Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Texas, School Texts, and Historical Revisionism

Texas social conservatives on the State's board of education are attempting to push through a mandated revision of school textbooks that are clearly imbued with ideological bias.

Among the recommendations facing a final vote: adding language saying the country's Founding Fathers were guided by Christian principles and including positive references to the Moral Majority, the National Rifle Association and the GOP’s Contract with America.

Other amendments to the state's curriculum standards for kindergarten through 12th grade would minimize Thomas Jefferson's role in world and U.S. history because he advocated the separation of church and state; require that students learn about "the unintended consequences" of affirmative action; assert that "the right to keep and bear arms" is an important element of a democratic society; and rename the slave trade to the "Atlantic triangular trade.”
First, what does it mean to include "positive" references to anything? Why not just teach facts and let the "positive" or "negative" dimensions of them surface accordingly. The need to spin things implies that they need spinning, that they can't stand on their own merits. And the spinning of things also implies imbuing history with a non-neutral ideological character. How would anti-abortion conservatives like it if Roe v. Wade were presented with a "positive" reference as opposed to a factual and ideologically neutral reference?

Second, why would anyone ever try to "minimize" the role of one of our founding fathers in world and U.S. history strictly because of his thinking on one particular issue? It seems to me that we ought to take Thomas Jefferson as he is, and not whitewash him to fit a particular ideological agenda on a controversial subject. But the absurdity of the movement to restructure a curriculum according to an ideologically driven agenda, as opposed to a factual agenda is no more evident than in the ludicrous effort to call the Atlantic slave trade the "Atlantic triangular trade." Huh? What the heck does the "Atlantic triangular trade" mean? That the trading of geometrical shapes took place in the Atlantic? That Atlantic trading followed a triangular trade route? Sheesh! The Atlantic slave trade is a friggin' historical reality. But I have no friggin' clue what an Atlantic "triangular" trade is!

If nothing more, what we see here is evidence of a movement not dedicated to objective truth in education, but to historical revisionism cloaked in political ideology. It's sad and disturbing. Like the whole upset over "ethnic studies," this story demonstrates again what I think is a last-gasp convulsive reaction, rooted in fear, to the inevitable and unstoppable evolution of American culture and identity away from a particular homogenous mythology. The culture and identity of America ain't what it was 50 years ago, or 100 years ago. And no amount of revision to school textbooks is gonna change that.


eric said...

Some of this I just don't get, and some of it I think is a shortsighted effort to correct some real problems in how information is currenlty presented in many schools. And some of it is fine with me. Thomas Jefferson, for example, is my favorite Founding Father, but his thoughts on religion are too often treated as representative of the views of the majority in his time, when in fact they were not. And his importance as a player on the world stage is not as significant as his importance on the American stage, which is something the curriculum addresses, I believe.

The country's Founding Father's WERE heavily influenced by Christian principles, and that is certianly worth studying and knowing about.

I don't understand the Atlantic Triangular Trade thing... we were taught about that in school, and it is fundamental to understanding the relationship between America and Europe at the time, but there is no way to teach it without a broad discussion of the topic of slavery, particularly the cruelty imposed on the African slaves during the long sea transits and at the slave auctions. I don't know why the emphasis needs to be made on the triangular trade, unless perhaps it is just not taught anymore and they are trying to make sure it returns to the curriculum.

The stuff about positive referecnces to the Moral Majority, NRA, Contract With America, etc... I agree you there. The should just present the facts pertaining to these orgnaizations (and I'm not sure the Moral Majority rates highly enough to even be included in

There are some other changes I find troublling, such as the replacement of 'capitalism' with 'free enterprise'... but at the end of the day this is Texas's business, not mine. My kid will know what capitalism is, what Thomas Jefferson believed and what his role was, and what significance Christianity served in the thinking of our Founding Fathers... not because it is her textbook, but beacuae we talk about what she learns at school and I add to, ammend, and expound on those issues. She will learn those things because it is my job as a parent to make sure she learns them.

slapstick said...

