The Battle for the Textbook: Texas rewrites its social studies

I get a lot of use from my textbook. 

Whenever my LCD projector’s a bit too low, two or three Grade 4 texts oughta do the trick.

That is the extent to which I use these relics. 

The Information Age of the 21st Century has effectively rendered a textbook obsolete.  As soon as established theories and truths are set in paper before yawning students (who sign the inside cover along with drawings of the male member) alternate discoveries and revisions make them outdated even before they come to press. 

In spite of this, many districts across America continue with the hard-bound behemoths of our youth, and with good reason.  At least in math and science, they provide solid resources that can be preserved year after year.  On paper, this means saving on mountains of copying worksheets and more time copying useless memos.

Yet the composition of textbooks is a thorny issue, especially when it comes to social studies.  Deven Black recently sent me an article from the Texas Tribune entitled “Hijacking History.”  It details the sausage-like process of establishing standards, solidifying content and even copyediting of a state textbook for social studies. 

Texas’ education system is fairly unified in that the entire state uses the same set of textbooks.  It’s a huge state, so the publishers kill their own young to get the contract.  What goes into the textbooks, however, can often become a political tug-of-war between conservatives and liberals, as evidenced in the article.  This has tremendous implications for the classroom, as the struggle at the board level affects what is read in on the page.

Essentially, “Hijacking History” is about this left-right struggle, and how it affect s the whole process.  Take Joe McCarthy, for example.  Bill Ames, a conservative activist and member of one of the State Board of Education’s curriculum-writing committees, fights to “rectify” McCarthy’s legacy by including information about actual Communist infiltration in the US government. 

When it comes to including minority acheivements, the infighting can get downright petty.  Thurgood Marshall and Cesar Chavez, for example, were supposed to allow space equally to Barry Goldwater and Billy Graham.  So Justice Marshall, who argued before the Supreme Court in 1954 to end segregation in public schools, has to share his shelf with a southern preacher who claims “voices” speak to him.

Look, even as a conservative, I don’t buy these arguments.  Yes, I know about the Communist infiltration.  McCarthy’s paranoia was somewhat justified–somewhat.  However, if in laying down wood a few planks must fall, then McCarthy let some real two-by-fours fly.  In the grand scheme of things, he did a lot of harm along with his good intentions. 

Don’t get me started on Billy Graham, it’s a no-brainer: Thurgood Marshall wins by a mile.

What amazes me, however, is the push for “American Exceptionalism.”  We’re going to tell students not only that the United States is the greatest, but also that it is immune to the heaves and throes of world history.  According to some really out-there right wing wierdos, the US, by divine design, cannot topple like the  empires of old.  A thousand year “reich”, perhaps? 

America will endure forever–Jesus said so.  And I know because he spoke to me in Dixie-accented English, just like he did in the Bible. 

What a crime.  What’s a bigger crime is that these inane arguments will somehow end up in a textbook that will be taken as gospel by thousands of educators too lazy to offer a dissenting viewpoint.

The lesson is clear: building a textbook, or a curriculum, is never easy.  You always end up pissing off somebody–believe me, I know.  The balance of ideas and viewpoints is important.  It is also important to include the voices of those Americans who have long been silent, either by force or by neglect.

  Be careful, though…there is such a thing as TOO fair.  Don’t let the facts get buried in the need for political compromise. 

 If you insist on using a textbook, please PLEASE understand that it isn’t Biblical truth.  Even the Bible isn’t biblical truth, for that matter, but I’ve pissed off the evangelicals enough for one night.  Always try to stress alternative viewpoints, especially if they do not necessarily mesh with your own.

If all else fails, use a textbook for what they’re best at–as a  paperweight.

1 Comment

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One response to “The Battle for the Textbook: Texas rewrites its social studies

  1. Joanaroo

    Or put ’em in the outhouse to use as crude t.p. and meet crap with crap!

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