mexican-American studies in high school are more likely to stay in school, pass standardized tests and graduate from high school.

Learning more about our different cultures in Texas also helps move our state forward, not backward, as evidenced by several recent key incidents.

Last year, a Hempstead, Texas, school banned the speaking of Spanish by students, and an organization at the University of Texas at Austin proposed a “Catch an Illegal Immigrant” game. Both of these incidents are clear examples that some people still lack respect for, or knowledge about, their fellow Texans.

Education and how people see themselves has the power to change lives, attitudes and the way an individual understands the world.

Mexican-American studies will give all students a better understanding of the Hispanic culture and will open the door to a broader discussion about courses on how African-Americans, women and others also havde shaped our history and diverse culture.

The official state curriculum already offers hundreds of elective courses, including topics such as floral design and web gaming. Given this broad range, surely there is room to include an elective course about the immeasurable contributions Mexican-Americans have made to Texas, the United States and the world.

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