Thursday, March 18, 2010

Texas Textbook Two-Step

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There has been a huge media blitz regarding the Texas Board of Education and its revision of its social studies curriculum. This issue has attracted attention mainly because of how changes in Texas textbooks may affect textbooks used in other states.
Since Texas certifies texts centrally rather than by individual school districts, publishers have a strong incentive to alter their books to conform to its standards so as to reach the huge Texas market. Where was Lee Harvey Oswald, after all, when he shot John F. Kennedy? In the Texas School Book Depository--a tall Dallas building filled with textbooks.
The issue revolves around the make-up of the board and the reasons for these changes.
During the past three days, “the board’s far-right faction wielded their power to shape lessons on the civil rights movement, the U.S. free enterprise system and hundreds of other topics”:

– To avoid exposing students to “transvestites, transsexuals and who knows what else,” the Board struck the curriculum’s reference to “sex and gender as social constructs.”

– The Board removed Thomas Jefferson from the Texas curriculum, “replacing him with religious right icon John Calvin.”

– The Board refused to require that “students learn that the Constitution prevents the U.S. government from promoting one religion over all others.”

– The Board struck the word “democratic” from the description of the U.S. government, instead terming it a “constitutional republic.”

Is this a conservative revision of American history?
More interesting is what the new standards tell us about conservatives' overall vision of American history and society and how they hope to instill that vision in the young. The standards run from kindergarten through high school, and certain themes obsessively recur. Judging from the updated social studies curriculum, conservatives want students to come away from a Texas education with a favorable impression of: women who adhere to traditional gender roles, the Confederacy, some parts of the Constitution, capitalism, the military and religion. They do not think students should learn about women who demanded greater equality; other parts of the Constitution; slavery, Reconstruction and the unequal treatment of nonwhites generally; environmentalists; labor unions; federal economic regulation; or foreigners.

Here are a few examples. The board has removed mention of the Declaration of the Seneca Falls Convention, the letters of John and Abigail Adams and suffrage advocate Carrie Chapman Catt. As examples of "good citizenship" for third graders, it deleted Harriet Tubman and included Clara Barton, founder of the Red Cross, and Helen Keller (the board seems to have slipped up here--Keller was a committed socialist). The role of religion--but not the separation of church and state--receives emphasis throughout. For example, religious revivals are now listed as one of the twelve major "events and eras" from colonial days to 1877.

Given this conservative slant one would think Fox News would be supportive of these changes. Think Progress notes that, "One of the right’s most often used scaremongering tactics is to warn of “liberal indoctrination” and to claim progressives are using schools to push their own agenda." But just the opposite has occurred.

Fox News has been fanning the flames of this conspiracy theory in recent weeks with paranoid reporting about the Texas State Board of Education’s deliberations over how to alter its social studies curriculum. In a series of reports it is calling the “Texas Textbook Wars,” Fox has openly speculated that founding fathers such as George Washington are going to be removed from textbooks, Independence Day will be deleted, Christmas will be removed, and that the Texas Board of Education has reccomended starting the teaching of history at 1877.

ThinkProgress has compiled a montage of some of Fox’s outlandish and inaccurate claims. Watch it:

It is time that history is based on facts and not on the interpretation of the highest bidder.

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