The Textbook Wars

June 2nd, 2010 at 12:11 am | 42 Comments |

| Print

In response to the recent passage of a controversial set of textbook standards by the Texas School Board, ailment California has passed a corresponding set of standards which reinstate all the items supposedly expunged from the Texan curriculum, so as to blunt the national impact of said curriculum. Interestingly, both sides claim to be defending the values of “true” education, which, each side claims, are supposedly threatened by the ideologically-minded rabble on the other side.

I say, a plague on both your houses. God bless them both. Partisans of the Texan approach condemn California for excluding conservative contributions to history and painting the United States in an overly-negative light by cherry-picking their historical emphases. They are right. Partisans of California’s approach condemn Texas for ignoring ideologically inconvenient contributions to American history, and for painting an overly rosy picture of the United States by cherry-picking their historical emphases. They are also right. The fact is, there is not enough time in the school year to teach every historical fact (to say nothing of the debates over whether particular facts come from reliable sources), and the crafting of a curriculum requires differences of emphases at the discretion of the curriculum’s writer. However nice it would be to remove ideological influence from this determination, there is simply no way to insure such a result in the absence of a means to read the minds of educators.

Fortunately, thanks to the constitutionally-erected philosophy of federalism, there is no necessity for such political telepathy. Education has remained primarily a state issue, which is precisely why the inter-state debate currently proceeding between California and Texas is such a valuable thing. The states are laboratories of democracy, which is precisely what has occurred in the case of both states. Those who dislike the results may move, or send their children to private schools, but it is one of the beauties of our constitutional system that two states can disagree so fiercely without imposing on each others’ values.

Although, to be just a little partisan, you might learn a little more respect for that constitutional system under the Texan plan than the Californian one.

Recent Posts by Mytheos Holt



42 Comments so far ↓

  • BaldGuy

    “…but it is one of the beauties of our constitutional system that two states can disagree so fiercely without imposing on each others’ values.”

    In practice, Texas can indeed impose on the values of other states — the market share (Texas has nearly 5 million students) is so large that the major textbook companies will produce books that comply, leaving other states with fewer alternatives.

    http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Education/2010/0522/In-Texas-social-studies-textbooks-get-a-conservative-make-over

  • dnas

    It’s rare that both sides in a dispute are equally culpable, and when someone makes that argument it’s much more likely to be based on intellectual laziness than on facts. For example, the renaming of the slave trade as the triangle trade is truly puzzling. True, it was a triangle, and it’s also true that there were other items traded besides slaves, but the reason we learn about it today is because human beings were being bought and sold like rum and sugar.

    I live in Texas. I doubt that you would call this fight a draw if you knew your children would be using these textbooks one day.

    Respectfully, your moral equivalence argument would be more at home at a drum circle than a conservative new site. Thinking people read this site. Next time bring your “A” game.

  • Rabiner

    I have issue with this even being a State issue anymore. We’re in a global marketplace now and what a child learns in Alabama has consequences on the economic viability of our nation as a whole. When a congressman from Georgia said ‘the great war of Yankee Aggression’ on the floor of Congress it was stupefying. If students are being taught in Georgia that the Civil War was the ‘Great War of Yankee Aggression’ then how can we even agree on the truly important philosophical debates that should be taught as well?

    I have no problem with people learning about the ‘moral majority’ and their political influence on this nation since the 1980s but I sure don’t want them learning that it was the ‘right’ frame of thought but rather a perspective. I have issue though with them implementing this new curriculum that focuses on ‘conservatives’ when it really focuses on religion and also weakening the teaching about the separation of church and state in this country.

  • Slide

    I agree with dnas that it is just lazy analysis to suggest that “both sides do it”. It is very similar to the “both sides do it” when there was criticism of the right’s violent and over the top language in protesting Obama’s policies. The right will always pull out one Bush poster with a Hitler mustache to prove that “both sides do it”. But of course the quantitative differences are apparent to most rational observers.

