Houston Matters

How Do We Decide Whose Stories Get Told in History Class?

Last month, the Houston school board voted unanimously to support teaching Mexican-American history and culture to more high school students. The resolution means the state’s largest school district wants the Texas Education Agency to include this kind of cultural class in the state’s new graduation plan. HISD Superintendent Terry Grier said in a statement that in such a […]

Last month, the Houston school board voted unanimously to support teaching Mexican-American history and culture to more high school students. The resolution means the state’s largest school district wants the Texas Education Agency to include this kind of cultural class in the state’s new graduation plan. HISD Superintendent Terry Grier said in a statement that in such a diverse community, the district has an obligation to show students that the country and state’s history includes “people that look like them.” More than 60 percent of students in HISD are Hispanic.

Then the Texas State Board of Education tentatively agreed to request bids on designing instructional materials for four ethnic studies courses – Mexican-American studies, African-American studies, American Indian studies and Asian-American studies – that could be offered in high schools across the state beginning in two years. There’s no mandate for districts to offer these courses. They’d just have materials to use should they choose to offer one. And students would take these courses as electives.

Some opposing the measure say local districts can develop curriculum and buy textbooks on their own, so there’s no need for the state to get involved. Others say the classes only further the divisions between people of different backgrounds, since there’s no Irish-American or Italian-American studies course.

How should we teach history in the classroom? How should we decide what gets taught and whose stories get told – and how? And what have courses and textbooks of the past and present gotten right and what have they gotten wrong about fairly representing the diverse number and types of stories that make up the American cultural tapestry?

We talk with Houston Public Media education reporter Laura Isensee about what these recent votes mean for local school districts and how cultural history is taught here in Houston.

Then, we hear from a pair of Houston educators who’ve had first-hand experience with developing and teaching history and ethnic studies curricula.

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