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Radical Re-Imagining of History by the Texas School Board of Education

This Friday in Austin, TX, the Texas School Board of Education plans to finalize their new rules for social studies textbooks, which could end up being distributed, by virtue of their size, to states across the country. Over the years, the far right has targeted the school board and now has ten seats to radically rewrite textbooks to reflect conservative ideology rather than legitimate scholarship.

Among the amendments to the standard social studies textbook already approved include including discussions of Newt Gingrich and Phyllis Schlafly, a rehabilitation of Joe McCarthy, the recasting of the slave trade in softer language, and the exclusion of prominent historical figures like Thomas Jefferson.

But the BoE wants more. This week, they’ll try to add a sentence alleging that separation of church and state was not the intent of the Founders. They’ll try to almost entirely excise the impact of the Progressive Era and reformers like Upton Sinclair, Susan B. Anthony, Ida B. Wells and W.E.B. DuBois. And a new amendment was proposed this week:

The new amendment (.pdf), which is expected to get a vote on Thursday, would require high school history students to “discuss alternatives regarding long term entitlements such as Social Security and Medicare, given the decreasing worker to retiree ratio” and also “evaluate efforts by global organizations to undermine U. S. sovereignty.”

The lame-duck head of the Texas BoE, Don McLeroy (he lost a primary election earlier this year), is committed to pushing through his changes with his large conservative majority on the board. On a conference call today, NAACP President Benjamin Jealous explained that textbooks created in Texas are often delivered to smaller states, or at least the standards reflected in the biggest states filter down to the smaller ones. “A radical far-right set of state Board of Education members have gained power over the last fifteen years, making history to fit their fantasies of how the past should have been,” Jealous said.

Multiple efforts are being taken to stop these standards from going through. The Texas Freedom Network will hold a rally in Austin tomorrow, where board members will hear public testimony. People for the American Way has an action campaign. Activists are attempting to sway three of the less rigid members of the board on key votes. Even former Bush Education Secretary Rod Paige is coming to Austin to argue against the changes.

The worst outcome for the textbooks would be that their standards get adopted nationwide. That’s why the work of Leland Yee out here in California is so important:

Under Yee’s bill, SB1451, the California Board of Education would be required to look out for any of the Texas content as part of its standard practice of reviewing public school textbooks. The board must then report any findings to both the Legislature and the secretary of education.

The bill describes the Texas curriculum changes as “a sharp departure from widely accepted historical teachings” and “a threat to the apolitical nature of public school governance and academic content standards in California.”

Tom Adams, director of the state Department of Education’s standards and curriculum division, said the Texas standards could make their way into national editions of textbooks, but those aren’t used in California. “Our main concern is whether materials meet California’s standards,” he said. “There’s nothing in our review process that says we should be following Texas or anything like that.”

While the NAACP and other groups stress the importance of keeping this revisionist history out of the hands of schoolkids in Texas, the rest of the nation could be protected by Yee’s action in California.

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David Dayen

David Dayen

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