That is exactly what they voted to do when the approved the several changes to history texts; the changes include one sided perspectives from the National Rifle Association, the moral majority, calling Imperialism expansionism and renaming the slave trade transatlantic trade. Jefferson Davis is to be portrayed as a counterpoint to Abraham Lincoln; Thomas Jefferson’s contributions to forming our fledgling nation are to be downplayed. Out would be historical figures, contributors like Florence Nightengale and Susan B. Anthony, in- Abigail Adams along with Phyllis Schlafly. Students learning about the Cold War will be told that the Verona Papers confirmed Soviet infiltration into the U.S. government, when in reality, to this day, historians cannot agree on that. Capitalism will now be called free enterprise; country western music is now a cultural movement, though the board voted not to include hip-hop under the same distinction. Title IX and affirmative action will now be taught with the inclusion of so-called unintended adverse effects; it honestly should come as no surprise from a state whose board has banned at least one book by Toni Morrison, who tired to block teaching about both gay rights and global warming, in a state that mandates abstinence only sex education and gave us the much hated George H. W. Bush as president.
What may be surprising is what a far reaching effect this decision will have and why, because Texas is the largest buyer of textbooks nationwide, bookmakers will have no choice but to fall in line with the new standards. So, not only are schoolchildren in Texas going to be given this obviously skewed version of history, but potentially every child in the nation. Historians and educators are speaking out that this is not and should not be a political issue, left wing, right wing conservative, liberal but a good history issue. Minority and advocacy groups as well as noted public figures are concerned with the fact that Latinos are virtually excluded; people in the black community are concerned that trying to rename the slave trade is an attempt to deny slavery. Some find the decision offensive because African Americans have fought so hard to have their contributions throughout history recognized, this is a giant step backwards.
Politically the issue sparked by the Texas school board’s decision seems to be nothing more than the latest chew toy in the battle between conservatives, liberals and all of their respective splinter groups within the political arena. Commentators have astutely said that this battle has nothing to do with education and has everything to do with conservatives that think schools have been infected by a liberal slant, and the price is learning, learning that should be based on accuracy not opinions or partisanship. Others have pointed to the ease with which texts are placed on-line and how that makes it simpler for states to customize curriculum specifically to them highlighting how their state was influential in various important historical events; some see it as a shameless ploy of this state school board to inflate the states significance throughout history.
No matter your take on it, what is most alarming is that 15 school board members in one state can effect what an entire nation learns; further school board members who have no acumen in the subjects being debated, as in the case of dentist, Don McLeroy. Mr. Mc Leroy was not reelected to his seat but was allowed to vote on this issue; 2 out of 5 members that constitute the board’s committee on instruction are a former Texas House member turned businessman, and a licensed real-estate broker turned educator respectively. Of the other 3 individuals, none have any stated background in history or social studies. Common sense would say that your committee on instruction should have persons fluent in teaching or at some point having studied, holding a degree in, the 4 core subjects, English, Math, Science and Social Studies. In addition to insuring that educational matters become less of a political wiffle ball, it guarantees more accuracy in what is to be taught and helps make sure that important things, particularly in the history, do not get left out. It is decisions like these, board appointments of this kind that fuel the push for national standards, taking more rights away from individual states to chose, in part, what students learn. And 15 people in one part of the country, who are not even elite academia, should not have that much power over the entire nation; certainly not based solely on how many of something they purchase, least of all textbooks. National standards could be the only way to stop what commentators are calling a schoolbook massacre.
