The recent decision by the Texas State Board of Education to revise the state's social studies curriculum seems to have been a successful last stand for an Old Texas mentality being eroded by demographic realities and modern-day business interests.
The changes, which were preliminarily approved last week, are expected to be given final approval by May. The revisions will reach deeply into Texas history classrooms, strictly defining what textbooks must include and what teachers must cover.
The decisions may also have far-reaching consequences beyond the Lone Star State. Because the Texas textbook market is so large and, as historian Eric Foner pointed out in The Nation, the state has a centralized system of assigning texts, books assigned to the state's 4.7 million students often move to the top of the market, presenting economy of scale discounts, which tempt other school systems to buy the same materials.
While conservatives support the decision as adding "balance," many historians (and this blogger who majored in history!) argue that the proposed changes are "historically inaccurate," will greatly harm Texas' students ability to compete, and need to be challenged.
In the new history redefined by the board, discussion of Thomas Jefferson is replaced by French theologian John Calvin, the commitment of the Founding Fathers' to secular government is questioned, reading of Jefferson Davis' inaugural address is required along side discussion of Abraham Lincoln's speeches, and the US system is described as a “constitutional republic,” rather than a "democracy." Moreover, teachers are forbidden to teach that the Constitution says that one religion can't be preferred over another, or that Hispanics died at the Alamo.
Other changes including the hyping of conservative groups like Contract with America and the Heritage Foundation while downplaying the roles of minority groups, environmentalists, labor unions, immigrants and women who refused traditional gender roles. (A note: An estimated 2.3 million children in Texas public school are Hispanic.)
In a letter to the New York Time, Daniel Czitrom, a professor of history at Mount Holyoke College nicely sums up the attitude behind the changes:
“Many conservatives are simply unwilling to accept how much the writing and teaching of American history have changed over the last 40 years. They want an American history that ignores or marginalizes African-Americans, women, Latinos, immigrants and popular culture. They prefer a pseudo-patriotic history that denies the fundamental conflicts that have shaped our past.”
Citizens across Texas concerned about the 10 to 5 board vote are organizing to stop the new changes during the thirty-day public comment period which will begin shortly. In its Just Educate campaign, the Texas Freedom Network is imploring citizens across Texas to sign this petition to urge politicians not to drag schools into the “culture wars.” There is also a letter to Texas Governor Rick Perry, and the social change site Change.org has a petition calling for names. And if you're a Texan, here's how to take part in the official public comment period, as described by the Texas State Board.
A document containing the extensive revisions will be posted on the Texas Education Agency website and posted in the Texas register by mid-April. Once posted, the official 30-day public comment period will begin. At that time, comments with suggested changes to the document can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
This post was researched by Chantal Flores, a Nation intern and freelance writer living in New York City.
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