Texas has maintained a special sway over the content of textbooks that serve students across the United States. During the Cold War, Texas shaped the work of every major national textbook publisher. Today, one of every 10 public school students in the United States is a Texan, and publishers still don’t want to print books that can’t be used in the state.
…It was during the Cold War that Texas conservatives truly found their footing. The Daughters of the American Revolution allied with the recently formed John Birch Society and Texans for America to push the state board to fight communism. The board enthusiastically accepted the task, repeatedly mandating the censorship or diminishment in history textbooks of, among others, labor unions, Social Security, the United Nations, racial integration and the Supreme Court. It compelled the inclusion of “the Christian tradition,” the free market and conservative heroes Joseph McCarthy, Herbert Hoover, Douglas MacArthur and Chiang Kai-shek.
……Liberals, less cohesively organized, risked being charged with subversion if they spoke out. Texas officials made textbook authors and teachers sign loyalty oaths. Publishers quickly complied with the demands of the Texas board.
…More than the inclusion of any particular event or figure, it is this deeply simplistic, often anti-historical approach that presents the greatest obstacle to Texas students learning how the past can inform contemporary problems and debates.
…This approach fails to teach students about the often complicated, sometimes painful reality of our nation’s history, with its equal parts violence, dispossession and disenfranchisement and democracy, individual freedoms and justice. More broadly, it does startlingly little to engage or invite students into doing history. If students have tears in their eyes, they are unlikely tears of inspiration so much as boredom.