    Our American “history” should just be that. Not some sanitized version that paints, “overly rosy picture of the United States by cherry-picking their historical emphases”. That is not education, that is propaganda. One would think that the “small government” crowd would be aghast at such nationalistic propaganda.

    But I guess we have to keep up with Russia after all:

    “As Russia flexes its foreign policy muscles against the West and President Putin enjoys record approval ratings, the Kremlin is turning its attention to schools to instill a new sense of nationalism in children.

    Two new manuals for teachers have been accused of glossing over the horrors of the Soviet Union and of including propaganda to promote Mr Putin’s vision of a strong state.

    One, for social studies teachers, presents as fact Mr Putin’s view that the Soviet collapse was “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century”. It describes the United States as bent on creating a global empire and determined to isolate Russia from its neighbors.

    The book describes Josef Stalin as “the most successful Soviet leader ever” and dismisses the prison labour camps and mass purges as a necessary part of his drive to make the country great. The manuals are intended to serve as the basis for developing new textbooks in schools next year, though Education Ministry officials insisted that they would not be compulsory. ”

    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/europe/article2163481.ece

    Just different “emphasis” right Mr. Holt?

  • ottovbvs

    …….this is a conservative moral equivalence figleaf to essentially excuse what Texas has done……let’s be clear this was a decision taken by a group of elderly white conservatives to impose a bowdlerized version of history on the Texas school system some 64% of whose pupils are ethnic minorities……these elderly white conservatives may have won a small skirmish but the war?…..nah

  • Smarg

    California, the failed illegal-anchor baby state, is to be ignored. White taxpayers are mostly gone,; the remaining Whites are parasitic: thieving union public employee thugs that are making $100K+ a year.

    God help them.

  • Smarg

    Otto, sell out your race much?

  • MrsD

    Intellectual laziness is more than evident in this article.
    I am saddened and angry that you would give such short shrift to an issue that can have national consequences given the impact Texas text books have on education in the remaining states.

    California is right in taking them to task. And, I would hope that other states, who value education, will do the same.

  • ottovbvs

    Smarg // Jun 2, 2010 at 7:34 am

    “Otto, sell out your race much?”

    ……..I just state the facts unlike you

  • Smarg

    otto, your ‘facts’ are your own reality. Must be a happy place you live in.

  • ottovbvs

    Smarg // Jun 2, 2010 at 8:14 am

    …………It is….I like living in the real world……you should try it sometime

  • Smarg

    otto, why not live in the world you liberals created? Like California, infested with millions of parasitic illegals and their anchor babies, draining the state’s coffers to collapse. Or how about Detroit? Or East St. Louis?

    I bet you live in a gated community and your kids go to private schools. Haw!

  • ottovbvs

    Smarg // Jun 2, 2010 at 8:36 am

    “otto, why not live in the world you liberals created? Like California,……… I bet you live in a gated community and your kids go to private schools. Haw!”

    ………CA?…….two of my kids live there ……great place…….I don’t live in a gated community but they have their uses……like keeping out grubby proles like you

  • sinz54

    dnas: For example, the renaming of the slave trade as the triangle trade is truly puzzling.
    No it’s not.

    That’s what it was called back then.

    Just like World War I was called “The Great War” before there was talk of a World War II.

  • ottovbvs

    sinz54 // Jun 2, 2010 at 9:06 am

    “No it’s not.”

    …….Oh you mean like Jewish “resettlement” in the East.

  • sinz54

    ottovbs: this was a decision taken by a group of elderly white conservatives to impose a bowdlerized version of history
    All history has to be interpreted, since no one has invented a time machine to let us go back there and see for ourselves. The question is which interpretation do you teach your kids.

    When I went to school, history and social studies presented a positive view of America. We learned about all the good things America had done and why we should be proud of our country. That’s no longer the case.

    Back in the early 1990s, I took a look at how history was being taught to the children of my own friends now. I was surprised and saddened. The textbooks had a very cynical look at America, heavily influenced by multiculturalism and leftism, in which everything that America had accomplished always had a “Yes, BUT” tacked onto the end of it.

