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Hey, Texas, don't mess with textbooks: Public schools are no place for partisan agendas

Texas conservatives want to cut Thomas Jefferson, César Chávez, Edward Kennedy, and other 'liberals' from textbooks.

By Taraneh Ghajar Jerven / March 29, 2010

Vancouver, British Columbia

Battles over school curricula are not new. Now, it’s not just Darwin that’s the issue. If the far-right Republican majority on the Texas Board of Education has its way, many of the 48 million textbooks it buys per year, for 10 years, will represent a Republican partisan agenda and a new emphasis on Christian beliefs.

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On March 12, the board gave preliminary approval to more than 100 such amendments, which skew public school curriculum and rewrite US history from a conservative perspective.

But the purpose of a public school's curriculum is not to push one particular viewpoint. According to the National Council for Social Studies (NCSS), an effective social studies curriculum should provide students with an understanding of the multiple forces that affect civic issues throughout history, in order to create a base from which citizens can contribute to democracy.

“I do believe there are board members on the ultraright who have an agenda,” said Judy Brodigan, an educator who contributed to the social studies curriculum guidelines. “Our job is not to take a viewpoint. It’s to present sides fairly.”

After the Texas Board of Education deleted certain figures – such as Thomas Jefferson, César Chávez, and Edward Kennedy – from the state’s curriculum, the Christian conservatives on the board succeeded in emphasizing what they perceive as Christianity’s role in our nation’s founding.

Former board member Don McLeroy is a dentist and a self-avowed Christian fundamentalist who openly states how his religious values guide his crusade to adjust textbooks. Mr. McLeroy, the most influential conservative involved in the curriculum changes, is well known for his extreme statements dismissing evidence of evolution in debates about Darwinism last year. This year, he candidly discussed how he applies direct pressure to textbook companies in a New York Times article, “How Christian Were the Founders?”

McLeroy’s sway with education standards highlights another unsettling fact: Unlike the trained teachers who wrote the original social studies guidelines, the board members revising the curriculum lack the qualifications necessary to shape classroom guidelines.

Educators are alarmed not only because the Texas curriculum guidelines were made by unqualified sources, but also because the changes to standards in

Texas affect textbooks across the country. Texas’ $22 billion education fund is among the nation’s largest educational endowments in the country, which definitively influences how educational publishers tailor their products to fit other states.

“This issue is bigger than Texas,” said an Ohio State University professor in a discussion thread with other NCSS members. “To have politicians rewriting history to suit their view of the world is about as anti-social studies as I can imagine. Reminds me of social studies when I worked in Malawi under the one-man rule of Hastings Banda.”

Efforts to include Latinos in the social studies curriculum were repeatedly defeated, despite the significant Hispanic population in Texas.