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Glendale parents say Spanish-language textbook reinforces negative stereotypes

Several Glendale parents have taken issue with parts of the school district's Spanish textbook series.
(Roger Wilson / Glendale News-Press)

After parents raised concerns that a Spanish-language textbook series the Glendale school board adopted reinforced negative stereotypes, school officials discussed potentially opening up the textbook-selection process again during a recent meeting.

“If it’s offensive to one person, it should concern us as a board,” said school board member Greg Krikorian during a meeting last week where several parents spoke out against the books. “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.”

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.

Several parents of GUSD students have taken issue with parts of the "¡Qué chévere!" Spanish textbook series.

Several parents of GUSD students have taken issue with parts of the "¡Qué chévere!” Spanish textbook series.

(Roger Wilson / Glendale News-Press)

Parents brought their concerns to school officials following the Glendale school board’s vote on June 21 to adopt the "¡Qué chévere!” series published by the St. Paul, Minn.-based EMC Publishing.

The book series was slated to serve about 3,200 middle and high school students studying Spanish as a foreign language.

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

In response, several local parents took a closer look at the books’ content, said former Burbank Mayor Marsha Ramos, also a member of the Glendale Latino Assn., who opened up her Glendale office to discuss the books with fellow parents.

“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.”

Several parents publicly shared their concerns with how the series portrays Hispanic cultures and women during the school board meeting last week.

One parent cited an entry in the book about Mexican cuisine, which begins with the following: “‘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,” meaning “Pedro is lazy,” a boy promises he would 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.”

Several parents of GUSD students have taken issue with parts of the "¡Qué chévere!" Spanish textbook series.

Several parents of GUSD students have taken issue with parts of the "¡Qué chévere!” Spanish textbook series.

(Roger Wilson / Glendale News-Press)

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.”

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

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

The two most preferred books were shelved because their publishers had not caught up with 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 school district’s current "¡En español!” books that are reportedly falling apart from years of use, school officials opted to purchase the "¡Qué chévere!” series this year and then consider making another textbook adoption in several years.

In response to parents’ opposition to the books, school officials held off on purchasing the books, which would have cost anywhere from $384,000 to $730,000, depending on whether teachers opted to purchase additional online components that accompany the textbook.

School officials are still 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.

Glendale Unified is a “flexible organization,” said fellow board member Nayiri Nahabedian.

“We hear, we listen, we go, ‘OK, this might not have worked out the way we thought it did,” she said. “We want to be free of negative stereotypes. We are at a point where I’m going to support reopening this discussion.”

Meanwhile, fellow board member Jennifer Freemon said, “Our books need to work, and if they don’t work, they’re not good for anybody.”

School 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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Kelly Corrigan, kelly.corrigan@latimes.com

Twitter: @kellymcorrigan


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