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Texas Textbook Wars

Texas Textbook Wars

Last Friday, March 12, the Texas Board of Education voted to give preliminary approval to a social studies curriculum for its textbooks that will put a conservative stamp on history and economics, stress the superiority of American capitalism, question the Founding Fathers’ commitment to a separation of church and state, emphasize the role of Christianity in the nation’s founding, and generally present Republican political philosophies in a positive light. (The Associated Press has all the details.)

No big surprise, then, that the board is made up of 10 Republicans and 5 Democrats, and the board gave its approval to the new standards by a 10-to-5 party-line vote. A final vote will be held in May, but it’s unlikely that there will be any major changes.

Since January, the board has passed more than 100 amendments to the proposed standards for what will be taught in history, sociology, government and economics form elementary to high school over the next decade. The often contentious process has been watched by educators across the country. Why has it attracted so much attention? Because of its size, Texas is one of the largest consumers of textbooks in the nation, (California and Florida rank up there too), so publishers use these curriculum standards for textbooks that are distributed in nearly every state in the nation. Thus, what happened in Texas will impact the nation.

What exactly will happen to history a la Texas version? A few examples: Hispanic board memhers have tried to include more Latino figures as role models for the state’s largely Hispanic population, but they have been consistently defeated, prompting one member, Mary Helen Berlanga, to storm out of a meeting last week saying, “They can just pretend this is a white America and Hispanics don’t exist.” According to Berlanga, the standards ignore the Ku Klux Klan in Texas, Texas Rangers “killing Mexican-Americans without justification” and the U.S. Army’s role in the attempted extermination of American Indians. She failed in an earlier attempt to get the history standards to identify Tejanos who fell defending the Alamo.

By contrast, board member Terri Leo called the proposal “a world class document” and Ken Mercer, another board member, said the proposed standards reflect the desires of his constituents to emphasize “personal responsibility and accountability” and “to honor our Founding Fathers, and our military.”

“We are adding balance,” said Don McLeroy, a dentist by training and the leader of the conservative faction on the board, after the vote. “History has been skewed. Academia is skewed too far to the left.”

The conservatives have won in Texas. As a teacher, I am depressed by this decision. The point of teaching is to present primary sources that reflect a variety of points of view. The purpose of education is to inform, not to indoctrinate. I want my students to think for themselves, to question, to think critically and make judgments. The ultimate solution should be to encourage teachers to present primary sources that reflect a variety of points of view.

It seems to me that educators (or board members) in Texas must be so insecure that they dare not present any point of view but their own. But the real joy of teaching is in the back-and-forth as teacher and students discuss issues. Certainly attacking educational systems is a proven method of change; the conservative madrasas in the Middle East are proof of this. That’s where young students are receiving deeply disturbing educations based on fundamental misinterpretations of Islamic Values. Is this the path of America’s educational system? I sincerely hope not.

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turtlemom4bacon - @ Creative Commons
Judy Molland

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96 comments

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8:43PM PST on Jan 5, 2011

My Mom was a history buff and rented rooms to American draft dodgers during the Viet Nam war. (in Toronto). She was always amazed and frustrated by their limited and warped knowledge of history and the world. Many Canadians learned to take them with a grain of salt, but their views and opinions often held them back in Canadian society. Several told me that they had to "open their mind" to fit in.
I expect students from Texas will have to "open their minds" if they ever plan to move out of state. Imagine discovering later in life that your education was a GOP scam.

5:27AM PST on Jan 5, 2011

American freedoms are being threatened by an oil rich desert state fun of barbaric religious fanatics who must be exterminated to protect our freedoms.

Time to carpet bomb Texas.

1:55PM PDT on Sep 18, 2010

America has always been a diverse nation with a range of creed and color. That is the strength of America, but we all know how favoritism, nepotism and race divisions lie within our culture. Texas seems to be an extreme example of such a state. It wasn't too far back ago, that Hispanic friends who lived in Texas in the 60's lived as the Afro-Americans did in the deep south. The majority of minorities were generally Hispanics of that time and they lived generally in poverty, used separate bathrooms posted for non-whites. It is no difference in places they ate, or in restaurants or hotels in the rest of the deep south. I can't understand why the Federal Government puts up with the absolutely, disgusting, backward people who write the history books in Texas! However, I can understand the culture and the discriminatory heritage of Texas that still hasn't been washed out of the system of Texas and in much of the Deep South. The consciousness takes more than a few generations to rid of these prejudices. Old habits die hard and for the most part they still exist. It is as if minorities are between a "rock and a hard place" as if these types of things are the perpetuation of this mindset. It can easily be the new rise of the old ways of retaining a form of apartheid. As I have heard, some of these folks think this is one way of "Taking Back America!"



11:33PM PDT on Mar 26, 2010

If they make these textbooks, I hope every teacher forced to use them recreates the scene from "Dead Poets Society" where they have the students rip out all the worthless pages.

They should then collect those pages and recycle them appropriately before they are taught unbiased historical facts from people trained and certified to educate.

2:29AM PDT on Mar 23, 2010

Anyway it is a very inferior teacher who relies solely upon a textbook for teaching. The contents of a textbook are merely a framework that must be expanded and even amended when presented in class.

12:15PM PDT on Mar 21, 2010

Politics are just a symptomatic surface manifestation.

. . . . . . . If you are looking for the disease you are going to have to look and search much, much deeper!

12:30AM PDT on Mar 21, 2010

Teachers and parents, if you do not agree with the Republican fuddy-duddies, I hope you can assert your own influence.
This ismore proof that politics is a disease (hubris!)

4:50PM PDT on Mar 20, 2010

maybe they will leave out every thing about the Bush family

10:33PM PDT on Mar 19, 2010

It's so weird to have studied, one of the most complex and challenging scientific courses, Evolution and Prehistory, just to have someone who has not studied it, explain to me that it's all propaganda and made up. Wow, to some people that's "truth."

I don't think bias in education can be prevented, if we are being honest about all of the diferent perspectives out there, but we can aim to have some balance.

4:17PM PDT on Mar 19, 2010

Students should be taught the truth. All of it. Don't leave parts out. Don't add things. Just as it happened. Just as it was.

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