Writing Chicano/Latino History Into California Textbooks


Dolores Huerta 

By Duane Campbell

We Won!

History and social science textbooks in public schools in California and most of the nation are racist, class-biased, and ignore LGBT history. This condition will change in California in 2017 when new textbooks are adopted.

Under a unanimous  decision by the California Board of Education  made on July 14, 2016 , California students will finally be encouraged to know the history of Latino civil rights leaders like Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta and Filipino labor leaders like Larry Itliong, as well as an accurate and inclusive history of LGBT activists  as a part of the history of California and the nation. These topics are currently substantially absent from public school textbooks. 

The  California State Board of Education decided to include these long- ignored histories in their re-writing of the History/Social Science Framework for the state.  The Framework  document sets the parameters and the minimums required of textbooks used  in the schools.  Because of California’s large size and market, what goes into California textbooks  frequently also gets written into textbooks around the nation.

In the current books, when the 51%  of students who are Latino, the 11.5% who are Asian, and the estimated 11% of students who are LGBT, do not see themselves as part of history, for many their sense of self is  marginalized.   As I argued in a prior book, marginalization negatively impacts their connections with school and their success at school. This has resulted in a nearly 50% dropout rate for Latinos and some Asian groups  and LGBT  students.. School marginalization also contributes directly to low-level civic engagement.  An accurate history would provide some of these  students with a  a sense of self, of direction, of purpose. History and social science classes  should help young people acquire and learn to use the skills, knowledge, and attitudes that will prepare them to be competent and responsible citizens throughout their lives.  

As a consequence of the current  outdated history texts for California public schools, most schools, most teachers,  fail to teach an accurate, complete, complex  history of the Chicano- Latino people, of Asian Americans and of LGBT youth, among others.   This essentially means that the writers are choosing not to recognize reality. – not to tell the full story. 

And, while California and the nation have a general problem with low civic engagement among young people,  it is also true that the state  has  a very specific problem with the rate of Latino and Asian voter participation in  civic life.

Rates of voting and voter registration provide a window into civic engagement.  The proportion of state voter registration that is Latino and Asian has remained far below the proportions of these groups in the state’s overall population. In 2010, Latinos in the state made up 37.6% of the general population while they were only 21.2 % of the registered voters. The Asian population was 13.1 % of the state population but only 8.1 % of the registered voters.

We know that we can do better.   California has the largest school population of any state, with more than 6,226,000 students in school in 2015, more than 11% of the United States total. California, along with some 16 other states, adopts textbooks for use by the entire state instead of purchasing books district by district. This makes the California textbook adoption the largest single textbook sale in the nation. Many publishers write and edit their books in a targeted attempt to win a piece of the large and lucrative California and Texas markets.  In recent years, as Republicans gained control of state governments, Texas, Arizona and  several other  southern states have moved their textbook histories sharply to the right.

The 1980’s were the age of Ronald Reagan.  As Governor of California he appointed members of the State Board of Education.  His influence continued long after he became president of the U.S. The view of history that won the textbook battles in California in 1987  was crafted by  (then) neoconservative historian Diane Ravitch  and former California State Superintendent of Public Instruction Bill Honig.

The 1987 Framework for History and the Social Sciences  is  still in use today, with minimal modifications.  It   expanded African American, Native American and white women’s history coverage but remained  totally inadequate in the coverage of Latinos and Asians. The only significant change between the 1987 version and the currently adopted Framework was the addition of a new cover, a cover letter, and photos of figures such as Cesar Chavez .  Advocates term this “Photoshop curriculum reform.”

The then-dominant neo-conservative view  of history argued  that textbooks and a common history should provide the glue that unites our diverse and divided society, a unity from the point of view of the dominant class.  Schools – especially their history, social science and literature curricula – were assigned the task of creating a common culture and of accepting the current unequal political/ economic system as democratic. (In reality, television, mass media, and  military service may do more to create a common culture than do schools and books.)