More importantly and disturbingly the changes reek of an attempt to sanitize history, make it sound and look better than it was, to gloss over the darker parts of events that made us who we are today, made the world what it is today. Political correctness, the polite terms substituted for harsher and possibly offensive phrases, is now trying to alter what was. Calling imperialism expansionism takes out all of the negatives, leaves out the part where it was an unfair economic system, those in power lording it over those not. Calling the slave trade transatlantic trade removes the horrific, cold facts that metals, guns and ammunition were sold in Africa to buy saves, to buy and sell human beings, which where then sold to the America’s for European commodities like rum, molasses and tobacco. Then it becomes a question of what else do you sanitize; when does the sanitizing become denial? Because of the way things are taught, will this generation or the next forget there was slavery in the U.S.? Will it become a myth, or will slavery be replaced by the words human trafficking, like it is today, when we speak of the buying and selling of, typically young girls, into prostitution, taking place now in other parts of the world? Or will it become like the Holocaust where millions died and thousands deny the horrors decades later?
Other changes just seem in poor taste, are bad for current social climates and serve to impact the future negatively; calling capitalism free market enterprise to a room full of students whose parents got bulldozed in the stock market will not go over well. It also denies the history of greedy, underhanded things the creators of Wall Street did to gain their wealth before it was illegal, before there was regulation; it denies the regulations placed on a would be absolute free market after economic upheavals like the great depression, regulations congress is trying to reinstitute, in some fashion, to prevent another great depression or economic crisis. Saying that Title IX and affirmative action have adverse consequences is a slap in the face to the civil rights movement and a step back to whites only drinking fountains; plus it feeds the undercurrent of racism resurging in America today. The board’s decision just gave minority students a reason to drop out the moment they are eligible, removing prominent Latinos from history books, a profoundly idiotic move considering the large immigrant population in the state that is Latino and the number of Latino students in attendance along with the funding they create. Adding country western music is not nearly as bad as the refusal to add hip-hop creating even more drop outs by further alienating black students from the educational experience.
In a time when young girls are saturated with negative media images, when we have programs like the Dove campaign trying to build and enhance the self esteem of young women, how can you think of removing such a powerful figure for woman’s rights and equality as Susan B. Anthony from even a second grade classroom? In an era where traditional values and rolls are starting to reemerge, where we have more pregnant teens who think a child, family are the only things they can have in life, young girls need to see women doing more than the typical things. They need to see women as activists with a voice going as far back as the infancy of our nation; they need to see women have always been a part of the fabric of America in larger ways than supporting a husband in their endeavors or just rearing children. Florence Nightengale is considered the founder of what we now know as nursing; why is that important, because this is a generation of youth that are driven to help people and healthcare is the fastest growing career field. How can you not talk about her?
For educators teaching subjects as vast was world or U.S. history it is always a battle as to what pieces to leave out and what to include as time goes on and more things must be covered, what benchmarks of the past are most important to understand the present. But that has nothing to do with the kinds of changes being pushed in Texas and soon the nation; these changes are more than an inaccuracy, more than a political slant, more than an opinion, they are a theft of one of the most precious things we have, the lessons, facts that must be learned and taught lest the bad things in history repeat themselves. Portraying Joseph McCarthy as a national hero or William F. Buckley as a strong supporter of the civil rights movement has bigger implications than a factual problem, as does including views from singular sources such as the NRA and the moral majority. Doing so robs students of the whole picture, a complete understanding of what happened and why, robs them of potential solutions, thought patterns coming from parties, organization and entities of political, social unpopularity.
Culture is another big part of education; however, there is better way to impart regional, state pride and authenticity than excluding all else. Teachers can incorporate relevant facts about the state or town they are teaching in as it pertains to major events; schools can arrange a state or town history day and learn all the interesting facts of the area all the way down through history, probably in a better, more information retentive format than listening to someone lecture in front of a class. Regardless of your stance on gay rights and global warming they are a part of present history; whether or not global warming will later be proven false, it is shaping the world we live in now. The same principals apply to creationism, intelligent design vs. traditional science; true or false, there is no reason kids should not learn both disciplines side by side and how they each affect the scientific community. Presenting it in such a way may entice a future scientist to get to the bottom of it and finally prove one theory or the other correct. Gay rights may become a reality, it may not, but the struggle for it is real. Thus that struggle impacts people; the bigger part of education is informing children of all ages about their world, all of it not just the good parts, not just the parts we agree with.