10 Reasons The New Texas Textbooks Are Dangerous For Students
Five million public school students in Texas will begin using new social studies textbooks this fall based on state academic standards that are replete with omissions and distortions. The textbooks were created based on standards adopted by the Board of Education in 2010 after a fierce battle.
When it came to social studies standards, conservatives championing causes from a focus on the biblical underpinnings of our legal system to a whitewashed picture of race in the United States won out.
Here are 10 reasons why these books are dangerous for all American students:
1. A Glaring Confederate Omission: In the new textbooks, students get to read the inaugural address by Confederate President Jeff Davis, in which he vaguely alludes to slavery, without mentioning the word. They will not, however, read the speech given by his vice president, Alexander Stephens, which states: “Our new Government is founded upon exactly the opposite ideas; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition.”
2. The Civil War was not about slavery: Continuing on the same theme, students are informed that the Civil War was caused by “sectionalism, states’ rights and slavery” — written deliberately in that order. Slavery was a “side issue to the Civil War,” said Pat Hardy, a Republican board member, when the board adopted the standards in 2010. “There would be those who would say the reason for the Civil War was over slavery. No. It was over states’ rights.”
3. Civil War sources are missing: The state standards rightly emphasize that students should learn from primary sources, such as speeches, articles and other materials from the time. However, high school students are only required to read just two Civil War-related primary sources: inaugural addresses by President Abraham Lincoln and Davis, both of whom avoided mentioning slavery. Many other documents, including Texas’ own declaration of secession, cite slavery as the reason for leaving the Union.
4. The Ku Klux Klan and Jim Crow laws never existed: There is simply no mention of the KKK, the white supremacist group that extended into almost every southern state by 1870 and, with their distinctive white sheet costumes, became a vehicle for white southern resistance to Reconstruction-era policies aimed at establishing political and economic equality for blacks. As far as future Texas students know, none of that happened. Nor will they learn about Jim Crow laws, Texas Rangers “killing Mexican-Americans without justification” and the U.S. Army’s role in the attempted extermination of American Indians.
5. Segregation wasn’t a big deal: According to McGraw-Hill’s new social studies textbook, “United States Government,” Brown v. Board of Education only happened because sometimes “the buildings, buses, and teachers for the all-black schools were lower in quality.” Since the new textbooks don’t mention Jim Crow laws, they don’t have to mention that these laws might have created huge educational barriers for black students. Likewise, the fierce opposition to desegregation and the battles surrounding it are not considered an issue.
6. The whitewashing of Texas: In 2010, as a bitterly divided board of education fought over the social studies standards, Hispanic board members tried to include more Latino figures as role models for the state’s largely Hispanic population, but they were consistently defeated, prompting one member, Mary Helen Berlanga, to storm out of a meeting saying, “They can just pretend this is a white America and Hispanics don’t exist.” According to Pew Research Center, in 2012 there were 10 million Latinos and 11.6 million non-Hispanic whites living in Texas.
7. The demotion of Thomas Jefferson: Even the Founding Fathers are not protected from the new Texas standards. The author of the Declaration of Independence, Founding Father, and the third President of the United States was removed from the state’s public school social studies curriculum “replacing him with religious right icon John Calvin.” If you haven’t figured this out already, this Texas board was dominated by a bloc of right-wing “Christian” Republicans. But really, get rid of Thomas Jefferson? Why?
8. There is no separation of Church and State: Herein lies part of the answer to Jefferson’s removal. The board’s extreme right wing bloc wanted to present America as a Christian nation founded on Christian principles, but they couldn’t get around what Jefferson wrote in 1802: “Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church & State….”
9. Moses was a Founding Father: According to the new textbooks, our nation’s government and democracy are based on the ideas of Moses and the Old Testament. That’s because the history standards adopted in 2010 require students to “identify the individuals whose principles of laws and government institutions informed the American founding documents, including those of Moses,” and to establish how “biblical law” was a major influence on America’s founding. Good luck to those Texas students with that task.
10. School children across the U.S. will imbibe the same ideas. Clearly there are enormous omissions and oversights in these textbooks, but it wouldn’t be such a big deal if these were restricted to Texas. However, Texas is the second largest textbook market in the country, after California, which means that these books will end up being used by students across the U.S.
“Few, if any, instruments shape national culture more powerfully than the materials used in schools,” states an article in The Economist. It is not just that textbooks are the first books that people in many places encounter; they are also “along with religious texts, almost the only books they encounter.”
However, it’s also true that teachers have enormous power in the classroom to shape the curriculum. A few years ago I was teaching 5th grade world history, when I asked my students to consider why our textbooks contained almost no depictions of women, only men. It led to a wonderful discussion.
Textbooks are an important source, but teachers also rely on their training and judgment. Some schools are also moving away from textbooks altogether, in favor of online materials, and other sources. In the end, good teachers make their own decisions about how to teach a course.
But those social studies instructors in Texas certainly have their work cut out for them.