• by Joe J. Bernal, Ph.D. • IDRA Newsletter • November – December 1998 • 

Establishing policy and providing leadership for the Texas public school system is the responsibility of the State Board of Education. The board is made up of 15 members who are elected by districts, with each district representing roughly 1.2 million people. I represent District 3, which covers 12 Texas counties including 70 percent of Bexar County (parts of five school districts and all of 10 others). District 3 also includes school districts in 11 counties south of San Antonio all the way to the U.S.-Mexico border in Hidalgo County. Another way to look at the enormous size of District 3 is to realize it covers parts of five congressional districts and about five state senatorial districts.

Although it is difficult for one board member to represent more than 1 million people, the alternative is to have the governor appoint members, as is done in California. In Texas, Gov. George Bush named Mike Moses as commissioner of the Texas Education Agency. He also selects one of the 15 State Board of Education members to chair the board. In our case, the governor named Jack Christie, a chiropractic physician from Houston.

Generally speaking, if you are happy with the governor’s politics, then you are likely to be pleased with his or her appointments. If not, then you probably feel underrepresented. As for me, I’ll take an elected person anytime. I trust the people’s judgment much more than I would a governor’s. Governors, regardless of party affiliations, tend to name people to boards based on how much those people have contributed to their campaigns.

I ran for a position on the State Board of Education in 1996 thinking I could make a contribution and help improve educational opportunities for all Texas children. I say this not to seek approbation or personal commendation, but because I truly recognize there are zealots in policy-making bodies who want to throw the babies out with the dirty bath water. Both the Democrat and the Republican who ran against me in 1996, for instance, had given up on public schools. Such people in public offices preach that public schools are beyond repair, that students are immersed in gangs, violence and drug abuse and that they are not learning. The only way to repair the situation, they declared, is to privatize schools, thereby providing competition for public schools. Competition would then simplistically force public schools to change.

One way I chose to provide educational opportunities to all children was to take a close look at the new curriculum, the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS), which in 1997 was undergoing its final touch-up job. I particularly examined the sections on social studies and, in greater detail, Texas history. I could still recall the history book being used at San Antonio College some years back. It had angered me greatly because the text book stated superficially that nothing of any consequence had occurred in Texas prior to 1836. The mere idea that I could live long enough to change that perception would certainly make my life worthwhile. I understood that if a person knows who he is and where he comes from, his culture is thus enhanced and validated. That text book author had severed the real roots of many Tejanos, who by 1836 were already into their fourth generation as native Texans. Already that truth had been uncritically replaced with what the author perceived was politically correct at the time he wrote his book.

With a healthier attitude toward minorities, we were not only able to include 1718 as an important date, but also 1821 and 1824. Putting on my old elementary teacher’s hat, I was able to convince curriculum experts that 1718 is important because it is the date Mission San Antonio de Valero (later known as the Alamo) was established for the purpose of educating Indians and introducing them to Christianity. The year 1821 is important to Texas because it was then that Tejanos living in this northern province of Spain, along with all other Mexicans throughout New Spain, had unshackled themselves from their European oppressors, much like the U.S. colonies had won their independence from England in 1776.

The flag of 1824 was the flag flying over the Alamo during that battle because the Tejanos and new citizens of Texas (who valiantly died there) were fighting for their rights under the 1824 Mexican Constitution. This constitution provided for a democracy similar to that of the United States and would give Texas its autonomy. Texas, like many other northern and southern Mexican states, had rebelled against the centralist government that wanted to re-establish itself as a monarchy.

Another part of Texas social studies was a section that spotlighted war heroes. It included famous names like Admiral Chester Nimitz, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Audi Murphy and others. “What about Cleto Rodriguez?” I asked. “Kli who?” was the response.

Some 25 years ago, I read Raul Morin’s Among the Valiant, a book about the 17 Mexican American soldiers in World War II and the Korean War who won the Congressional Medal of Honor, the highest medal given for valor in action and for patriotic devotion to duty. I had known Cleto Rodriguez, for he lived in San Antonio following his return from the war. Wouldn’t it be great if I could open this door and show our children how so many of their ancestors had fought valiantly for their country? If Cleto’s name would be added to the list, then text book publishers would have to look at and write about us as true heroes and defenders of our country.

Although adding to the TEKS curriculum in areas such as language arts, math and other subjects was important, such efforts were not as gratifying as making Texas history more “correct.” Not only was it a treat, but it was a task of love! Next time around, I’ll write about the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS), the state test everyone seems to love to hate. That task is yet to come, however. The seriousness of it is that we need to align that assessment instrument to the state curriculum. Putting it another way, the TAAS needs to test the TEKS.

Joe J. Bernal, Ph.D., is a member of the Texas State Board of Education. Comments and questions may be sent to IDRA via e-mail at feedback@idra.org.

[©1998, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the November – December 1998 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]