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Proctor Institute Report Examines Mexican American Studies Implementation in Texas Public Schools

A new report from Rutgers University’s Samuel DeWitt Proctor Institute for Leadership, Equity, & Justice is highlighting and advocating for efforts to integrate Mexican American Studies (MAS) into the Texas K-12 education system.

The report, “Leading from the Hyphen: A Conocimientos Movement to Integrate Mexican American Studies into Texas Public Schools,” was written by Dr. Alice Ginsberg, a part-time lecturer who teaches in Rutgers-Newark’s Department of Urban Education.

A key objective of the report “is to help people to understand that MAS is more than just incorporating Mexican American history or literature into the curriculum,” Ginsberg said.

“It’s a pedagogy. … It’s more than just about inserting something new into the curriculum,” Ginsberg said. “It’s a different way of teaching. It’s a way of teaching that really acknowledges indigenous voices and students, that they have knowledge and they have assets from their own communities that they bring into the classroom.”

Dr. Alice GinsbergDr. Alice Ginsberg

For the report, Ginsberg interviewed eight South Texas educators developing MAS in K-12, the community and across higher ed.

“For the better part of the last eight years Texas activists and educators of all grade levels and subject areas have been fighting for a dedicated history course on Mexican American Studies (MAS) in the K-12 curriculum, including pre-vetted textbooks and curriculum materials that are aligned with their state standards (otherwise known as Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills or (TEKS),” the report reads.

“They have also been on the front lines of trying to integrate MAS across the K-12 curriculum, including units on Mexican American culture, art, literature, language, and identity. Yet at the same time, the educators profiled in this report are doing a delicate balancing act as they confront strong resistance to anything that is critical of American history, white supremacy, and/or suggestive of the ‘hyphenated Americanism.’”

Included in the report – among various sections – is an overview of MAS, including the benefits,  goals and obstacles toward integrating Mexican American Studies into the overall education system.

Some of the goals and benefits of MAS in Texas K-12 listed are increasing student academic engagement, increasing graduation rates, critical analysis of representations, increasing family and community engagement and “encouraging students to see multicultural education and education equity as a critical step towards active citizenship and preserving American democracy.”

There have been challenges.

Dr. Lilliana SaldañaDr. Lilliana Saldaña

A high school-level MAS ethnic studies course received state approval in 2018, but in 2015, only a special topics course was approved, said Dr. Lilliana Saldaña, associate professor of Mexican American Studies at The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) and co-director of UTSA’s Mexican American Studies Teachers’ Academy.

“There’s so much interest in MAS from teachers at the elementary school-level, at the middle school-level and also teachers who teach different subjects,” Saldaña said, speaking of her work at the academy. “We are really flexible in offering opportunities to teachers to center the Mexican American experience in their classrooms and to bring MAS as a legitimate field of study into the classroom.”

Anthony Gonzales, a high school Mexican American Studies teacher at John Marshall High School in San Antonio, is one of the educators trying to establish MAS in K-12.

After the MAS ethnic studies course was approved in 2018, Gonzales founded John Marshall’s MAS program. It’s been running for two years since.

My approach to MAS is multidisciplinary,” Gonzales said. “I think, with Mexican American and Chicano history, you cannot separate the art from the history. … Being a Chicano is a political identity. And so Chicano art is inherently political. It’s challenging the status quo.”

Implementing MAS has had its difficulties, including the adoption of a centralized text.

“To teach a quality class with no textbook and no resources can be difficult, especially when teachers have other classes that they have to worry about,” Gonzales said.

As a remedy, Gonzales and a colleague have created publicly available MAS lesson plans.

The report also offers “recommendations for both preserving and expanding the exceptional work that has been put into legitimizing MAS in Texas schools to date.”

“It’s also a call to action,” Ginsberg said. “If you look at the end of the report, there’s recommendations there.  I think that for colleges and universities, it’s a call to action that they have to work more closely with K-12 schools, they can’t just train teachers in one spot and then throw them into these school systems where they don’t have any agency and expect anything to change.”

For Gonzales, the class has been going great and the program continues to grow.

“You can sense the students becoming more aware, more comfortable with their identity throughout the school year,” Gonzales said. “And it makes me really proud as an educator to see that moment when they start to consider themselves as Chicano or when they are very proud of the accomplishments of somebody that they didn’t know a month ago, two months ago.”

Arrman can be reached at [email protected] 

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