Texas Text Book Drama-How the Community is Fighting Back

Here is the Breakdown FM podcast to this story.. enjoy

Texas Text Book Drama pt1-Intv w/ Rene Valdez

Texas Text Book Drama pt2-Intv w/ Erika Gonzalez

Texas Text Book Drama-How the Community is Fighting Back

by Davey D

By now everyone has heard about the big fight over Text Books and History curriculum here in Texas.  To sum it up, there was a push to put a number of far right-wing fundamentalist conservatives on the Texas Educational Agency board where standards are set every ten years or so. Many people, in particular Democrats were asleep at the wheel and lo and behold,  the far right organized, packed the board 10-5 and then proceeded to dismantle current standards by removing historical figures like Caesar Chavez, Thurgood Marshall and many other heroes and sheroes of Black and Brown people and replace them with conservative folks like Jerry Falwell and Newt Gingrich

It’s just now many of us are reporting on this, but according to activists and educators on the ground here in Texas, this has been brewing for a very long time..

Yesterday we sat down with two well-known, longtime activists and educators here in Austin, Texas-Rene Valdez and Erika Gonzalez to find out what’s really going on. Resistencia Books is a fixture in the Austin Community particularly among Black and Brown folks for almost 30 years. It was founded by the late poet/activist Raul A Salinas who was apart of and understood the education struggles of the 1960s wanted to make sure there were safe spaces for people in the community to learn, soak up their history  and live out the ethos of the day DIY-‘Do It Yourself’.

The late Raul Salinas who founded Resistencia Books and wanted a safe space for the community to learn outside of school

Rene Valdez now runs the bookstore as well as the education programs connected to Resistencia where they go inside the prisons to educate folks as well as hold weekly meetings and seminars for the community inside the store. He explained that he wasn’t too surprised about the recent decisions and in many ways they have long been prepared for such a crisis. He noted that even though they are located in Austin which has this persona of being progressive and liberal for many communities of color its far from that. He noted that Austin is part of Texas and here in the state there is still a well entrenched, institutionalized ‘old boy network’ which has long targeted resistence movements of any type. It doesn’t matter its the anti-war movement, immigration reform movements, solidarity movements, etc.. Valdez, noted today the target is President Obama, the war drums are beating  and they have been focusing on controlling and undermining education.  our youth are the targets.

Rene continued on by noting that what has taken place gives the community better reason to engulf themselves around alternative efforts and gain greater appreciation for organizations and places like Resistencia where education is being afforded.  He also noted this present situation also gives us reason to ask the long hard question-‘Where has the movement been on the issues of education?’ What took place has not happened overnight. For years there have been moves to privatize public education and destroy it.  This has not been happening here in the US but also in other countries. he cited the 2006 Teacher Rebellion in Oaxaca, Mexico where teachers and students were on the front lines being beaten over low wages and attempts to smash on the education system.

Here in the US we’ve seen student fee hikes in state colleges all across the country. We’ve seen teachers being fired and the quality of education going down, yet we’ve seen very little resistence to this in terms of taking things to the streets. During our interview we talked about the student strikes because of fee increases, but Rene pointed out that its important to link the fee increases to the attacks on public education in general. It’s all part of the same agenda by those in power. He concluded by noting that any attack on education both in grade schools to college will adversely working class and poor people as well as Black and Brown folks..

Here’s the Breakdown FM interview we did w/ Rene Valdez


Erika Gonzalez

We later spoke to Erika Gonzalez who is the co-director of PODER (People Organized for Defense of Earth and her Resources).. She’s been a teacher for over 10 years here in Austin. She has taught in almost all of  the 50+ elementary schools in the district. She also has her own curriculum designed to reach young Black and Brown kids which she employs after school in programs that she’s apart of or ones that she runs herself.

The first thing she spoke to us about getting some context to this struggle by understanding the long history in places like Texas in particular Austin which is seen as this liberal enclave. She noted that Austin was the only city in the entire country that refused to go along with Brown vs the Board of Education.  The city fought for over two years spending millions of dollars to not integrate schools.  Finally they did give in, but to this day there are stark differences in the predominantly white schools in West Austin and the predominantly Black and Brown schools in East Austin.

There’s a sordid history in Austin that dates back to the 1920s where they developed a master plan which would have East Austin be a toxic dumping ground and a place to house factories and other commercial facilities. To this day there are elementary schools that sit right next to factories that spill pollutants causing asthma and other health issues making learning very difficult.  PODER and other organizations have been fighting for years to have such places removed or shut down only to find steep and oftentimes over the top racially tinged resistence in this ‘liberal city’ to those efforts.

Adding to all this is a so-called ‘gentleman’s agreement among the ‘old boy network‘ that Rene spoke about where only one Black and one Brown can run for city council. The city does not run on districts but is citywide which means that even with the assurance of one Black and one Brown being on the city council, the whites majority picks and ultimately controls those representatives. What’s even more disturbing is the fact there are many ‘progressive’ people who move to Austin form places like the Bay Area in California who are made aware of such things yet chose to turn a blind eye and ignore them.

With all this in mind, its important to note that for years the community has gone about the business of trying to find alternatives and educate their own. For example, PODER at least once a week and oftentimes more goes to different school sites and meets with parents especially immigrants to let them know their rights and other policies being enacted at schools.  They also have young scholars program and as was pointed out Erika who runs and teaches everyday in after school programs. The latest venture is teaching after-school inside public housing projects.

She explained that the impact of dumbing down education has been clear for sometime now. She explained how she was teaching a group of kids age 4-15 the other day and ask them about Caesar Chavez only to find out they did not know who he was. This was not the case several years ago. She explained that there once was a time teachers would go the extra yard and make sure kids got those lessons that were downplayed or omitted from history books. Today all teachers in Texas are required to teach toward the state standard tests. Lessons within the school district revolve around how to take tests not learn history.  Young teachers have been sent strong warnings that if they deviate too much they will be banned from their respective districts.

Erika noted that she herself has been banned from one school for teaching the students extra history not approved by the state.  Another teacher was fired and banned from the school district for going the extra yard to organize parents about education curriculum. Many good teachers operate in fear  and with these new requirements you can best bet that there are those who are pushing this agenda who are going to be watching like hawks to make sure kids learn about Newt Gingrich and not Dolores Huerta or Barbara Jordan. Controlling the thinking of the youth seems to be a game plan that is unfolding.

We concluded our interview by talking about political participation. There is a strain of activists who continuously insist on telling folks they should not vote with the end result being low voter turnout in many places where schooling is having the most damaging impact. Erika explained that resistance has to take place on all levels including the ballot box. The community must continue to take extra steps to ensure their kids are properly educated. At the same time, we must start running our own candidates for school boards and make sure the state standards are changed.  After all even if you remove them from public schools they still have to adhere to a state styandard that deems Jerry Falwell more noteworthy then Thurgood Marshall.

Here’s the interview we did w/ educator Erika Gonzalez of PODER