Sunday, November 22, 2009

Lawmaker: More Hispanics in social studies curriculum or else

Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2009

AUSTIN — Hispanic leaders on Wednesday assailed a draft social studies curriculum under consideration by the State Board of Education, saying it woefully ignores the role that Hispanics have played in shaping state and national history.

"Latinos make up 40 percent of Texas, and we have made great contributions to this state and to our nation," state Rep. Norma Chavez, D-El Paso, told board members. "Unfortunately, your document does a poor job of reflecting this."

Chavez also strongly hinted that she would consider using her position on the House Appropriations Committee to retaliate against the Texas Education Agency if more Hispanics aren’t included in the curriculum before it comes up for a final vote in March. She told reporters that one option would be to "defund textbooks until they do the right thing." But, she added, "that’s absolutely not the goal."

Other Hispanics leveled similar criticism at a news conference outside the agency’s headquarters, where the board is conducting a three-day meeting through Friday.

"We have given so much of ourselves as Hispanics to this beautiful state," said Marcelo Tafoya of Austin, a district director for the League of United Latin American Citizens, the nation’s oldest and largest Hispanic organization. "Yet they’re willing to ignore the deep history that we have."

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, in a statement read at the news conference, said failing to adequately include the contributions of Hispanics "is like writing a book report without actually reading the book."

Changing standards

A committee of more than 100 teachers, parents and community leaders is recommending changes to the state’s decade-old curriculum standards. After hearing public reaction to the draft recommendations, the 15-member board will take a preliminary vote in January and a final vote in March.

The new standards will be used in textbooks, standardized tests and classroom lessons through 2020. Social studies covers economics, psychology, sociology, U.S. history, U.S. government, world geography and world history.

The committee recommends requiring that 162 historical figures be included in the curriculum from kindergarten through 12th grade. Of those, Chavez said, only 16 are Hispanic.

"No Latinos in government are required historical figures?" Chavez asked incredulously. "What happened to Irma Rangel, the first Latina elected to the Legislature in the history of Texas" or "Henry B. Gonzalez, the first Latino elected to Congress from Texas?"

The committee draft also includes optional historical figures who could be included in course instruction. Chavez said the optional figures are likely to be ignored, but board member Pat Hardy of Fort Worth said she believes that publishers are virtually certain to include them in textbooks.

Honey vs. vinegar

The legislator also complained that civil-rights activist Cesar Chavez is not included as a required figure in fifth-grade social studies, even though board members were presented with 8,000 letters calling for the inclusion of him and Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall after an expert reviewer proposed dropping Cesar Chavez from the curriculum.

The committee recommends that Cesar Chavez be considered an optional figure in the fifth-grade course, but Norma Chavez said his inclusion should be mandatory. Twenty-three figures, including President George Washington, astronaut Neil Armstrong and inventor Eli Whitney, are required for the fifth-grade course, but the list includes no Hispanics, Norma Chavez said.

Her declaration that she may ask "interested" colleagues on the Appropriations Committee to "review the agency" didn’t sit well with some board members.

"It’s so much easier to get something done with honey than vinegar," said board member David Bradley of Beaumont.


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