By Nick Statt
On March 12, the Texas Board of Education passed a social studies curriculum change that would overhaul what some on the board considered a staunchly leftist look at history. Well, Texas is Texas and if you don’t like how their board of education handles history, don’t live or raise your children there. Fair argument, right? Well, until you realize that Texas holds unimaginable influence over the textbook market and that a Texas curriculum change will affect other schools all over the country. Texas is extending their influence beyond their own state in an attempt to yank back the yarns of history towards the right, which would be fine if they followed their own creed of state power and realized that their deconstructive methods will not stay within their own borders.
Education is not set in stone. This is a vital ideal that every education system should incorporate. As time goes on, more of history is uncovered and must be added to the canon of common knowledge to show all views of history. No one championed the multiple perspective theory of history better than the late Howard Zinn. What is not okay, and exactly what thinkers like Zinn were always afraid of, is modifying history or rewriting it to match your political views and hiding under the mask of the educational oppression of “leftist America.”
In Texas, history is apparently supposed to emphasize that the founding fathers of America drafted the Declaration of Independence with strong Christian values in mind. They believe these Christian values are integral to a solid social studies education. Separation of church and state is nowhere in the Constitution, says David Bradley, a conservative quoted by New York Times reporter James C. McKinley Jr. in a March 12 article. This means that students will be expected to adequately learn from a social studies curriculum that is woven with Christianity because it’s “what the founding fathers had in mind. ” The sad truth is that even a fourth grader could torch that ideology by bringing up that fact that our Christian founding fathers slept soundly at night, Bible at their bedside, with slaves in their possession. Even if our founding fathers thought we needed a non-secular government wielded with Christian ideas, they also thought slavery was okay. Ideas change with time and only perspectives should be enlightened, which would make sense if the whole idea behind this curriculum change was to ensure that the perspectives are in touch with the reality of the time period. But that’s not the case.
The reasons are pouring out of highly religious, some even evangelical, board members that consider themselves experts on topics that are dearest to their lifestyle. This is all despite the blaringly obvious fact that none of them are economists who can rightfully explain the contributions of Keynesian ideas on FDR’s New Deal policies, something conservative teachers will no doubt now undermine as far less submersible, or historians who could accurately explain the colonial influence of Christianity on our forefathers as they so confidently proclaim. But with voting power, their words are their ideas and their ideas make the decisions.
This isn’t about perspective. It’s about fighting back to teach children everywhere the version of history that matches political beliefs and in these peoples’ minds, politics is religion and religion is politics.
It would be worthless to continue listing the number of amendments the Republican-heavy Texas Board of Education wanted to make to social studies teaching over the last couple decades. One of the big ones actually worth mentioning is the cutting of Thomas Jefferson from a list of philosophers whose ideas influenced 18th and 19th century revolutions because he coined the term separation of church and state. I guess writing the Declaration of Independence doesn’t give you enough credibility to define the scope of the First Amendment.
I dare not even enter the realm of science, even though it holds as much controversy on the Texas Board of Education as history. While history is supposed to be technically unchangeable in that its foundations are based on the factual events of the past, science is a dangerous topic because of the fluidity of theory. You can champion an idea like evolution, but it may always come to blows with creationist credentials. Because of the current power of scientific standing in education systems across the country, the Republicans of Texas’ board seem to be fighting only to share the stage with theories like evolution, carbon-dating, and other Bible-torching Earth-is-not-6,000-years-old theories. Although this may represent a slippery slope back towards non-secular science teaching, as long as the currently popular teachings that follow the Darwinian path stay alive, our public school’s separation of church and state is safe in that respect.
That’s enough about the intricacies of the argument, which will actually not be finalized until a second vote is taken in May to set the curriculum in stone for the next decade. The real danger of this whole scenario and why Texas is actually voting for more than they’d like to admit lies in the textbook market. Although, it’s still probably to the Board’s utmost satisfaction.
Because Texas has such an incredibly large population, and with that an incredibly large amount of public schools and textbook demand, their curriculum extends farther than state boundaries.
Textbook suppliers often release new science and history textbooks every year, with minor additions and new material fleshed out with each new edition. However, they do not make a different textbook for each curriculum in each state. It’s not in their economic interest and there is no law or standard saying it has to be. The downside to this is when Texas, one of the largest purchasers of textbooks in the country, makes a landmark curriculum change like we’re seeing right now, the textbook companies are taking notes and making sure they’re including what Texas wants so that their books are bought. It’s often that one textbook company will supply large states like California with the same exact textbooks it does Texas, but California will now have to deal with a brand new chapters on the successes of the NRA and positive sides to McCarthyism.
This curriculum change does not hold as much gravity when seen from only one temporal lens. When digested as not a singular event, but as a symbol in the whole scope of modern political maneuvers, the Texas Board of Education has achieved something frightening. Not frightening because it may mean that children will now be getting skewed and manipulated versions of history or because Republicans with no specific academic background are deciding school curricula based on their own twisted knowledge. It is frightening because this is borderline Orwellian. Although it has been quoted to death, the line, “He who controls the present, controls the past. He who controls the past, controls the future,” is fit for resurrection in this case because it’s the only way to sum up the blow that’s been dealt to knowledge.