South Texas congressmen release joint statement

District 34 Congressman Filemon Vela, in a joint statement with Congressman Joaquin Castro of San Antonio released Wednesday, condemned a controversial Mexican-American history textbook that has been submitted to the Texas Education Agency for review.

The book, “Mexican American Heritage,” hammered by critics on the left and the right for containing dozens of errors and historical omissions and reinforcing racist stereotypes, was the subject of a Texas State Board of Education public hearing that drew hundreds of protestors opposed to the book.

The statement read: “The textbooks our kids read have a profound impact on their understanding of the world — their accuracy is of paramount importance. Texas has a special responsibility to ensure the books in our schools are factually correct. Given our state’s large size, textbook companies often print material Texas approves for students across the nation.

“Despite the fact that Hispanics account for almost 40 percent of Texas ‘ population, they are nearly invisible in the current teaching of Texas and U.S. history in our state’s schools.

“To think that our State Board of Education might now accept a book that reinforces untrue, negative stereotypes of Hispanics — specifically Mexican Americans — is appalling.”

Vela and Castro announced their support for board of education members Marisa Perez and Ruben Cortez, who oppose the book, and called on other board members to “do what’s right” and prevent it from ever being used in a classroom.

The proposed textbook was published by Momentum Instruction, a company controlled by Cynthia Dunbar, a former Texas school board member and conservative evangelical Republican who once described public education as a “subtly deceptive tool of perversion.”

Among the book’s passages criticized in a 54-page report from an ad hoc committee created by board of education representative Ruben Cortez Jr. is one that reinforces — by failing to challenge — the stereotype of laziness among Mexican workers compared to their American or European counterparts.

The report also criticizes the book for claiming inaccurately that the Chicano movement “opposed Western civilization and wanted to destroy this society.”

The eight-member committee included Christopher Carmona, an assistant professor of creative writing at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley; Juan Carmona, a social studies instructor at Donna High School; and Trinidad Gonzales, a history instructor at South Texas College.

The committee concluded that the proposed textbook “does not meet basic standards and guiding principles in the history profession as outlined by the American Historical Association’s Guidelines for the Preparation, Evaluation, and Selection of History Textbooks.”

Neither does the book adhere to the AHA’s “Statement on Standards of Professional Conduct,” according to the committee. Authors Jamie Riddle and Valarie Angle ignored the statement’s professional standards and guiding principles, concludes the report.

“They failed to engage in critical dialogue with current scholarship and, as a consequence, presented a prolific misrepresentation of facts,” the committee said. “This means that the proposed textbook is really a polemic attempting to masquerade as a textbook.”

Dunbar told the Texas Tribune on Sept. 12 that the criticisms are overblown and mostly based on a draft copy of the book that has since been revised. She insisted she had no hidden agenda and rejected many critics’ allegations as “slanderous, libelous and defamatory statements that do not represent the content that’s in the book.”

The TEA won’t make an official decision on whether to adopt the book until November, though a Sept. 13 Houston Chronicle article quotes board of education Vice Chairman Thomas Ratliff as saying the book is “dead on arrival.”