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Glendale parents say Spanish-language textbook reinforces negative stereotypes

Glendale parents say Spanish-language textbook reinforces negative stereotypes
Parents have expressed concerns that a Spanish-language textbook series the Glendale school board adopted reinforcesnegative stereotypes, (Glendale News Press)

Amid parents' concerns that a Spanish-language textbook series the Glendale school board adopted was reinforcing negative stereotypes, officials now are weighing reopening the selection process.

"If it's offensive to one person, it should concern us as a board," Greg Krikorian, a member of the board, said during a meeting last week. "If there's one thing that humiliates a kid, or a parent, when they bring it home and it insults them, I don't want it in our classrooms."

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Fellow board members, including President Armina Gharpetian, indicated that the parents' concerns could lead to school officials reevaluating the textbook adoption.

"If a complaint comes in and we see any issue with any book, I think it is our responsibility to open it up for discussion again. And if we have to go through the process again, so be it," Gharpetian said.

Parents raised the issue with school officials following the board's June 21 vote to adopt the "¡Qué chévere!" series, slated to serve about 3,200 middle and high school students studying Spanish as a foreign language. They say the books misrepresent Mexican culinary culture and portray Latinos as lazy, among other complaints.

When the "¡Qué chévere!" books went before the board for consideration, a couple of teachers voiced concerns about the academic adequacy of the books, with one, Laura Narvaez-Rivera, saying the series lacked "rich language, culture and content."

In response, several parents took a closer look at the books' content, said former Burbank Mayor Marsha Ramos, also a member of the Glendale Latino Assn.

"Parents and community members have been meeting with district officials since July 6 to bring this serious issue to the forefront," Ramos said. "We expect the board to take the lead in eliminating textbooks with negative ethnic and gender stereotyping and inappropriate grade-level references from use in the Spanish-language classroom."

"¡Qué chévere!" translates as "How cool!" in English.

Several parents shared their concerns with how the series portrays Latino culture and women during the board meeting last week.

One cited an entry in the book about Mexican cuisine, which begins with: "'Excuse me waiter, there's a fly in my soup.' Well, in some Mexican dishes, it might be part of the recipe!"

The sentence that follows reads: "In pre-Hispanic times, Mexican food included corn, beans and chiles (still staples today), but also insects like chapulines as a protein source."

Parents took issue with the first sentence for the negative portrayal it creates of Mexican cuisine, noting in a letter they gave to school officials that flies "are not purposefully presented or identified as edible insects in any restaurants, luxurious or otherwise."

In another paragraph titled, "Pedro el perezoso," or "Lazy Pedro," a boy promises to wash his family's car, mow the lawn and look for a job over the summer, but he doesn't follow through. When he asks his father for money, his father replies, "Tomorrow," and in response to his plea for new clothes from his mother, she responds, "One of these days."

The paragraph, "reinforces a long-held stereotype that Mexicans/Spaniards/Latinos are lazy," according to the parents' letter.

For parent Lila Ramirez, the content throughout the book series is "offensive," she said, adding, "Our position is unwavering. The use of these textbooks in our classrooms is unacceptable."

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The majority of a 20-member textbook review committee made up of Spanish teachers across the Glendale Unified School District had vetted the "¡Qué chévere!" series and recommended it for adoption before it went to the school board for final consideration.

The series had been one of seven options that Glendale teachers had considered adopting, but it wasn't the group's first pick.

The top two preferred books were shelved because  they did not meet proposed foreign-language standards that California is expected to adopt within the next two to three years, according to Kelly King, assistant superintendent of Glendale Unified.

Faced with continuing to use the district's current "¡En español!" books, which are reportedly falling apart from years of use, school officials opted to purchase the "¡Qué chévere!" series this year and then consider replacing it with another textbook in several years.

In response to parents' opposition, school officials held off on purchasing the books. The cost of the purchase is estimated at $384,000 to $730,000, depending on whether teachers opted to purchase additional online components.

School officials are navigating their next step, which could lead to the adoption of another book in place of the "¡Qué chévere!" series.

"I haven't seen this kind of reaction to a textbook adoption before, and I think that absolutely needs to be taken into consideration," said Christine Walters, who has served on the school board since 2009.

Officials are also looking to give parents a seat at the table during future textbook-adoption considerations. Their input would be considered before a book goes to a textbook committee or piloted in the classroom, and in advance of the school board weighing final consideration.

"Regardless of what the decision may be of the board at a future meeting, we want to make sure that our steps moving forward really are honoring and increasing the role that parents and community have in giving input into future adoptions," King said.

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