    For example, the chapter on immigration to the United States in the 19th century focused on exactly ONE immigrant who didn’t like it here and went back to his home country! What about all the millions and millions of immigrants who, like my own ancestors, came here and built a better life for their children and grandchildren? The book ignored that.

    Have a look at Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States, 1492-2000″ sometime. That book was, and in many places still is, required reading in American schools.

    Zinn was a genuine Marxist (in the Epilogue, Zinn states his firm belief that “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” is the way to go). The book basically trashes America from beginning to end. In fact, it starts even earlier than that. Why would a history of the United States even start in 1492? Because Zinn, with his choice of anecdotes and deliberate ignorance of statistics, makes an implicit case that Columbus was wrong to even come here. Europe should have just left North America to the AmerIndians and let it go at that.

    Books like Zinn’s are teaching our children to feel guilty and cynical about their country and even to reject it. That’s a very dangerous attitude for the citizenry of a nation, when it’s confronted by any major challenge. The French learned that lesson the hard way in 1940.

    It’s important for students to learn that history is interpreted. But they deserve some counterbalance to Zinn’s Marxist interpretation of history. Zinn, and the other leftists who sneer at America, cannot be allowed to have the last word where our children are concerned.

  • Ruminant

    Below is the offending line, from the official document. It refers to a proposed change in the 8th grade curriculum:

    “explain reasons for the development of the plantation system, the Atlantic Triangular trade, and the spread of slavery;”

    (the whole document is here: http://ritter.tea.state.tx.us/rules/board/proposed/0310/ch113B-one.pdf)

    As long as the role of slavery is still emphasized by the curriculum, which this sounds like it is encouraging, I don’t see a problem with using the historical term. The term “Atlantic Triangular Trade” is used in many other curricula, both in the US and in Europe.

    This doesn’t mean it is always appropriate to use the historical term, however. Replacing all instances of “World War I” with “The Great War” would just be confusing. Replacing all instances of the word “slavery” with “that peculiar institution” (the South’s preferred choice of phrase before the Civil War) would be a dishonest attempt to minimize slavery’s history in our nation. But the standard doesn’t advocate any of that. And the Civil War is still called “the Civil War”.

    I still believe that the Texas board has deliberately modified their curriculum to reflect their personal religious and political views. After all, this is (mostly) the same board that recently attempted to inject creationism into Texas’s science curriculum. At least some of these board members are on the record stating that they believe America was founded as a Judeo-Christian nation, a “fact” which is much less certain than they make it out to be.

    They’ve sprinkled in requirements to include the “Judeo-Christian legal tradition” when teaching such concepts as “development of democratic-republican government” and “identify the influence of ideas regarding the right to a ‘trial by a jury of your peers’ and the concepts of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ and ‘equality before the law’”. It also wants students to understand how biblical law (among others) influenced the founding of the USA and the political and legal impact of the Ten Commandments.

  • medinnus

    When the Religious Reich seek to eliminate Thomas Jefferson and his contributions to the political founding of this country – because he was very much against religion in government – its time to stop rationalizing and say something.

  • Bebe99

    As a Texan I am aghast at the blatant attempt by the Texas School Board to inject their very partisan, very Christian view of history into textbooks. The school board is made up of people who are not experts in the field of education or history. They have overstepped their bounds. That said, I think textbooks have far less influence on children than they believe. The biggest influence are parents, followd closely by the teacher. Many teachers will easily transmit their beliefs to their students- intentionally or not. So I think the real issue is that teachers are mostly liberal leaning women. Conservatives would do better to recruit more conservatives to teaching. But I think they will have few takers.

    My biggest fear is that Texas will create a large number of textbooks that teachers will not use. Since 85% of my community are Hispanic, I’m sure there will be plenty of teachers who just will not use a white-washed history book. They will teach what they have to teach, and bring in other information that will appeal to their minority students. The textbooks will be another big government waste of tax dollars.

    I really hope this inspires other states to consider using e-book format for textbooks. It could be a big savings if students were given ebook readers with all their books loaded on them. With bulk buying power, ebook readers would be relatively cheap–it likely would cost LESS than printing all those textbooks and they could be rewritten more often than every 10 years.

