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.
turtlemom4bacon - @ Creative Commons