Textbooks in Texas

As Texas goes, so goes public school textbooks in the USA. The debate is about “balance” and about “fair description” of history and about conservatives wanting their point of view in the textbooks, and a Dr. Don McLeroy is a leader in the conservative faction. The issue gets down to specifics. Here’s a clip from the NY Times:

What are your thoughts?

Dr. McLeroy still has 10 months to serve and he, along with rest of the religious conservatives on the board, have vowed to put their mark on the guidelines for social studies texts.

For instance, one guideline requires publishers to include a section on “the conservative resurgence of the 1980s and 1990s, including Phyllis Schlafly, the Contract with America, the Heritage Foundation, the Moral Majority and the National Rifle Association.”

There have also been efforts among conservatives on the board to tweak the history of the civil rights movement. One amendment states that the movement created “unrealistic expectations of equal outcomes” among minorities. Another proposed change removes any reference to race, sex or religion in talking about how different groups have contributed to the national identity.

The amendments are also intended to emphasize the unalloyed superiority of the “free-enterprise system” over others and the desirability of limited government.

One says publishers should “describe the effects of increasing government regulation and taxation on economic development and business planning.”

Throughout the standards, the conservatives have pushed to drop references to American “imperialism,” preferring to call it expansionism. “Country and western music” has been added to the list of cultural movements to be studied.

References to Ralph Nader and Ross Perot are proposed to be removed, while Stonewall Jackson, the Confederate general, is to be listed as a role model for effective leadership, and the ideas in Jefferson Davis’s inaugural address are to be laid side by side with Abraham Lincoln‘s speeches.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • http://arbevere.blogspot.com Allan R. Bevere

    Once again we are reminded that there is no such thing as history without a point of view.

  • Richard

    More importantly, we’re reminded of those who attempt to co-opt scholarship and research in terms of being politically correct, which in Texas apparently means being conservative.

  • http://danielmrose.com Daniel Rose

    And we wonder why emerging generations don’t know their history. This is done by both sides of the coin. Too bad we can’t allow for real and open dialogue in terms of historical narrative. I suppose that might show that both sides of any issue brought positives and negatives. it turns out that we can’t handle such a nebulous concept.

  • http://julieclawson.com Julie Clawson

    Scholarship and research are co-opted by their very nature. What one chooses to study, whose stories we deem important enough to tell, what spin gets put on those stories are just the way history gets done. All history is biased, all history is revisionist, and all textbooks are simply really poor reductions of that biased history. I grew up in Texas public schools and never once heard the South talked about in disparaging terms – in fact there was always lament that we lost the War of Northern Aggression. As we remembered the Alamo, I never once was taught that we were in a war of expansion, aggressively stealing land for ourselves. So I’m not surprised at this new go-round of imposing political opinion on textbooks. I wish different perspectives could be represented, but I know enough to know that if I want my kids broadly educated and not just indoctrinated here, I have to go far beyond the official propaganda that’s classroom approved.

  • Mich

    Why do we always assume our kids aren’t smart enough, critical enough, and intelligent enough to question these interpretations when they read them?

  • JHM

    I haven’t followed this a ton other than a few mainstream news articles I’ve read so I could there could be some bias going on but…
    I’m a conservative Republican “religious right” kind of guy from the rural West who voted for George Bush twice … but this stuff seems to be going too far. Our ideology doesn’t win by remaking history in our image, it wins by honestly and truthfully pursing persuasive arguments.
    I’m concerned about this “He who controls the school board, controls History” idea. It makes a local school board a religious and political debate and education because a minor focus. School boards should be making sure they are getting textbooks from high-quality authors, not dictating what “really happened” to whoever is willing to write whatever they want.

  • Cory

    History is told from points of view for sure. I find the idea of portraying the civil rights movement as a foretaste of socialism to be poor judgment. As a Texan – a Christian one at that – I wish we could overcome our fear of what might happen if our kids learn certain things in schools. And as a parent of a kindergartener I feel the responsibility of teaching my kids what I believe to be true. If it contradicts with what they learn at school, fine. In some ways, good. In all these debates I think we’ve lost the art of teaching our kids how to think.

