May 16, 2008


California Education to Latinos: Sorry, We Forgot That You Exist!

By Duane E. Campbell

After 20 years of using a California History-Social Science Framework which is ahistorical and misses the significant contributions of Mexicans, Latinos, and Asian to U.S. and California history, the State Board of Education will hold hearings on whether the current framework should be revised. I hope that you have an opinion.

California has the largest population of any state, with more than 6,286,000 students in school in 2006 California students make up more than 11 percent of the United States total. California, along with some 16 other states, adopts textbooks for the entire state instead of district by district. This makes the California adoption the largest single textbook sale in the nation. Succeeding in market is an important goal for textbook publishers. Many publishers write and edit their books in a targeted attempt to win control of the large and lucrative California and Texas markets. In an effort to increase their profits, publishers promote and try to sell throughout the nation books developed in California and Texas.

The election of 1982 began 16 years of conservative, Republican control of the California governorship. Governors appoint the members of the State Board of Education. The conservative control changed the history–social science, language, and reading curricula and textbooks for the state, and influenced textbook decisions throughout the United States.

The 1987 draft of the History-Social Science Framework (a guide for teachers and textbook selection still in use today ) excluded an accurate history of Latino and Native American settlement of the Southwest and did not cover the substantial Asian history in the West (see Almaguer, 1994). By electing to concentrate on a melting pot, consensus point of view, the History-Social Science Framework assumed that telling the history of European immigrants adequately explains the experiences of Mexicans, Native Americans, and Asians.

The Framework does not describe the displacement and destruction of Native American, Mexican, and Mexican American communities from 1850 to 1930 throughout the Southwest, including in Los Angeles and San Diego. The authors—among them, educational historian Diane Ravitch—failed to note that the present mosaic of Southwest culture was created by the subjugation and domination of previously existing groups, both Native American and Mexican American.

The California document won the praise of conservative reform advocates around the nation. Honig and Ravitch and numerous funded advocacy organizations such as the Brookings Institute cited it in their writings and speeches as a positive example of the kind of multiculturalism they supported.

In California, committees and the State Board of Education select texbooks for all the students in public schools. The U.S. history books submitted for the 1990 California adoption, and readopted in 1998 and 2005, were required to be based on the Framework. The 1987- 2005 document expanded African American, Native American, and women’s history coverage but were totally inadequate in their coverage of Latinos and Asians—both significant population groups in the development of history of the West. The only significant change between the 1985 and the 2005 adopted Framework was the addition of a new cover, a cover letter, and a photo of Cesar Chavez. Latinos make up 48.1 percent of California’s student population and Asians make up 8.1 %. Coverage of Native Americans in fourth-grade books was embarrassingly Euro-centric. The books do not accurately describe the interactive and interdependent nature of the African, European, Native American, Latino, and Asian communities.

An agenda for the focus group meetings are posted at the CDE Web site at

Duane Campbell is a Professor of Education at Cal State University Sacramento and blogs at Choosing Democracy on major issues facing our democracy with a focus on public schooling.

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