By Drs. Jessica Lavariega-Monforti & Adam McGlynn
LatinaLista — On May 11, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed into law a bill targeting the teaching of ethnic studies. Under the new law, any school district will lose ten percent of its state financing if it offers classes “designed for students of a particular ethnic group, advocates ethnic solidarity or promotes resentment of a race or class of people.”
Dr. Jessica Lavariega-Monforti
The bill’s primary objective was to stop the Tucson district from teaching Mexican-American studies. When this bill goes into effect, it means that student learning of Latinos’ roles in U.S. history will be reduced in the high school curriculum — the same as can be found in college textbooks, thanks to a new study.
Assistant Political Science professors Jessica Lavariega-Monforti and Adam McGlynn of Texas-Pan American decided to see just how much coverage Latinos got in U.S. government and politics college textbooks. Their findings are revealed in a new study titled “AquÃ Estamos? A Survey of Latino Portrayal in Introductory U.S.Government and Politics Textbooks” published in the journal PS.
Lavariega-Monforti and McGlynn studied 29 introductory U.S. government and politics textbooks to analyze the extent of coverage college textbook publishers gave to the fastest growing racial/ethnic group in the country.
Their findings are a call-to-action for faculty, the textbook publishing industry and students who want accurate and inclusive information at the college and university level.
(Editor’s note: The following is a condensed version of the full report by Professors Lavariega-Monforti and McGlynn)
The majority of undergraduate student learning takes place outside of the classroom through course readings, assignments, and research. This is especially true for introductory courses in which faculty must expose students to a sea of information that is both miles wide and deep.
Seeking to survey as many topics as possible, faculty often forsake depth of coverage in favor of breadth of topics. Therefore, the introductory textbook takes on a vital role in a student’s education. In many cases, the textbook is the primary instructional tool and the source of the majority of student learning.
Textbooks thus become agents of socialization as limited classroom time leads to students taking the majority of what they read in textbooks at face value. The portrayal of people, groups, and events in textbooks serves to mold how students view the world around them and the people with whom they interact.
Nowhere is this truer than in introductory U.S. government textbooks. Because government is the child of politics, we cannot understand one without the other, and the discussion of politics is often colored by one’s point of view.
In discussing Apple and Christian Smith’s work on the role of politics in textbook creation, Wallace and Allen explain that “race, class, gender/sex and other biases have been widespread in mainstream textbooks, and what is determined as ‘legitimate’ knowledge does not include the historical experiences of and cultural expressions of labor, women, all racial/ethnic groups, and others who have been denied power.”
As such, we have undertaken a comprehensive study of these texts to analyze their discussion and treatment of Latinos/as.
Although Latino/a politics have been important in urban and border states for many years, the community’s national emergence as a political power has been swift, and behind that rapid ascension is a long history of people, groups, and events that have led to the prominent role now held by Latinos/as in U.S. politics.
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Even when there is coverage of Latino/a issues in textbooks, that coverage can often only tell part of the story and may provide an inaccurate description of Latinos/as.
They identify one major shortcoming of these texts to be their focus on panethnicity, which sacrifices the discussion of the different historical experiences of Puerto Ricans as compared to Mexican Americans and Cuban Americans.
Because these historical experiences often serve to shape the political opinions, behaviors, and partisanship of these groups, their absence perpetuates misconceptions about the groups in both historical and political contexts.
The discussion of Latinos/as is limited to an extremely small percentage of the materials covered in all of the U.S. government and politics textbooks surveyed. Very few of the textbooks in this study mention the Brown Power or Chicano Civil Rights Movement.
Discussion of the history of sociopolitical segregation of Latinos across country-of-origin groups is basically nonexistent, and the progress and contributions made in the United States by both U.S.- and foreign-born Latinos is ignored.
Additionally, discussion tends to be confined to the civil rights chapters, leaving many students with the impression that Latinos/as are not a significant group in U.S. government and politics more broadly.
Lastly, and maybe most troubling, is that immigration is the most common topic discussed in reference to Latinos/as, and that half of the textbooks we analyzed portray immigration and immigrants negatively. Textbook authors and publishers must address this situation and work to remedy it.