Thursday, March 18, 2010

Yesterday 2.0: Texas Department of Education approves a new Conservative History curriculum

Back in July of 2009, I began writing about the Texas Department of Education's efforts to rewrite the history of the United States. While that may sound preposterous, it is actually quite feasible because you see, Texas is in a privileged position. As the Nation's single largest purchaser of Textbooks, no publisher wants to release a text book that they can't sell in Texas. So the standards that the Texas Department of Education agrees on, tend to make their way into the textbooks and schools all around the Country.

Generally the work of determining standards had been left to educators and historians, but fairly recently Texas began to politicize the process. This was done when the Texas Department of Education appointed a panel of 6 "experts" to help guide the process; 3 of whom were political and social conservative activists.

Not surprisingly, one of their first targets for re-visioning was the history of the Civil Rights movement. Evangelical Minister Peter Marshall, one of the 6 special appointees, 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. But while Thurgood Marshall did finally make the cut, the Board went on to approve an amendment saying students should study “the unintended consequences” of the Great Society legislation, affirmative action and Title IX legislation. More specifically that the text should mirror their belief that the Civil Rights Movement and these types of programs created an "unrealistic expectation of equal outcomes."

Along with deemphasizing the role and influence of the Civil Rights movement, the board also seeks to dilute and discredit the moral rectitude of the movement by expanding it's teaching to include what they refer to as the "violent philosophy" of the Black Panthers. Apparently the board doesn't see the need to distinguish between the Civil Rights Movement, Nationalist Movements, or Religious Movements... all "black social-movementy stuff" will be abridged into a general section on 'Civil Rights' which will now be taught as a jumbled mess of conflicting goals and strategies that had questionable outcomes.

They also included a plank to ensure that students learn about "the conservative resurgence of the 1980s and 1990s", including the Heritage Foundation, the "Moral Majority", the NRA, and the Contract with America. Yes, the Contract with America; more than half of which was taken right from Ronald Reagan's 1985 State of the Union speech, will now be taught as a foundational moment in American History -- unlike Thomas Jefferson and his 1802 letter to the Dansbury Baptists...

Thomas Jefferson, the wonderfully conflicted slave-owning founder and idealist who once remarked, "I tremble for my nation when I reflect that God is just, and that justice can not sleep forever", will be removed from the cannon of American philosophers and replaced with the French theologian John Calvin. Calvin who once remarked, "Yet consider now, whether women are not quite past sense and reason, when they want to rule over men."

This is a PIVOTAL shift in the teaching of American History because it was Thomas Jefferson in that letter to the Dansbury Baptists who actually authored the phrase and advanced the argument that the First Amendment of the Constitution created "a wall of Separation between Church and State". For THIS reason, he is being excised from the history of American Philosophy and replaced with a 14th Century French Theologian.

I had an opportunity to read through a draft of the new standards and noted these items of interest: Figures like Ida B Wells and WEB DuBois are now to be discussed in a conversation about the impact of "Muckrakers" in history. President Truman's decision to drop an Atomic Bomb on Japan will no longer be taught. Instead students will now learn only about the development of Atomic weapons. General Benjamin O. Davis has been scratched from the list of WWII Military Leaders of consequence. Students will be offered a tacit defense of McCarthyism in a discussion about the "confirmed suspicions about Communist infiltration in US Government." Shirley Chislom and Franklin Roosevelt have been scratched from the discussion on significant political and social leaders. And most amazingly, they will teach students how "interpretations of History may change over time" and that thinking critically means that they should evaluate the validity of a historical source by considering, among other factors, the author's point of view

Efforts by Hispanic board members to include more Latino figures as role models for the state’s large Hispanic population were also frustrated, prompting one member, Mary Helen Berlanga, to storm out of a meeting late Thursday night, saying, “They can just pretend this is a white America and Hispanics don’t exist.”

Board member Mary Helen Berlanga attempted but failed to gain recognition for Tejanos (original Texas-born Mexicans) who fell at the Alamo. She said the standards also ignore the Ku Klux Klan in Texas, Texas Rangers killing innocent Mexican-Americans, and the army’s role in annihilating the American Indian.

Even more foundational and telling is the fact that the new standards will no longer refer to America as a Democracy (too close to the word Democratic -- as in 'party'). America will now be referred to only as a Constitutional Republic (much closer to the word Republican -- as in 'party') -- don't fool yourself; it really IS that political and that shallow...

Now don't misunderstand me, I have NO problem with adding facts to our telling and teaching of history. History at its best is history at its most comprehensive. But when we engage in omissions, re-visioning, and the insertions of opinions as facts, then what is produced can no longer be referred to as History.

History is not 'yours' or 'mine', it is not black or white, and it is neither conservative nor liberal. History is simply the unbiased record of what happened. How you feel about it is not a part of the 'History'. Who you respect or disagree with is not a part of the "History". You can not elevate your position in the story and still call it History. You can not diminish your opponents in the story and still call it History. This is the Unmaking of history; what they're offering is just a story...

Here are just a few of the things they're NOT teaching (right from the top of my head):

  • The establishment of the 'Black Codes' and the Origin of Jim Crow - which were Major legislative movements in the country.
  • The History of Lynching in America which was foundational to the American Civil Rights movement.
  • The rise of the Ku Klux Klan as a National fraternal organization in 1915 and their prominent membership throughout governmental and law enforcement agencies.
  • The destruction of 'Black Wall Street' - Tulsa OK, 1921 -- which was the single largest act of domestic terrorism in American History until the Oklahoma City bombing.
  • The American Eugenics movement, Medical Experimentation such as the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment, forced sterilizations, and the foundational relationship and multiple connections between the American Eugenics movement and the German Nazi party. 
  • How America's racial attitudes led to German Prisoners of War being afforded meals and accommodations that were denied to Black soldiers.
  • The omission of the accomplishments and innovations of Blacks, such as Charles Drew who invented the methods of preserving Blood plasma, invented the refrigerated "blood mobiles" used in times of war, supervised the "Blood for Britain" campaign, and even headed the American Red Cross Blood Drive for the Army and Navy, until he refused to segregate blood by the race of the donors. At which time he was fired and subsequently written out of the history books.
  • The 'King Alfred plan', Cointelpro, and the FBI's long and documented history of surveilling, infiltrating, undermining, disrupting, and destabilizing black organizations. 
  • The South's decades long track record of never convicting whites for violence committed against blacks. 
  • Poll taxes, Literacy tests, or any of the many devices employed to prevent blacks from exercising the right to vote.
  • The Stand off over Segregation: Where Governor Wallace of Alabama stood in the doorway of the University of Alabama which he had surrounded with armed Alabama State Troopers, and faced off against the Alabama National Guard who President Kennedy had Federalized for the purposes of escorting Mr. James Meridith to school. This was the only armed stand-off of Uniformed American forces since the Civil War.
  • The Birmingham Church bombings and the murder of the four little girls at the 16th Street Baptist Church just three weeks after the Children's March (which was the largest single collective protest conducted by youth in America's history)
  • The "Zoot Suit Riots" of the 1940's
  • The Sit-In's of the 1950's and 1960's, beginning right here in Wichita Kansas (July 1958),  then spreading to Oklahoma City, Tulsa, and throughout the Midwest. A sit-in was conducted in Greensboro in 1960 and from there they spread throughout the South. 
  • Affirmative Action; its origins, its intents, and its function.
  • The Sandinistas, the Contras, or any of our covert "non-Wars" of recent history

The GOOD news is 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

PLEASE let them hear your voices and your concerns.  History IS a weapon, and it should not be wielded so...

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