The Texas Textbook Tussle, cont’d

THE TEXAS TEXTBOOK TUSSLE, CONT’D…. Over the last several months, the Monthly has been keeping an eye on the Texas Board of Education, which has been working on a social studies curricula steeped in conservative Republican ideology. It’s a rather remarkable story: board members — 10 Republicans to 5 Democrats — have recommended downplaying the contributions of civil rights leaders, minimizing an “emphasis on multiculturalism,” and trying to “exonerate” Joe McCarthy.

The first draft of the standards mandated that Texans be taught to “identify significant conservative advocacy organizations and individuals” — with no comparable progressive leaders or groups.

The ridiculous crusade continues apace.

The conservative bloc on the Texas State Board of Education won a string of victories Friday, obtaining approval for an amendment requiring high school U.S. history students to know about Phyllis Schlafly and the Contract with America as well as inserting a clause that aims to justify McCarthyism.

Outspoken conservative board member Don McLeroy, who reportedly spent over three hours personally proposing changes to the textbook standards, even wanted to cut “hip-hop” in favor of “country” in a section about the impact of cultural movements. That amendment failed.

The board also voted to delay further debate on the nationally influential standards until March, with a final adoption vote now scheduled for May.

In the meantime, the draft curriculum is practically a parody of itself. Students, for example, will be asked to “describe the causes and key organizations and individuals of the conservative resurgence of the 1980s and 1990s, including Phyllis Schafly, the Contract with America, the Heritage Foundation, the Moral Majority, and the National Rifle Association.” The proposed standards mandate lessons on McCarthyism include “discussions” on “confirmed suspicions of communist infiltration in U.S. government.”

References to the word “imperialism” were replaced with “expansionism.” Ironically enough, Republican board members also demanded that references to “propaganda” in a section on World War I be removed .

The Texas Freedom Network, an Austin-based group which monitors public education in Texas, complained about “blatant politicization of social studies curriculum.” The TFN’s Kathy Miller added, “When partisan politicians take a wrecking ball to the work of teachers and scholars, you get a document that looks more like a party platform than a social studies curriculum.”

There may be a temptation for those of us outside Texas to dismiss this as a localized setback for knowledge and modernity, which will undermine schools in the Lone Star State. But let’s not forget, as Mariah Blake explains in the new print edition of the Monthly, Texans won’t be the only ones who suffer as a result of this board’s ignorance and ideological agenda: “McLeroy and his ultraconservative crew have unparalleled power to shape the textbooks that children around the country read for years to come.”