History is at the center of controversy again… in Texas. The Texas Board of Education is moving forward with its plans to set new standards for their social studies curriculum. The standards are clearly skewed to a Conservative interpretation of history , economics, and sociology. The board is controlled by Republicans and the key votes have been down party lines. Some of the highlights include:
- The term capitalism is replaced with “free-enterprise system”
- Our Founding Fathers were driven by “christian principles”
- The Separation of church and state is not part of the Constitution
- Secession was brought on by states rights- not slavery
- Thomas Jefferson is excluded from the list of enlightened thinkers who brought about revolutionary changes…replaced with the likes of Thomas Aquinas and John Calvin
- The terms sharecropping, Ku Klux Klan, and Jim Crow never appear in the standards
Not a single historian… sociologist, or economist were part of the curriculum debate. Individual members of the board were free to rewrite the standards based on whatever their particular political pet peeve happened to be. Conservatives in America rejoiced! Grand Dame Phyllis Schlafly could hardly contain herself. Reasonable Conservatives were not so kind…The Thomas Fordham Institute, a right-wing think tank, had this to say,
“Complex historical issues are obscured with blatant politicizing throughout the document. Biblical influences on America’s founding are exaggerated, if not invented. The complicated but undeniable history of separation between church and state is flatly dismissed. From the earliest grades, students are pressed to uncritically celebrate the “free enterprise system and its benefits.” “Minimal government intrusion” is hailed as key to the early nineteenth-century commercial boom—ignoring the critical role of the state and federal governments in internal improvements and economic expansion. Native peoples are missing until brief references to nineteenth-century events. Slavery, too, is largely missing. Sectionalism and states’ rights are listed before slavery as causes of the Civil War…”
Lynne Cheney started this … mess back in 1992. While president of the NEH she authorized the creation of the National History Standards for educators. Two years later, as esteemed historian Gary B. Nash and a diverse committee of educators put the finishing touches on the standards, Cheney attacked them for purely political purposes. Nash talked too little about Robert E. Lee and too extensively of Harriet Tubman….oh the horror!! There is no comparison here…The national standards were voluntary, and written by actual, you know, historians. Gary Nash, one of America’s most respected historians was forced to defend himself against the likes of Rush Limbaugh….not a fair fight. Nash’s standards were not exclusive at all, in fact, just the opposite.
Reasonable historical debated is needed… to keep the profession relevant. What has happened in Texas is the politicizing of history, and students there will suffer most. American history is a diverse and vibrant field of study and students should hear all pertinent opinions and historical interpretations; as well as receiving detailed instruction in the most basic of our founding principles.