Monday 29 March 2010

TEXAS: The dangers of partisan history

By Pat Andriola


Published: Monday, March 29, 2010

Updated: Monday, March 29, 2010

As a history major, I often get asked questions about what practical impacts my studies will bring, as if my education is devoid of meaning without problem sets or beakers. For most students, History was a class they took in high school as a teenage version of Social Studies (or in college if they had to fill a requirement). For those who cannot sit through a lecture on the Industrial Revolution or the Great Leap Forward, I am not here to preach. I understand not everyone can share my love of history. However, the recent changes in the Texas history curriculum, decided by the State Board of Education (SBOE), are absurdly upsetting and overwhelmingly detrimental to the intellectual development of the children of Texas.

If you have not heard about the changes, let me briefly outline what has happened. Out of the 15 members that sit on the SBOE, 10 are conservative — a powerful bloc that can pass almost any legislation they please. On Friday, March 12, the board voted on changes to public school textbooks that, after a public hearing and vote in May, will completely reshape how Texas students view history.

One big change is the removal of Thomas Jefferson from a list of people who contributed to the country’s intellectual origins. John Calvin and Thomas Aquinas are to be added instead, and teachers are to emphasize the Christian values of the Founders, ignoring the separation of church and state, which was deemed to be not “historically accurate.”

Other changes include having country and western music added to the list of important cultural movements, while hip hop is removed; the refusal to include references to Latino historical figures as role models, but the inclusion of the violent nature of the Black Panthers to supplement Martin Luther King, Jr.’s philosophy; a more favorable view of anti-Communist Senator Joseph McCarthy; an explanation of the unintended consequences of Title IX and Affirmative Action; “imperialism” replaced with “expansionism” and “capitalism” with “free market;” and an added section on “American Exceptionalism” with an emphasis on Christianity and patriotism.

And so on. At one point, a frustrated Democratic member of the board, Mary Helen Berlanga, left the meeting and shouted that, “We can just pretend this is White America and that Hispanics don’t exist.” The size of Texas somewhat dictates supply for other schools, which means we could see a snowball effect that spills into other states.

In my op-ed from April 22, 2008, entitled, “Protect our schools: Keep intelligent design out,” I said that right-wing Christian proponents of intelligent design, shut down by both academia and the courts in their pursuit to eliminate evolution from classrooms, “will turn to other areas — maybe the math or history departments — and attempt to implement their theistic ideas there.” It is truly scary to believe this is actually happening.

Many will just laugh at the absurdity of Texas and think that this is not a big deal. However, historiography has shown us that a child’s view of the world can be utterly changed by how he or she views history. Even growing up in the 1990s, I remember history books being dominated by white males, although in the past few years there has been an effort to make history more universal and less Eurocentric and male-dominated. Not only do these changes in Texas push us back in the wrong direction, but they also become a tool for the far right. This form of historical revisionism is outlandish. In George Orwell’s “1984,” the protagonist Winston Smith worked at the ironically named Ministry of Truth, rewriting historical documents so that they more properly reflected the government’s wishes. The reshaping of history for political purposes is a vile act that we as a society should thwart at every step.

I’m not upset that the changes to the curriculum are right-wing in nature. I’d be equally upset if these changes vilified Ronald Reagan or glorified Jimmy Carter. History should be as objective as humanly possible, and when the curriculum is being decided by the political agendas of those on both the right and the left, as Helen Lovejoy would say, “Won’t somebody please think of the children?”

Source: Tufts Daily

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