“We are a Christian nation founded on Christian principles. The way I evaluate history textbooks is first I see how they cover Christianity and Israel. Then I see how they treat Ronald Reagan — he needs to get credit for saving the world from communism and for the good economy over the last 20 years because he lowered taxes.”
— Dr. Don McLeroy, chairman of the Texas Board of Education
One of the goals of those involved with Coming to the Table and Traces of the Trade/Inheriting the Trade is to rewrite history. More accurately stated, we are committed to supporting efforts to update school curricula to include all of the rich stories throughout our history that went into the making of the United States; many of which have been hidden and/or buried–the result of which has been that many generations of students have been given a false picture of our nation’s history, and consequently, a false picture of who we are today.
Recently-deceased historian Howard Zinn went a long way toward beginning to address this lack of completeness and truth with the 1980 publication of A People’s History of the United States. Many additional important books have been written in the past few decades that address the history that has long been hidden. I encourage you to watch the DVD (available on Netflix where we watched just last week) of The People Speak. This wonderful documentary, with performances by Viggo Mortensen, Sandra Oh, Sean Penn, Rosario Dawson, Don Cheadle, John Legend, Bruce Springsteen,and others, portrays the rich history of dissent in the United States, and explores why it is so relevant and urgent today.
Now, according to the Dallas Morning News, the State Board of Education in Texas has voted to rewrite history in a different way. Why should the rest of the country even care what a few ultra-conservative folks in Texas foist upon their school children? Because of these realities:
The standards will remain in place for the next decade, dictating what is taught in all Texas schools and providing the basis for future textbooks and achievement tests.
Texas standards often wind up being copied in other states because national publishers tailor their materials to Texas, one of the nation’s biggest textbook publishers.
Concerned yet? You should be. Here’s one example of what just went down:
In a decision split along party and ethnic lines, Republicans rejected a move by the panel’s five Democrats – all minorities – to require that history standards include by name the Tejanos who died in the fall of the Alamo, 174 years ago this month.
In other words, school children will continue to learn about the “great white men” who built this country and will not learn about people of color who fought and died beside them.
Text books will be modified to teach high school students about leading conservative groups from the 1980s and 1990s, but not about liberal or minority rights groups. Fair and balanced it is not. History teachers and textbooks will not be required to provide coverage about Senatior Edward Kennedy and new Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, but President Ronald Reagan will be elevated to more prominent coverage.
I strongly encourage you to take a few minutes and read the New York Times story about what looks likely to be adopted by the Texas Board of Education in May after a 30-day period of public comment.
Battles over what to put in science and history books have taken place for years in the 20 states where state boards must adopt textbooks, most notably in California and Texas. But rarely in recent history has a group of conservative board members left such a mark on a social studies curriculum.
Don’t mess with Texas? Wrong. This is definitely the time to Mess with Texas.
UPDATE: March 18. Jon Stewart weighs in pointedly, ironically, and hilariously, with his “Don’t Mess With Textbooks” segment from last night’s “The Daily Show.” Watch it here.