After much debate, the Texas State Board of Education passed new high school textbook standards that recast U.S. history from the point of view of a conservative movement.
The AP reports on the 9-5 vote by the Republican-dominated board:
The partisan board has amended or watered down the teaching of the civil rights movement, slavery, America’s relationship with the U.N. and hundreds of other items. … They dictate how political events and figures will be taught to some 4.8 million schoolchildren in Texas … for the next decade.
The new standards state that students must “discuss alternatives regarding long-term entitlements such as Social Security and Medicare, given the decreasing worker to retiree ratio.” Another clause says students must “describe the causes and key organizations and individuals of the conservative resurgence of the 1980s and 1990s, including Phyllis Schafly, (best known as an opponent of the Equal Rights Amendment – which has yet to be adopted), the Contract with America, the Heritage Foundation, the Moral Majority, and the National Rifle Association.”
In the video below, note how Republican board member Cynthia Dunbar begins the meeting on Friday May 21, 2010. She says (amongst many other things that made my jaw drop), “I believe no one can read the history of our country without realizing that the Good Book and the spirit of the Savior have from the beginning been our guiding geniuses. Whether we look to the first charter of Virginia, or the charter of New England … the same objective is present: a Christian land governed by Christian principles,” she says.
Call me crazy, but if people want their children to be “governed by Christian principles,” they might consider sending their children to private Christian schools, from which there are many to choose. But we are talking about public education here. Public schools have always served as the place where children of all races, classes and religious beliefs meet up to learn skills that will help them become productive members of our society. Christian principles non-withstanding, these new curriculum requirements in Texas are so slanted to the right, they seem to actively discourage critical thinking skills.
My ethnically diverse neighborhood in Western, New York is home to Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists and atheists. Personally, I was surprised that Ms. Dunbar was allowed the begin the school board meeting with this kind of invocation, as I always thought that Thomas Jefferson strongly advocated a separation of Church and State. I guess in Texas that baby was tossed out with the bathwater, too.
If life were a playground game of “Mother, May I,” it would seem that the Texas Board of Education has just taken one giant leap towards revisionist history. A good educator can work with any kind of textbook (even without a textbook), but it is difficult when such strong bias is presented as Truth to students who simply don’t know to ask about the other sides(s) to these complex issues.
On an up-note, in this miserable economy, I guess it’s a good time to be a textbook writer.
What do you think about the textbook decision in Texas?
As someone who lives in Texas, I guarantee you that this can happen in any state in the union. When was the last time you read the platforms and biographies of every single candidate in the smaller election races? Many people get to those races and simply fill in the blank according to their party because they don’t think it really matters. The members of this commission are in no way qualified to write textbook standards (nor are most of them qualified to hold most elective offices). I’d have to check, but I think several of them don’t have college educations, but they wanted to hold elective office and they won. Personally, I think the commission should be appointed and only open to people with PhDs, but that won’t fly. Frankly, I’m surprised this doesn’t happen in more states, California, especially.
Ben, you make a good point. It is surprising that this doesn’t happen in more states as voters care less about the candidates that make their way into these important positions of power. Perhaps people feel like their votes don’t matter. Case in point: In my own town, two school board seats were open, with two candidates vying for the positions. I guess folks feel ‘Why bother reading about them when you know they are shoo-ins?’ I have always had faith in the individual voter, but I am starting to have doubts as people become more disillusioned.
By the way, I would love to know if Texas school board members do not all hold college degrees. That would be the best scoop in Blogdom!
I believe in separation of church and state, and things like this frighten me. People like the folks on the Texas School Board are very narrow minded.
Its my understanding that most school textbook publishers publish what Texas requires and than that serves as the books that are distributed throughout the rest of the nation because the publishers don’t want to have to publish different versions of the same textbook. So what’s good for Texas will likely be the standard for Rochester and elsewhere.
Maybe I’m wrong on this, but I’m pretty certain I’ve heard in the past that’s how it goes.
No, you are right. That’s pretty much how it goes. That’s why I don’t understand the lack of outcry.
Actually, it might only be one or two who don’t hold degrees. But the ones who do aren’t exactly qualified. The head guy is a dentist.
Here’s a good article: http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/features/2010/1001.blake.html
Ben, that is a great link – and while it doesn’t say anything about the educations of the folks on the Texas Board, it doesn’t matter. They have found loophples and they are not fools! It is interesting to note that Barton makes quick determinations about textbooks based on how they handle politics in the Middle East, and I was not surprised to see that the new curriculum will frame the U.S. as having been in a long time war with Islamic cultures.
The article states:
“[They] want textbooks to play up clashes with Islamic cultures, particularly where Muslims were the aggressors, and to paint them as part of an ongoing battle between the West and Muslim extremists. Barton argues, for instance, that the Barbary wars, a string of skirmishes over piracy that pitted America against Ottoman vassal states in the 1800s, were the “original war against Islamic Terrorism.”
Sigh. I hope to hear more from Social Studies and History teachers in the upcoming months. Alas, many teachers are heading into summer vacation mode, and by the time they realize what is going on, these “new & improved” textbooks may already be hitting the shelves in their own states once they are distributed nationwide, as Pierce mentions in his post.
Good points…a lot to think about!
“When was the last time you read the platforms and biographies of every single candidate in the smaller election races? Many people get to those races and simply fill in the blank according to their party because they don’t think it really matters.” Mr. Koch…I (ashamedly) had to explain to my almost 13 year old that I wasn’t voting in a recent local election because I did not know who was running and what the issues were…I basically told her that I would rather NOT vote in that situation, than to vote blindly, and, in my opinion, irresponsibly. But it is a tough call….blindly vote party lines or refrain from voting at all?
Starting my day off thinking…
I’m not touchin’ this one! 🙂