They say history is written by the victors. In this case, the victors are a panel of 15 elected officials in the state of Texas who will decide the textbook and curriculum content for schools across the country.
Ronda Kaysen: The Texas State Board of Education is reviewing history textbooks, and since the state buys so many books each year -- a whopping 48 million -- the elected board members can dictate the books' content. The board members are not scientists, historians or scholars, but the content they choose will determine how the books are written for texts sold in all 50 states.
Arguing that American textbooks have been hijacked by a liberal agenda, board members are trying to restore a conservative bent to the material taught in grades K-8. The current "standards are rife with leftist political periods and events: the Populists, the Progressives, the New Deal and the Great Society," board member Don McLeroy said in a statement. "Including material about the conservative resurgence of the 1980s and 1990s provides some political balance to the document."
In the proposed changes, Susan B. Anthony would be wiped from the history books, along with Florence Nightingale and Shirley Chisholm (the first black woman elected to Congress). In their place would be Abigail Adams and Phyllis Schlafly, a conservative politician who opposed feminism and the Equal Rights Amendment.
When students learn about the McCarthy hearings, they might now learn that Joseph McCarthy was eventually vindicated as details about spying emerged. A popular children's-book author, Bill Martin Jr., has been stricken from the curriculum because he shares the same name as a professor who wrote favorably about Karl Marx.
Even W.E.B. Du Bois, founder of the NAACP, may not make the cut. For the moment, the famous civil-rights activist's writings have been included in the reading curriculum -- but his ties to the Communist party and the fact that he ultimately moved to Ghana and denounced capitalism might undo him.
It is deeply disturbing that a group of elected officials who are not historians, scientists, sociologists -- or experts in any of these fields -- can determine the curriculum for the entire nation.
Julio Noboa, a history professor at the University of Texas at El Paso and a social-studies expert who made recommendations for the board, told the San Antonio Express, "This goes to the fundamental issue. The board is not made up of educators, let alone historians. It really makes them look stupid."
This goes beyond a handful of ignorant people making decisions that affect all of our children. This is about a group of people deciding to erase elements of our collective history that don't fit with the neat picture they prefer.
Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network (a watchdog organization), said it best when she told FOX News, "I believe the members of this board, this seven-member voting block, are willing to sacrifice the truth in history to promote a very skewed perspective, especially on the issue of civil rights. We watched while they tried to whitewash civil rights and remove references to ethnic and religious minorities and women and the struggles we faced in expanding our rights."
Board members see no problem with revising the history to reflect a "rosier" view of it that excludes women, minorities and oppression.
Houston State Senator Dan Patrick told FOX News, "I'm glad the SBOE is drawing a line in the sand, as we in Texas have been known to do from time to time, to say this is what our country was founded upon, these are our principles, these are our values and this is who we are as a people."
A final vote is scheduled for May. And then we can all look forward to our kids coming home reciting a history written by 15 elected officials in Austin.
What do you think? Should this be how school curricula is decided?
|Ronda Kaysen is a freelance writer. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, BusinessWeek.com, Architectural Record, Huffington Post, The New York Observer, Babble.com and AM New York. She lives in New Jersey with her family. Follow her on Twitter.|