Inclusive ethnic studies must be accurately taught

Alyssa Fernandez

Two years ago, the Texas State Board of Education called for publishers to submit proposals for a Mexican-American studies textbook, in addition to other ethnic studies textbooks. At the time, this was a small victory for activists. It was one step closer to their goal of putting ethnic studies as part of the required curriculum for public schools.

In fact, only controversy has surrounded the proposed textbook, “Mexican American Heritage,” since a sample of it was released earlier this year. Passages include descriptions of Mexican-Americans as “lazy”, alongside 68 other factual errors. The most offensive thing about this textbook isn’t the derogatory language or stereotypical representation of Mexican-Americans but how flippantly the state takes ethnic studies. Allowing something as inaccurate as this textbook to pass as acceptable teaching material is just another example in a long series of Texas’ dismissal of Mexican-American studies.

Such as in 2013, when current reality TV show contestant Rick Perry vetoed state funding to expand UT’s Center for Mexican-American Studies into its own academic department and stated that, “This is not the best use of hard-earned tax dollars.”

Although UT was eventually able to fund the department through other resources, Perry’s comments suggests that he views Mexican-American studies as an elective or, in other words, unnecessary. What is problematic about this misconception is that it undermines other sides of the American experience and suggests that perspectives outside of the majority culture are not valid. However, in a state where 32 percent of the population is Mexican-American, that perspective deserves to be acknowledged.

The most important thing about ethnic studies is not how it increases representation within history, but how it also benefits student performance. In a Stanford study, researchers observed two groups of high school students who were at risk of dropping out, where the experimental group took an ethnic studies course and the control group did not. They found that in the experimental group, attendance increased by 21 percent and their GPA jumped 1.4 points.

Overall, ethnic studies courses provides validation to students of marginalized groups. Yet, allowing offensive textbooks to perpetuate stereotypes and defunding ethnic studies departments is harmful not only to activists and academics, but it hurts students of those ethnicities the most. Ethnic studies, such as Mexican-American studies, should not be perceived as an elective. Rather, it is an instrumental tool that can provide an accurate depiction of America’s complex and cultural makeup.

Fernandez is a rhetoric and writing and Spanish senior from Allen. She is a senior columnist.