Texas Thrashes History: Will We Need Honest History Month Now?
By Nordette Adams on March 16, 2010
BlogHer Original Post
The people who keep asking "Is Black History Month still necessary?" may have to concede, thanks to Texas, that months acknowledging the contributions of specific groups may be more necessary than ever now and in the future. In fact, thanks to Texas, we may have to start something called "Honest History Month," 30 days of untwisted education. Yes, this post is about the Texas State Board of Education opting for social studies and history books that stress a conservative world view and how that move will affect your child's education and possibly America's political future.
If you've missed the story, here's a lead from the New York Times:
After three days of turbulent meetings, the Texas Board of Education on Friday approved a social studies curriculum that will put a conservative stamp on history and economics textbooks, stressing the superiority of American capitalism, questioning the Founding Fathers’ commitment to a purely secular government and presenting Republican political philosophies in a more positive light.
That part about the Texas program "questioning the Founding Fathers' commitment to a purely secular government" should disturb you, because it's referring to a belief that there's no such thing as "separation of church and state." Texas made changes, such as removing Thomas Jefferson and replacing him with St. Thomas Aquinas, Sir. William Blackstone and John Calvin. You see, Jefferson is associated with The Age of Enlightenment and "coining the phrase 'separation of church and state,'" per the NYT and other sources.
There's a teaching among Christians, Dominion Theology, that says America is a Christian nation, and therefore its laws may impose Christian moral standards on citizens. Say good-bye, civil rights. Christian moral standards have been used in the past to promote segregation -- saying that black people are cursed by God and deserve to be treated as such (justification for the slave trade), that the head of woman is man (justification for patriarchy) and that only one sexual orientation is acceptable in society (just say "no" to gay marriage). So, condition a generation of children to think that there's no such thing as the separation of church and state and see where that road takes you.
I tossed Black History Month into this discussion because studying why we have BHM and how it came to be offers a lesson in how distorting history can swing opinion about certain groups and influence political decisions. Like so many issues in America, race is a factor in this Texas story, as well. More from NYT:
Efforts by Hispanic board members to include more Latino figures as role models for the state’s large Hispanic population were consistently defeated, prompting one member, Mary Helen Berlanga, to storm out of a meeting late Thursday night, saying, “They can just pretend this is a white America and Hispanics don’t exist.”
“They are going overboard, they are not experts, they are not historians,” she said. “They are rewriting history, not only of Texas but of the United States and the world.”
The conservative Republican proponents of the this new curriculum also tried to remove Thurgood Marshall from its new history book but failed to do so. However, they did manage to give the Black Panther Party nearly equal billing with Martin Luther King, Jr., so children will understand how afraid white people were during the civil rights movement. They want students to see that the movement was not as peaceful as the Martin Luther King, Jr., story makes it appear. Also, so Republicans will stop getting a raw deal on race, space is given to Republicans who supported desegregation.
Right now, we're celebrating Women's History Month, another spotlight on a marginalized group. The Texas curriculum also instructs students about women and equality, giving Phyllis Schafly her space. If you downplay feminism and promote the likes of a Phyllis Schafly more to fill the void, what are you really doing?
They've also attempted to strip the social studies curriculum of the word "capitalism" to define America's economic system and replace it with "free enterprise system" because "capitalism" today has a negative connotation, they say. Furthermore, whenever possible they've replaced "democracy" with "republic." While a great case can be made that America's form of government is technically republican and not democratic, the reasons for the change have far more to do with molding the minds of children toward a specific political paradigm rather than any genuine concern for accuracy.
Joseph McCarthy is also finally given his due -- as not a paranoid man ruining the lives of innocent Americans -- but as a patriot who had good reason to hunt down writers and actors who mentioned communism. White men are also lifted back to their rightful place as the benefactors of women, saviors without whom women would never have gotten the right to vote. After all, women did not vote for that right, men did.
Care to guess how sexual orientation and gender fare?
"Board member Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, objected to a standard for a high school sociology course that addressed the difference between sex and gender. It was eliminated in a 9-to-6 vote. She worried that a discussion of that issue would lead students into the world of 'transvestites, transsexuals and who knows what else.'" (HuffPo slideshow of changes)
All this, the Texas board says, makes American history and social studies more patriotic and fair to a conservative world view.
What we have here is something even more insidious than marginalizing a minority or oppressed group. That deed could be construed sometimes as an oversight. The Texas decision is a calculated effort to change the political landscape, beginning with your child's view. Before you say, "Oh, well, I don't live in Texas, so that doesn't concern me," please consider the following: Texas is so big that its textbook purchases can influence the history books used by other school systems in America, according to CNN, the New York Times and also Gabriel Winant writing at Salon.com. Winant's opinion piece tells why he thinks Texas's decision is dangerous.
In addition to the CNN video, here is an ABC video that I received in e-mail from a fellow blogger. The video is a profile of Dr. Don McElroy, a Republican who has not been re-elected to his seat on the Texas State Board of Education, but whose views and board votes will still impact education for the next 10 years. He takes pride in exercising his power to influence what your children conclude about America. McElroy, however, is not an educator. He is a dentist and self-described fundamentalist Christian who believes this world must be restored to biblical principles.
As you can see, I am not making this story up. Neither am I the only person concerned. Before the legislation passed, Julie, writing at The Mom Slant in February, said "As Texas Goes So Goes the Nation:"
Texas’ state education fund is $22 billion –- one of the largest in the nation. They were also the first to develop statewide curriculum guidelines, which other states use as a model for their own. Textbook publishers tailor their content accordingly to maximize their markets. Curriculum guidelines are reviewed by the state education board –- one subject per year –- and the board is dominated by conservative Christians who actively and unapologetically seek to advance their religious agenda via changes to the curriculum and textbooks.
In essence, a fifteen-member board in Texas makes decisions that directly affect what the majority of public school children in the United States are taught. ... Does that seem wrong to anyone besides me?" (Read more)
While Texas just voted for what they're calling a "more balanced" history, conservative claims that America has been corrupted by liberal spin in education is not new. In July 2008, Leslie Madsen-Brooks, who also blogs at The Clutter Museum, published at BlogHer.com, "Are Liberal Professors Brainwashing Our Youth?" She said "no" and called the notion alarmist.
I think that these Republican and conservative Texans, with a completely different view from Madsen, believe they're doing just that, sounding the alarm against liberal tyranny. I suspect they see themselves as the Paul Reveres of the day.
But let the rest of us wake up, people! Pay attention. These Texas conservatives are employing the strategy of cooking the frog slowly. Should you object, I'm sure Texans who support this curriculum change have a ready answer for you: "States' Rights!"
The bright side: Per CNN and NYT, digital publishing makes it possible for states that don't want to go the way of Texas to design their own textbooks. So, what does that mean? Will we be a nation of dueling histories? Is there no room for an objective telling of actual events?
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