Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Historians Worried by Board of Education Decisions

The Texas board of education gave preliminary approval last week to a new curriculum that some historians are criticizing, saying that the changes are historically inaccurate and will cause negative changes nationwide. The new curriculum, among other things, downplays the significance of secularist Thomas Jefferson in our nation's founding, and puts the same emphasis on children learning about Jefferson Davis' inauguration speech as Abraham Lincoln's. Many of its critics' fears sprout from the fact that Texas, with its 4.7 million students, is one of the largest markets for textbooks in the country, and buy so many that the books can go down in price, causing other districts to pick them up inexpensively. "The books that are altered to fit the standards become the bestselling books, and therefore within the next two years they'll end up in other classrooms," says Fritz Fischer, chairman of the National Council for History Education. "It's not a partisan issue, it's a good history issue."

Some other historical issues were discussed by the board, which has on it 10 Republicans and 5 Democrats. Among those considered were whether or not they should focus more on Ronald Reagan, teach about hip-hop as a part of American culture, and include the Venona papers supposedly describing Communist infiltration of the American government during the McCarthy era. The verdicts were yes on Reagan, no on hip hop, and yes on the Venona papers, and specifically that they should be taught as being true.

There is also a heavy emphasis on purely Christian and capitalistic values, with examples being changing the word "capitalism", which can have negative connotations, to "free enterprise", and placing less weight on the separation of church and state in the Constitution.

Also of note was the fact that Hispanic board member Mary Helen Berlanga walked out of the meeting in protest to what she called "whitewashing": "...We've already been whitewashing all of social studies up to this point, and now we're doing it in sociology?" said Berlanga. "You've got to leave some integrity in this...They can just pretend this is a white America and that Hispanics don't exist." One of the more controversial decisions was to add an amendment deleting a requirement for sociology students to "explain how institutional racism is evident in American society".

Proponents of the changes say they're just trying to bring education back to the center. "We're adding balance," said Dr. Don McLeroy, the leader of the conservative faction. "History has already been skewed. Academia is skewed too far to the left."
"I reject the notion by the left of a constitutional separation of church and state," said David Bradley, conservative board member who works in real estate. "I have $1,000 dollars for the charity of your choice if you can find it in the Constitution."

Many still aren't sold, however. "I'm made uncomfortable by mandates of this kind, for sure." said Prof. Paul S. Boyer of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who said he hadn't gone over the entire proposal, but that what he had read could force him to make changes to his text, which would cause him to be uncomfortable endorsing his own book. “They are going overboard, they are not experts, they are not historians.” said Mrs. Berlanga in her comments to reporters after the vote. “They are rewriting history, not only of Texas but of the United States and the entire world.”

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