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Texas textbook war: 'Slavery' or 'Atlantic triangular trade'?

Changes to social studies textbooks in Texas proposed by conservatives have resulted in a partisan uproar and generated interest far beyond the Lone Star State.

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But others say they are dismayed at the degree to which the standards seem to have been written without regard for scholarship.

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Professor VanFossen, for instance, was bothered by a new requirement that students analyze the decline in value of the US dollar and abandonment of the gold standard, without input from economists, and by amendments that would try to cast a more positive spin on Sen. Joe McCarthy’s communist witch hunt.

“It’s ideologically driven,” he says, adding that he’s also bothered that many of the most important skills students need to learn – debate and discussion, constructing arguments, reconciling different perspectives – are being lost amid the highly proscriptive and detailed content.

Others say that whether or not national textbooks are ultimately influenced by Texas (the textbook industry has sought to downplay that fear), the furor that this has caused will be detrimental to future attempts to create standards.

'No one wants to touch social studies'

“No one wants to touch social studies,” says Peggy Altoff, past president of the National Council for the Social Studies and co-chair of the committee that set social studies standards in Colorado.

Ms. Altoff says it doesn’t have to be such a political, partisan process, and cites Colorado’s experience as an example. Since often what stokes peoples’ anger the most is who is included for study – Cesar Chavez or Newt Gingrich; Thurgood Marshall or Thomas Aquinas – she suggests standards that offer examples, but don’t limit curricula to those figures.

“It doesn’t have to be the Texas debacle,” she says.

Whatever the vote is this week, the conservative influence on the board may be waning.

Don McLeroy, the author of many of the most contentious amendments and a leader of the conservative coalition, was defeated in March in a primary by an opponent who was critical of his approach. Another key social conservative, Cynthia Dunbar, is not seeking reelection, and a more moderate candidate won the GOP primary in her district.

Related:

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

Texas wrangles over bias in school textbooks

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