Texas does a disservice to students -- and to history

March 26, 2010|By Bill Warshaw

The Texas State Board of Education recently recommended sweeping alterations for the textbooks it buys, casting American history in a more conservative light. As Texas is the largest single consumer of textbooks because of the nature of its statewide book ordering system, its standards are adopted by the publishing companies, and thus any changes it makes are made to the textbooks that 80 percent of American students read. The changes are typical of Fox News/Glenn Beck extreme-right bias, which is to be expected from a board dominated by ultraconservatives. As a high school student, I find the consequences of this adulteration of history terrifying.

The changes include Latino history and culture being covered meagerly at best; third-party candidates such as Ross Perot and Ralph Nader not being mentioned; Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson being cited as an example of effective leadership; and McCarthyism being given a more positive portrayal. Thomas Jefferson is no longer mentioned as a writer who influenced the intellectual origins of America -- apparently due in large part to his espousal of separation between church and state. He is replaced by the likes of Thomas Aquinas and John Calvin.

The board also refused to require that "students learn that the Constitution prevents the U.S. government from promoting one religion over all others" and rebuffed numerous attempts to include hip-hop as a cultural movement. Aspersions are even cast upon affirmative action and Title IX; the curriculum recommends speaking of their negative "unintended consequences." There are many other alterations, all of which support the conservative movement, soften harsh terminology and marginalize that which is anathema to conservatives. This new curriculum is overbearingly Christian and conveniently ignores minority contributions in almost every major arena. And it is about to be force-fed to much of America's youth.

The Texas board claims to be well-versed in history, but by taking steps tantamount to whitewashing history it reveals the depths of its ignorance. The conservative movement here has taken steps emblematic of that which it most fears: the "cleansing" of history that is a hallmark of totalitarian regimes. The Soviet Union under Stalin, for example, was notorious for altering history to suit its whims. Whitewashing history is one of the first major steps toward a totalitarian system.

It's frightening that a textbook company would even consider adopting these alterations, depriving American students of basic historical knowledge in exchange for money. It really speaks to the character of our society and businesses today, where money is king, regardless of the ramifications. Adam Smith's invisible hand of self-interest is obviously at work, but its shortsightedness guides our society toward historical ignorance. Any textbook company considering these "revisions" ought to be ashamed of itself.

Conservatives, especially, should be frightened by this rewrite of the past and the path upon which it has put us, but they don't understand that which they presume to control: history. The Texas State Board of Education obviously doesn't intend for America to become an authoritarian nation; the members likely have sincere if misguided intentions, promulgating Christian values and righting what they perceive as the liberal slant currently found in history books. Misguided intentions often result in great harm, however, and this is no exception.

The members of the Texas board should read a history book sometime before trying to write one.

Bill Warshaw is a senior at Catonsville High School. His e-mail is bwarshaw31992@yahoo.com.

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