Textbooks in a classroom at Hutto High School in Hutto, Texas on April 5, 2012.
Ben Sklar/The New York Times/Redux

Be wary of Texas’ lessons on social studies

We’ve known for some time that Texas’ new social-studies textbooks would likely represent a step backwards. MSNBC’s Zack Roth reported last fall on proposals to place books in public-school classrooms that blurred the line between history and “tea party manifestos.”
 
“Don’t blame the textbook writers – including several major publishing houses – for the right-wing political slant,” Roth explained. “They were written to conform to standards approved in 2010 by the state Board of Education, after an organized conservative campaign to take over the board.”
 
As a conservative Christian minister who helped push the standards through said in 2010, “We’re in an all-out moral and spiritual civil war for the soul of America, and the record of American history is right at the heart of it.”
 
With this backstory in mind, I suppose no one should have been too surprised by this discouraging Washington Post report yesterday.
Five million public school students in Texas will begin using new social studies textbooks this fall based on state academic standards that barely address racial segregation. The state’s guidelines for teaching American history also do not mention the Ku Klux Klan or Jim Crow laws.
 
And when it comes to the Civil War, children are supposed to learn that the conflict was caused by “sectionalism, states’ rights and slavery” – written deliberately in that order to telegraph slavery’s secondary role in driving the conflict, according to some members of the state board of education.
To be sure, these are not the only areas of concern in Texas’ textbooks.
 
But with much of the country thinking anew about official support for the Confederate battle flag, the changes in Texas classrooms hardly represent an academic improvement.
 
From the Post’s report:
Students in Texas are required to read the speech Jefferson Davis gave when he was inaugurated president of the Confederate States of America, an address that does not mention slavery. But students are not required to read a famous speech by Alexander Stephens, Davis’s vice president, in which he explained that the South’s desire to preserve slavery was the cornerstone of its new government and “the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution.” […]
 
Texas’s social studies standards are more politicized than any other state, said Jeremy A. Stern, a historian who reviewed state standards for the conservative-leaning Thomas B. Fordham Institute in 2011. He gave Texas’s standards a D and wrote that the board was “molding the telling of the past to justify its current views.”
Remember, we’re talking about 5 million students who’ll use, reference, and rely on these books. Here’s hoping they’re led by social-studies teachers who’ll supplement the texts with more complete information.
 

Civil War, Education Policy, history and Texas

Be wary of Texas' lessons on social studies