  • http://communityofjesus.wordpress.com/ Ted M. Gossard

    I can’t win quite often, in trying to leave a comment.
    Of course all history is biased, as Allan says. I wonder if they’ll include President Reagan’s joke about cutting down the redwoods. And the overall dismal record- I say- of the Republican party on the environment. Or at least the controversies along those lines.

  • http://theoreflec.blogspot.com Pat

    This takes my breath away (and not in a good way). As an African-American, I’m appalled to hear that expectations of equal outcomes is unrealistic. Where is the godly hope?

  • R Hampton

    March 11, 2010
    9:30 – Board member Cynthia Dunbar wants to change a standard having students study the impact of Enlightenment ideas on political revolutions from 1750 to the present. She wants to . She adds Thomas Aquinas and others. Jefferson’s ideas, she argues, were based on other political philosophers listed in the standards. We don’t buy her argument at all. Board member Bob Craig of Lubbock points out that the curriculum writers clearly wanted to students to study Enlightenment ideas and Jefferson. Could Dunbar’s problem be that Jefferson was a Deist? The board approves the amendment, taking Thomas Jefferson OUT of the world history standards.
    9:40 – We’re just picking ourselves up off the floor. The board’s far-right faction has spent months now proclaiming the importance of emphasizing America’s exceptionalism in social studies classrooms. But today they voted to remove one of the greatest of America’s Founders, Thomas Jefferson, from a standard about the influence of great political philosophers on political revolutions from 1750 to today.
    9:51 – with the votes of the board’s far-right members and board member Geraldine “Tincy” Miller of Dallas.
    http://tfninsider.org/2010/03/11/blogging-the-social-studies-debate-iv/

  • R Hampton

    Correction, the 9:30 entry should read:
    …She wants to drop the reference to Enlightenment ideas (replacing with “the writings of”) and to Thomas Jefferson. She adds Thomas Aquinas and others…

  • R Hampton

    And 9:51 should read:
    Dunbar’s amendment striking Jefferson passed with the votes…

  • Your Name

    Equal expectation of Opourtunity. The outcomes will be deteermined by the individual. Everyone cannot finish first.

  • Chuck

    The piece that you linked to was one of the most biased that I have read yet. I live in Texas, and if you listen to most of the mainstream press it sounds like the only problem on the SBOE is the dastardly conservatives who are trying to poison education with their stupidity. Where is the balanced reporting on this? The fact is that the Board is made up of both strident conservatives and liberals, the latter of which see the world through the lens of political correctness. That take on history is as poisonous as the other can be.

  • ChrisB

    Is there any chance the NYT has it wrong? Fox has had to apologize for some of its coverage of this issue.
    Yes, there is a battle over certain liberal vs conservative hot button issues. And sometimes the conservatives (and liberals) go too far — sometimes, I think, just to tweak each others’ noses.
    That said, while one side wants to insist all the founders were devout Christians, the other side wants to pretend religion played no part in anything but the Salem witch trials. There are nuts on each side, but calmer heads generally prevail, even in Texas.

  • Jeremy

    It is entirely possible that there is only one group openly and unabashedly trying to push an ideological agenda, which is going to make for some lopsided reporting. Bias is impossible to escape, but when you abandon all pretense, “balanced” is no longer really possible.

  • Scot McKnight

    Chuck, thanks for that reminder. I saw the article, clipped what I thought would be a good portal for discussion … and we’re having that. I’d like to hear your thoughts.

  • http://arbevere.blogspot.com Alan R. Bevere

    I think the words of Chris B (#15) are worth noting. There are nuts on both sides who must not be allowed to drive the discussion. The eddys and currents of history are often much more complex than the partisan extremes want to acknowledge.

  • Dave

    Whoever left the comment that says “Equal expectation of Opourtunity. The outcomes will be determined by the individual. Everyone cannot finish first.”
    That is true at the individual level, but not at the race level unless you believe that each race has different potentials (for whatever reason). It is reprehensible to suggest that as a race, different people have inherently limited outcome potential other than through artificial means. That is the whole point.
    The whole point of equal opportunity is to strive to have equal outcome possibilities. If we are not achieving them yet it is because we have not achieved our objective yet, not because they can’t.

