16:47 PM

Faculty Focus: New Book Contextualizes Texas History


By Sheryl E. Taylor

It’s never a surprise how UHD faculty continue to be a committed force when it comes to ensuring our student success within and beyond the classroom.

Take Dr. Bill Flores’ new book, “The Texas Experiment: Politics, Power, and Social Transformation” (Sage Publishing), which reconceptualizes the role of history in Texas politics.

In the Lone Star State, freshman and sophomore students at community and four-year colleges are required to study Texas politics and government. Flores realized there was an opportunity to create a textbook that would provide students with “an all-encompassing view of Texas government—bringing together the historical and the contemporary, the political and the personal, to walk students through the state’s past, present, and future” (per the publisher’s website).

“The reality is that a lot of the books out there are pretty cut and dried,” said Flores, Professor of Political Science. “If you’ve read one, you feel as if you’ve read them all. These books just offer the basics—from the governorship to the meaning of the Constitution, and so forth. Texas government is not conceptualized in a way that is meaningful and relevant to our students’ learning.”

He discovered in speaking with students who were taking Texas Politics that there was a similar consensus. “The greatest three takeaways were that our students didn’t see themselves represented; they felt a lack of empowerment in giving them a sense of how they can have an impact on public policy; and [they objected to] how significant events (e.g., Women’s Suffrage, Civil Rights Movement, and Jim Crow Laws) in history were just a mere mention,” Flores added. “We decided to take a different approach by integrating history into the understanding of politics. The political system didn’t just drop from the sky. It came out of a process.”

Flores, along with fellow colleagues and contributors to various chapters in the book (Dr. Christina Hughes, Assistant Professor of Political Science; Dr. Anita Chada, Associate Professor of Political Science; and Dr. Gene Preuss, Associate Professor of History), looked at policy issues that affect marginalized groups such as women, Blacks, and Latinos while asking the questions: ‘How was it handled?’ and ‘How might it have been handled differently?’flores book 2

When asked why the book is titled “The Texas Experiment,” Flores said, “The notion that states are ‘laboratories’ of democracy can be traced back to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, who once wrote in a legal opinion in 1932 that states ‘serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments.’”

He further explained that in 2016, Texas Governor Rick Perry commented that Texas is "an experiment" in pro-growth economic policies. Texas, according to Flores, “has created jobs and economic growth but also lags behind in many social indicators. We examine the policies and consider what Texas might look like in the coming decades. Today’s students will become this state’s future majority. How they vote and participate will decide its future. The book is written to help them understand Texas politics and play an active and educated role in determining that future.”

Hughes noted, “Most Texas government textbooks focus only on concepts and definitions but have little emphasis on how government impacts the students’ lives beyond the abstract. We introduce each chapter with real-world examples of everyday people impacting policy and government; more specifically, we try to use examples of people from diverse backgrounds,” she said. “I believe students’ success is improved when students see themselves reflected back in the course material. This book attempts to do this by focusing on different Texas policies that impact these diverse groups.”

Flores added, “We first addressed what the Texas Education Code requires but did so by putting it in a way that speaks to some of the experiences our students could understand with accessible and relatable stories of real-life events.” At the close of each chapter, the book provides examples or action items for the reader on how they can get involved in Texas politics—from voting to speaking at policy meetings to becoming active in a political party to running for office.

The book also offers a look at the unknown or rarely mentioned history of how Black women were vital to the Women’s Suffrage Movement, not only in Texas but throughout the country; that the first vice president of the Texas Republic was Latino; and how Texas culture and the Texas Constitution were not only influenced by America, but also by Texas’ history as part of Mexico.

“We traced the history of all seven Texas Constitutions, including when Texas was a state of Mexico, and demonstrate how some policies that have carried over came not from English Common Law but from Spanish Law,” Hughes said. For her contributions to the book, she used items and resources that she incorporated into her teaching. “Before, there wasn’t a book that worked well with my teaching style or emphasized the topics I wanted to discuss. Now, I will have a textbook tailor-made for my course.”

At a recent workshop on leadership, Flores was asked about his book and why Texas is the way that it is. He responded, “That’s exactly what we are trying to answer. We’re educating people on how Texas evolved into what it is and what are the potentialities for change in the future.”

About the University of Houston-Downtown

The University of Houston-Downtown (UHD) is the second-largest university in Houston and has served the educational needs of the nation’s fourth-largest city since 1974. As one of four distinct public universities in the University of Houston System, UHD is a comprehensive, four-year university led by President Loren J. Blanchard. Annually, UHD educates approximately 14,000 students, boasts more than 66,000 alumni, and offers 45 bachelor’s degrees, 12 master’s degrees, and 19 online programs within four colleges: Marilyn Davies College of Business, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, College of Public Service, and College of Sciences and Technology. UHD has one of the lowest tuition rates in Texas.

U.S. News and World Report ranked UHD among the nation’s Best Online Bachelor’s Programs for Applied Administration and Best Online Master’s Programs in Criminal Justice, as well as a Top Performer in Social Mobility. The Wall Street Journal/College Pulse ranked UHD one of the best colleges in the U.S. for its 2024 rankings, with notable distinctions: No. 1 for diversity (tied) and No. 3 for student experience. The University is designated as a Hispanic-Serving Institution, a Minority-Serving Institution, and a Military Friendly School. For more information on the University of Houston-Downtown, visit uhd.edu.