When the 15-member Texas State Board of Education voted preliminarily last Friday on streamlining cuts to the state’s social studies curriculum, it made its usual splash. The verdict: Moses (whose “principles of laws and government institutions informed the American founding documents”), the “heroic” defenders of the Alamo and the “Arab rejection of the State of Israel” as the source of Middle East conflict stay in. Hillary Clinton and Helen Keller are out.
…Since 1917, when Texas law authorized the state board to purchase textbooks for all of its schools, a small group of people has held a great deal of power over what young Texans learn and how. And that group of people, largely non-educators, has long been influenced by conservative activist groups.
In the early 1920s, religious conservatives, including the Klan, induced the state board to forbid references to evolution in Texas textbooks.
…Today, in a changed political atmosphere, liberals still lack voice on the state board. Democrats occupy just five of 15 seats. Most members lack any public school teaching experience.
And all of this has a deep national impact. Even with the adoption of the Common Core State Standards elsewhere, 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. [emphasis: Peanut Gallery]
…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 [American] 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.