  • Chuck

    Scot,
    Thanks for responding to my post. For the sake of brevity I would refer to Chris B’s comment at #15. It is a good summary. Numerous center rights and center lefts with a few extremes on each side. What has offended me is this whole process is being portrayed as an attempted hijacking of education on the part of fundamentalists Christians. They are there, but there are hijackers on each side. It simply saddens (and at times angers) me that there appears to be so little balanced reporting out there.
    Your blog is one of few that I check every day. Press on in your love and faithfulness to the Lord.
    Grace and peace.

  • MatthewS

    Terms like ultraconservative and far-right seem less than objective. They quote the objections from Democrats (who are neither ultraliberal or far-left) but no rationale from the far-right ultraconservatives. I readily admit being troubled by a refusal to acknowledge Tejanos dying alongside Davy Crockett. But describing the US as a “constitutional republic” and describing the abandonment of the gold standard hardly seem like a hijacking of the educational process.
    Regarding ChrisB at #15 –
    I was actually marked wrong on a test once on a multiple choice test. I was supposed to show which items had contributed to the Salem Witch Trials. Acceptable answers: male dominance and economic oppression. Unacceptable answer: religion, even just as a contribution factor. Religion was not a factor at all – didn’t play any role whatsoever. Mainly, it was just male dominance by males who would readily murder females to stay in power. That was not the easiest class…
    From the same class: Abraham Lincoln was a dishonest glory-hound. He didn’t like slaves more than anybody else and he didn’t care for them going free. But he could see it was going to happen, so he signed the proclamation in order to take the glory for what was already happening. It was a ploy for fame.

  • Jeff Doles

    Politically correct curriculum, whether conservative or liberal, points up one of the problems of State-run education.

  • RJS

    Not so easily dismissed Jeff – politically correct curriculum, whether conservative or liberal, is one of the big forces behind homeschooling and many private schools as well.

  • Scot McKnight

    Jeff, is “politically correct” a pejorative or a descriptive term? It might refer to sensitivities in a tolerant society, the tolerance on which our religious freedoms stand.

  • J.A.R.

    I was shocked on vacation when my daughter told us her friend, the daughter of the couple we were with, didn’t believe in dinosaurs because they weren’t in the Bible. They both were in 7th grade at the time, but at different schools. Mine at a private independent college-prep school, theirs at a private Christian school.
    I don’t see the insertion of conservatism into Texas textbooks as nearly as large an issue as the insertion of Christianity, because conservative Christianity for all intents and purposes means a rejection of science.
    And any kid that grows up with an education that teaches, among other things, that there weren’t dinosaurs has suffered a flawed education that will hurt them for a long long time.
    On the other hand, it’s good for my child because it means less competition for the best colleges. So maybe I’m OK with Texas.

  • Richard

    As a follow up to the thread. Here are two particular quotes from the AP write-up on the issue that I read this morning and found particularly disturbing in its revision:
    “Thomas Jefferson no longer included among writers influencing the nation’s intellectual origins. Jefferson, a deist who helped pioneer the legal theory of the separation of church and state, is not a model founder in the board’s judgment. Among the intellectual forerunners to be highlighted in Jefferson’s place: medieval Catholic philosopher St. Thomas Aquinas, Puritan theologian John Calvin and conservative British law scholar William Blackstone. Heavy emphasis is also to be placed on the founding fathers having been guided by strict Christian beliefs.”
    “A recommendation to include country and western music among the nation’s important cultural movements. The popular black genre of hip-hop is being dropped from the same list.”
    “A reduced scope for Latino history and culture. A proposal to expand such material in recognition of Texas’ rapidly growing Hispanic population was defeated in last week’s meetings—provoking one board member, Mary Helen Berlanga, to storm out in protest. “They can just pretend this is a white America and Hispanics don’t exist,” she said of her conservative colleagues on the board. “They are rewriting history, not only of Texas but of the United States and the world.”
    Link: http://news.yahoo.com/s/ynews/ynews_ts1253
    Thankfully this isn’t the final vote, which comes in May after the opportunity for the public to weigh in.


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