Steve Benen has had his eye on the Texas Board of Education:
The Texas Board of Education has put together a six-member committee to help develop new curriculum standards for social studies classes and textbooks. It’s not going well.
The board picked, among others, an evangelical minister named Peter Marshall to help shape the standards, as well as Republican activist David Barton, a pseudo-historian and religious right celebrity who gives speeches about the United States being founded as a “Christian nation.”
One of their first tasks: downplaying the contributions of civil rights leaders.
“Civil rights leaders Cesar Chavez and Thurgood Marshall — whose names appear on schools, libraries, streets and parks across the U.S. — are given too much attention in Texas social studies classes, conservatives advising the state on curriculum standards say.
“To have Cesar Chavez listed next to Ben Franklin” — as in the current standards — “is ludicrous,” wrote evangelical minister Peter Marshall, one of six experts advising the state as it develops new curriculum standards for social studies classes and textbooks. David Barton, president of Aledo-based WallBuilders, said in his review that Chavez, a Hispanic labor leader, “lacks the stature, impact and overall contributions of so many others.”
Marshall also questioned whether Thurgood Marshall, who argued the landmark case that resulted in school desegregation and was the first black U.S. Supreme Court justice, should be presented to Texas students as an important historical figure. He wrote that the late justice is “not a strong enough example” of such a figure.”
This is bound to help Republicans with their outreach to minority communities, right? It’s quite a message to voters in Texas — Vote GOP: the party that thinks civil rights leaders get too much credit.
Barton went on to say the state curriculum should ignore the contributions of Anne Hutchinson, a New England pioneer and early advocate of women’s rights and religious freedom, and argued that Texas social studies books should discuss “republican” values, not “democratic” ones.
It’s unclear how successful the far-right activists will be in shaping the eventual policy, but remember, what happens in Texas doesn’t necessarily stay in Texas. Textbook publishers are reluctant to create different materials for different states, and when one big customer makes specific demands, the frequent result is changes to textbooks nationwide.
“Texas high school students would learn about such significant individuals and milestones of conservative politics as Newt Gingrich and the rise of the Moral Majority — but nothing about liberals — under the first draft of new standards for public school history textbooks. […]
The first draft for proposed standards in United States History Studies Since Reconstruction says students should be expected “to identify significant conservative advocacy organizations and individuals, such as Newt Gingrich, Phyllis Schlafly and the Moral Majority.””
A Democratic state lawmaker said, as it stands, Texas students would get “one-sided, right wing ideology.” He added, “We ought to be focusing on historical significance and historical figures. It’s important that whatever course they take, that it portray a complete view of our history and not a jaded view to suit one’s partisan agenda or one’s partisan philosophy.”
That certainly sounds reasonable, but this is the Texas Board of Education we’re talking about.
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.
And let’s also not forget that these indoctrination efforts may have broader implications. As we talked about in July, what happens in Texas doesn’t necessarily stay in Texas. Textbook publishers are reluctant to create different materials for different states, and when one big customer makes specific demands, the frequent result is changes to textbooks nationwide.
Dana Goldstein adds that this reinforces the value in national curriculum standards, an idea pushed by the National Governors’ Association and supported by the Obama administration. “If 46 states can come together around core standards, it means a populous, outlier state like Texas will have less influence over textbook manufacturers,” Dana noted.
As for those deeply concerned about the politicization of America’s classrooms, I’m sure the right-wing critics of the president’s stay-in-school message will be quick to denounce the conservative efforts in Texas. Any minute now.
Justin Elliot at TPM:
Approved textbooks, the standards say, must teach the Texan student to “identify significant conservative advocacy organizations and individuals, such as Newt Gingrich, Phyllis Schlafly, and the Moral Majority.” No analogous liberal figures or groups are required, prompting protests from some legislators and committee members. (Read an excerpt here.)
The standards on Nixon: “describe Richard M. Nixon’s role in the normalization of relations with China and the policy of detente.”
On Reagan: “describe Ronald Reagan’s role in restoring national confidence, such as Reaganomics and Peace with Strength.” (That’s it.)
The Cold War section is rendered as “U.S. responses to Soviet aggression after World War II … ”
The state board of education, made up of 10 Republicans and five Democrats, has to vote on the standards twice in the coming months before they would go into effect.
Here’s what makes this a national story: what happens in Texas doesn’t stay in Texas, says Diane Ravitch, professor of education at NYU.
That’s because Texas is one of the two states with the largest student enrollments, along with California. “The publishers vie to get their books adopted for them, and the changes that are inserted to please Texas and California are then part of the textbooks made available to every other state,” says Ravitch, who wrote a book about the politics of textbooks.
Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute explains it as a simple economic calculation by the big textbook publishers. “Publishers are generally reticent to run two different versions of a textbook,” he says. “You can imagine the headache the expense the logistics, the storage, all of it.”
But don’t start saving for private school tuition just yet. A spokeswoman for the Texas State Board of Education tells TPMmuckraker the board will have to pass the standards first in January, in a “first reading and filing authorization vote,” and then in March in a final vote, before they would go into effect. In an article on the controversy in the Houston Chronicle, one of the conservative leaders on the board actually predicted the standards will pass at least the first vote.
This one bears close watching.
Josh Marshall at TPM
Dana Goldstein at Tapped:
This story reminds us why the new push for national curriculum standards — led by the bipartisan National Governors’ Association and supported by the Obama administration — is so important. Texas, unsurprisingly, is one of just four states choosing not to participate in that project. The others are Alaska, Missouri, and South Carolina. If 46 states can come together around core standards, it means a populous, outlier state like Texas will have less influence over textbook manufacturers. And if this curriculum passes, that will be a very good thing.
Lee Fang at Think Progress
James Moore at Huffington Post
UPDATE: More from Justin Elliott at TPM
UPDATE #2: Mariah Blake at Washington Monthly
UPDATE #3: More Elliott
UPDATE #4: Russell Shorto at NYT Magazine
Razib Khan at Secular Right
UPDATE #5: James McKinley in NYT
Pareene at Gawker
UPDATE #6: Henry Rollins in Vanity Fair
Peter Hannaford at Human Events
Polimom at Moderate Voice
UPDATE #7: Sam Tanenhaus at NYT
Daniel McCarthy at The American Conservative
UPDATE #8: Steven Thomma at McClatchy
UPDATE #9: Justin Elliott at TPM
UPDATE #10: Huffington Post