Something very frightening is happening in Texas, something with national ramifications. Elements of the Texan right-wing, desperate to undermine a general tendency toward civility and compassion among American millennials that threatens to relegate their own largely fear and resentment based ideologies to the dustbin of history, are attempting to whitewash and rewrite American history. Specifically, the highly conservative Texas State Board of Education adopted public school textbook standards in 2010, which are bearing fruit now, that the New York Times said at the time “put a conservative stamp on history and economics.” This wouldn’t be an overly alarming trend, outside of Texas anyway, were it not for the fact that the academic standards established by the Texas State Board of Education, by virtue of the huge volume of textbooks that that state’s schools annually order, largely dictate the content that mega-publishers like Pearson Education and McGraw-Hill Education include in textbooks sold across the country. In other words, as Texas’s school books go, so go the country’s. The board’s attempt to politicize the education of impressionable young students is despicable and represents a fundamental disdain for democracy, specifically the right of citizens to make fully informed decisions in their lives and at the ballot box.
The oft-repeated phrase ‘reality has a liberal bias’ has not been lost on some in the Texan right-wing. Their censorship of history glosses over certain aspects of the U.S.’s past that don’t comport with a narrow and highly nationalistic right-wing interpretation of the American story. For one thing, the new high school social studies curriculum standards ask students to reconsider whether the American principle of separation of church and state is actually constitutional. Largely ignoring the fact that the First Amendment explicitly bars the establishment of a state religion, conservative members of the board argue that this pillar of the American social fabric is potentially illegitimate because it was fully defined in Supreme Court decisions subsequent to the nation’s initial founding. Almost as alarming, the new standards ask students to identify the ways in which Moses influenced the U.S.’s founding documents. These unprecedented new focuses are designed to impress upon students the notion that America is, and has from its inception been, a Judeo-Christian nation, an idea that would have likely horrified most of the founding fathers (Thomas Jefferson, for one, was an avowed Deist.).
Particularly disturbing are the ways in which the new standards minimize America’s racist history. Racial segregation is only mentioned in a passing reference to the 1948 integration of the military, while vitally important themes like Black Codes, the Ku Klux Klan, sharecropping, and Jim Crow are ignored altogether. Alternatively, there is a distinct emphasis on the comparatively non-impactful Black Panther party. Regarding the Civil War, the standards specify that sectionalism and states’ rights, rather than slavery, should be cited as the primary cause of the conflict. Racial issues are so neglected that the Texas branch of the NAACP and the League of United Latin American Citizens recently filed a complaint against the board. Without understanding and appreciating the historical context that underpins contemporary racial issues, how can students be expected to make informed judgements about modern American racial relations?
The superiority of capitalism and the American “free-enterprise system” in particular are continually stressed throughout the new curriculum standards. Students are tasked, highly irregularly considering norms of historical scholarship, with detailing the ways in which these economic systems provide better outcomes than socialist, communist and other models. America’s rich labor movements and 20th century social programs are deemphasized in favor of conservative ideas of limited government and strong property rights. Strikingly, the standards suggest that the 1950s Red Scare of Senator Joseph McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee, which smeared countless innocents and is deplored by most serious scholarship covering that period, was somehow warranted. This kind of Cold War era propaganda belongs in the Soviet Union of decades past and doesn’t suit modern American classrooms. Students shouldn’t be programmed in this way; they should be encouraged to make their own judgements, based on unbiased facts communicated in the classroom.
The Texas State Board of Education’s shameless attempt to undermine quality education in order to further their own socio-political goals should horrify Americans everywhere. As stated above, this disservice to Texan students threatens to spread throughout the country writ-large and further erode national public education. Worst of all, this trend will create dumber, meaner Americans; something the right-wing, given the terminally ill state of the GOP, wants terribly.
Source(s): 1) James C. McKinley “Texas Conservatives Win Curriculum Change” The New York Times (March 12, 2010): accessed October 29, 2014 http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/13/education/13texas.html?_r=0
2) Texas State Board of Education “Chapter 113. Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills for Social Studies Subchapter C. High School” (2010): accessed October 29, 2014 http://ritter.tea.state.tx.us/rules/tac/chapter113/ch113c.html
3) Gary Scharrer “Black Panthers overemphasized in Texas schools, NAACP says” Austin Bureau (December 20, 2010): accessed October 29, 2014 http://www.chron.com/news/houston-texas/article/Black-Panthers-overemphasized-in-Texas-schools-1698140.php