While I personally would have no problems teaching my own kids these things in this manner, I dont like schools taking it upon themselves to do this.

With that said I would like to ask why you didnt present the other side of the story. Do you honestly believe that people in Texas just randomly came up with this idea of changing things out of the blue? Or do you think it might be in some sort of retort to certain misinformation that has been out there for years? Hmmm....

The bottom line is that people in Texas have different values, cultures, and beliefs than people in say, California. They should be able to teach their children anything they want to teach them. If the info is good, then they will prosper, if its bad, then they will suffer.

Huck said...

Eric - I have no problems teaching that the founding fathers were influenced by Christianity. That is a matter of historical fact. Notice that I didn't object to this in my posting. My objection to the whole thing about Thomas Jefferson is not that he is taken as a spokesperson for a larger, majority vision, when this actually wasn't the case, but simply that we should know Jefferson as he is, not as we think he should be, by highlighting one aspect of his views over another. If that means teaching that Jefferson may have been in an intellectual minority at the time, so be it; but that should not mean presenting only those elements of who he is that reflect where his life and work coincided with the intellectual majority.

Though I agree with you that Texas's business is their business, I don't think it's all that simple. It is worth noting that what Texas does impacts all of us. The article talks about the impact that this will have on textbook publishers in ways that may limit the freedom of other states who may not have the economic muscle to contend with this. We do live in a "United" States of America, and so it behooves us to place federalism within its proper limits. There are some things Texas shouldn't be allowed to do because it lessens the quality of life and liberties of other Americans in other places. I'm sure you can think of some examples of this.

eric said...

"The article talks about the impact that this will have on textbook publishers in ways that may limit the freedom of other states who may not have the economic muscle to contend with this."

To which I'd respond that there is not a state in the union that can't afford to get textbooks printed up according to their own educational standards, although based on their economy of scale they may have to pay more for those books than does Texas.
Maybe they'll have to use the textbooks until they are extremely worn. Maybe they can group with similar states to come up with a standard acceptable to all of them and then use their higher numbers to negotiate for better prices. But to say that they are forced to buy the same books as Texas is a cop-out. That is not a matter of economic muscle, but of prioritization and political will.

" behooves us to place federalism within its proper limits."

Agreed. Luckily, the Constituion does just that. Texas is absolutely within their Constitutional rights to do this, even if I don't fully support the changes they are making.

eric said...

One comment I would make, Huck, is that I believe the Federal government has the right to withhold education dollars from Texas if they don't like the content and quality of their educational goals there. I don't support having the federal governmetn involved in education at all, but if they are going to be, it stands to reason that they can put strings on the money they spread around.

Huck said...

Eric - You're absolutely right on the ability of states to respond to whatever the impacts Texas's decision might have. My only point was to note that what Texas does is not just Texas's business, because its impacts to travel beyond its borders. For this reason, I think it's quite appropriate for folks in other states to react to Texas's decisions and even to contest them or try to change them such as they might. Just like tea partiers from Mississippi can donate to or campaign for Marco Rubio in Florida, or just like I can donate to or campaign for movements to overturn the State of Arizona's new ethnic studies ban, folks in other states who worry about increased textbook prices can push against the Texas State Board of Education to try to prevent this from happening. States' rights doesn't mean folks who live in other states just have to sit back and take whatever Texas decides without getting involved themselves in the issue to try to influence or change this decision.

slapstick said...

I think Eric is 100% correct in the above posts. Very well said.

Sure, Huck. People in other states should have every right in the world to react, complain, whine, or do ritual sacrifices in protest of what Texas is doing. That doesnt mean that Texas has to acknowledge them though.

slapstick said...

And I agree 100% that the federal government has NO BUSINESS in our school system. The Federal Dept of Education is a GREAT first step in reducing the size of government by getting rid of it.