In Texas, social studies textbooks get a conservative make-over

The Texas State Board of Education has approved controversial changes to social studies textbooks, pushing high school teaching in a more conservative direction.

Larry Kolvoord/Austin American-Statesman/AP
Several hundred protestors gathered outside the building where the Texas State Board of Education was meeting Wednesday in Austin regarding controversial revisions to social studies textbooks.

In a move that has potential national impact, the Texas State Board of Education has approved controversial changes to social studies textbooks – pushing high school teaching in a more conservative direction.

The Dallas Morning news reports that the curriculum standards adopted Friday by a 9-5 vote along party lines on the elected board have “a definite political and philosophical bent in many areas.”

“For example, high school students will have to learn about leading conservative groups from the 1980s and 1990s in U.S. history – but not about liberal or minority rights groups that are identified as such. Board members also gave a thumbs down to requiring history teachers and textbooks to provide coverage on the late U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy while the late President Ronald Reagan was elevated to more prominent coverage in the curriculum. In addition, the requirements place Sen. Joseph McCarthy in a more positive light in U.S. history despite the view of most historians who condemn the late Republican senator’s tactics and his view that the U.S. government was infiltrated by Communists in the 1950s.”

Conservative icons

Students would learn about the “unintended consequences” of Title IX, affirmative action, and the Great Society, and would study such conservative icons as Phyllis Schlafly, the Heritage Foundation, and the Moral Majority.

There’s also more emphasis on religion’s role in US history. This was evident in the opening prayer at Friday’s meeting in Austin by education board member Cynthia Dunbar made "in the name of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ … [on behalf of] “a Christian land governed by Christian principles.”

Supporters of the changes see them as correcting liberal views imposed when Democrats controlled the state education board.

“The proposed changes have attracted national attention because they challenge the powerful ideology of the left and highlight the great political divide of our country,” Texas State Board of Education member Don McLeroy wrote in USA Today last month. “The left’s principles are diametrically opposed to our founding principles. The left believes in big, not limited, government; they empower the state, not the individual; they focus on differences, not unity.”

But as the Monitor’s Amanda Paulson reported this week, critics are dismayed at what they see as an attempt to push conservative ideology – even if it flies in the face of scholarship – into textbooks.

“Every child in Texas deserves the right to have authentic history. ... Not history that ought to promote somebody’s political ideology,” Rod Paige, a Republican and former superintendent of the Houston Independent School District who served as Education Secretary under President George W. Bush, told ABC News. “I’m not so naive that I don’t understand that the board’s political leanings will be a part of it but I just think that it swings the pendulum too far. Right now it’s moving too far to the right.”

“We should’ve had historians and educators overseeing the curriculum requirements. Instead, these board members who don’t have any more expertise than I do have imposed their personal beliefs, their own ideological agenda, on this curriculum,” Terri Burke, executive director of the
American Civil Liberties Union’s Texas chapter, told ABC.

The Obama administration weighs in

"We do a disservice to children when we shield them from the truth, just because some people think it is painful or doesn’t fit with their particular views," US Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a statement. "Parents should be very wary of politicians designing curriculum."

Because Texas, with nearly 5 million students, is such a large textbook market, other school districts around the country frequently buy the same education materials.

“Decisions that are made in Texas have a ripple effect across the country,” Phillip VanFossen, head of the Department of Curriculum and Instruction and a professor of social studies education at Purdue University, told the Monitor.

Other states are watching closely. A state senate committee in California has passed a bill that would ensure no California textbooks contain any Texas-driven changes.


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

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

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