The State Board of Education approved a Mexican-American studies elective based on a Houston course that looks at history, culture and current events, and the Austin Independent School District will now decide whether to adopt the course.
Schools around the state have been able to create their own Mexican-American studies classes, but there haven't been established curriculum standards.
Jessica Jolliffe, AISD's social studies supervisor, said the district's schools have social studies electives looking at African-American, Latin-American, Asian-American and indigenous issues.
“[They] exist as stand-alone courses,” she said.
Jolliffe says the courses are often teachers' passion projects, but not every educator has time to create a new class. Having the state board approve official standards would make it easier for schools to adopt an elective like this.
The board will use standards that Houston ISD created as a framework. Houston’s course, which is the only one approved by the Texas Education Agency, covers a lot of ground with Mexican-American culture and history.
It includes a large section on Mexican history, including the Aztec empire, Mexican independence, the Mexican-American War and how Mexican-Americans were part of significant events in U.S. history like the civil rights movement and World War II.
There are cultural topics as well, such as film and literature from Mexican-Americans. The course addresses how Mexican-Americans have contributed to the U.S. economy and citizenship issues.
“That level of specificity is super helpful from a district level in terms of determining resources and what to teach,” Jolliffe said. “It’s also helpful for teachers who may not be very familiar with the particular topic of study. That provides them with some framework, some detail, some specificity that they can plug into lessons.”
Jolliffe said AISD doesn’t know yet whether it will adopt the class, but is interested in looking at the final standards and gauging interest.
People across the state have asked the State Board of Education for a Mexican-American studies class for four years. In a preliminary vote Wednesday, the board approved a course, but with a different name than the proposed "Mexican-American Studies."
Right before the vote, board member David Bradley (R-Beaumont) wanted to change the name because he didn’t like focusing on one ethnic group.
“I’m not a German-American, I’m not an Irish-American,” Bradley said. “I think that’s the way our country developed, that we were a melting pot. I find hyphenated Americanism to be divisive.”
He proposed changing the name to "Ethnic Studies: An Overview of Americans with Mexican Descent." The board approved the change, although some members criticized the name, saying they wanted students to learn about specific cultures.
The board also plans to move forward with creating the framework so courses studying other ethnic groups can be created. Over the next two months, it will tweak the Houston standards and seek public comment. It expects to have the course ready for the 2019-2020 school year.
This story has been updated.