As scholars such as Michael Apple and J.W. Loewen have well argued, historians promoting consensus write textbooks that downplay the roles of slavery, class, racism, sexism, genocide, and imperialism in our history. They focus on ethnicity and assimilation rather than race and on the success of achieving political reform for the white majority through representative government and economic opportunity for European American workers and immigrants. They decline to notice the high poverty rate of U.S. school children, the crisis of urban schooling, and the continuation of racial divisions in housing and the labor force. In California they declined to notice that Mexicans, Mexican-Americans and Latinos as well as Asians contributed to the development of this society and that they have become a near majority of the residents. This consensual, European American view of history and literature reinforces current white supremacy, sexism, and class biases in our society, fostering intellectual colonialism and ideological domination.

This conservative consensus dominated textbook publishing in California until now. But based upon the changes we made in the new 2016  document. students will now  not only read the conservative view, they will also read material on topics such as the following that are included in the new Framework:

 “Students may study how Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta, and the United Farm Workers’ movement used nonviolent tactics, educated the general public about the working conditions in agriculture, and worked to improve the lives of farmworkers. Students should understand the central role of immigrants, including Latino Americans and Filipino Americans, in the farm labor movement. This context also fueled the brown, red, and yellow power movements. The manifestos, declarations, and proclamations of the movements challenged the political, economic, and social discriminations faced by their groups. They also sought to combat the consequences of their “second-class citizenship” by engaging in grassroots mobilization.

For example, from 1969 through 1971 American Indian activists occupied Alcatraz Island; while in 1972 and 1973, American Indian Movement (AIM) activists took over the Bureau of Indian Affairs building in Washington, D.C. and held a stand-off at Wounded Knee, South Dakota. Meanwhile, Chicano/a activists staged protests around the country, like the famed Chicano Moratorium in Los Angeles in 1970 that protested the war in Vietnam, and formed a number of organizations to address economic and social inequalities as well as police brutality, and energized cultural pride. Students should learn about the emergence and trajectory of the Chicano civil rights movement by focusing on key groups, events, documents such as the 1968 walkout or “blowout” by approximately 15,000 high school students in East Los Angeles to advocate for improved educational opportunities and protest against racial discrimination; the El Plan de Aztlan, which called for the decolonization of the Mexican American people; El Plan de Santa Barbara, which called for the establishment of Chicano studies; the formation of the Chicano La Raza Unida Party, which sought to challenge mainstream political parties; and Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzelez’s “I am Joaquin,” which underscores the struggles for economic and social justice. California activists like Harvey Milk and Cleve Jones were part of a broader movement that emerged in the aftermath of the Stonewall riots, which brought a new attention to the cause of equal rights for homosexual Americans.”  (Page 562, lines 1204- 1214, Feb. draft, as adopted.)

 Organizing Matters

I have spent more than six years working on this project-and it was well worth it. The important changes we achieved were produced by years of collective advocacy, lobbying, letter writing and organizing.  After being blocked in our efforts in 2008,  we created the Mexican American Digital History site (www.MexicanAmericanDigitalHistory.org), then organized a statewide network of scholars and community activists to pressure the State Board of Education.   At each stage we had to explain why this tedious process of changing the Framework  was important.  We received assistance from civil rights groups and Latinos in the Democratic Party.  Similar and parallel campaigns were organized within the  Filipino,  Hmong, South Asian, and LGBT communities.

Interestingly, we received no help from directly impacted professional  organizations such as the California Council for Social Studies (teachers)  nor from  academics in university history departments although we did receive substantial assistance from Chicano Studies faculty.  History and social science departments in colleges and universities that prepare teachers will now have to find  faculty prepared to assist  future teachers to  understand and to present this “new” material.

The next steps will be to monitor the adoption of new textbooks, to be certain they respond to the new Framework as amended.

I would be happy to work with scholars and activists in other states and districts  seeking to revise their  textbooks to be more accurate and  inclusive.

Duane Campbell is a professor emeritus of bilingual multicultural education at California State University Sacramento, author of several books including Choosing Democracy: a Practical Guide to Multicultural Education, a union activist, and past chair of Sacramento DSA.


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