  • CAPryde

    The good news is that even Texans find this stuff ridiculous–we voted out the most partisan members of the board in the last primary election, including their ringleader. Unfortunately, some of the damage is already done.

  • someotherdude

    Bebe99 // Jun 2, 2010 at 10:54 am

    As a Texan I am aghast at the blatant attempt by the Texas School Board to inject their very partisan, very Christian view of history into textbooks.

    ———————————

    This is an nationalistic Anglo-Protestant view…..Christianity has nothing to do with it!

  • Rabiner

    Someotherdude:

    Good point. It wasn’t catholics doing this, it was evangelicals. And bringing nationalism into the classroom is dangerous just like it was dangerous when nationalism was the norm at the end of the 19th century and all throughout the first half of the 20th century.

  • Smarg

    For over 40 years the anti-American, anti-caucasian fringe has been controlling the revisionist history forced into schoolbooks.

    Thank God for Texas.

  • sparty

    Smarg:

    “For over 40 years the anti-American, anti-caucasian fringe has been controlling the revisionist history forced into schoolbooks.”

    Does Limbaugh/Levin/Hannity/Beck tell you how and when to go potty too?

  • Smarg

    sparty–does Olbermann, Stewart and Colbert, your obvious source of “news”, tell you when to go as well?

  • JJWFromME

    The trouble with conservative views in education is that they often amount to “teach the controversy… that we created.” Or, “my dogwhistles to klansmen deserve equal time. Klansmen are people too.”

    The best piece ever on how conservatives desperately try to establish the counter-establishment is this piece by Paul Krugman: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/08/05/opinion/05krugman.html

  • Bebe99

    someotherdude: Sure, I can see that these folks aren’t very Christian at all. But they are promoting Christianity. Those of us who are not Christian might not bother to make too many distinctions when we don’t hear any denunciations of the theocratic ideas evangelicals promote.

  • Smarg

    “The trouble with conservative views in education is that they often amount to “teach the controversy… that we created.” Or, “my dogwhistles to klansmen deserve equal time. Klansmen are people too.”
    ______________________________

    Why do you Demoncraps always revert to the race card when losing an argument?? The only folks that pay attention now are from the MSM, and since the good people have Fox News, they are to be ignored. Chedda whatevah.

  • ottovbvs

    Smarg // Jun 3, 2010 at 7:33 am

    “Why do you Demoncraps always revert to the race card when losing an argument??”

    ……probably because conservatives like you are constantly making racist statements

  • Smarg

    ……probably because conservatives like you are constantly making racist statements
    ___________________________

    Sez you.

  • JJWFromME

    Rand Paul’s take on the CRA of 1964 put it all in a nutshell. Libertarianism never used to be popular in the south (Dixiecrats loved the New Deal)… until it was grafted onto the backlash against civil rights.

    For more, see Lee Atwater:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lee_Atwater#Atwater_on_the_Southern_Strategy

    See Ronald Reagan:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philadelphia,_Mississippi#Murders_of_three_civil_rights_workers

    See Richard Nixon:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Southern_strategy#Roots_of_the_Southern_strategy

  • JJWFromME

    Rand Paul’s take on the CRA of 1964 put it all in a nutshell. Libertarianism never used to be popular in the south (Dixiecrats loved the New Deal)… until it was grafted onto the backlash against civil rights.

    For more, see Lee Atwater:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lee_Atwater#Atwater_on_the_Southern_Strategy

    See Ronald Reagan:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philadelphia,_Mississippi#Murders_of_three_civil_rights_workers

  • mpolito

    Kids today go through school without learning anything about civics. They instead are taught about how they should be having sex right now, “tolerance,” and global warming. Anything that can be done to fight back against this should be done.

    Lefties have no problem “politicizing education”: they have been doing it since the 60s. The L.A. USD School Board has declared that students there will be taught that the AZ immigration law is ‘un-American.’ Conservatives have no choice but to respond.

  • JJWFromME

    “They instead are taught about how they should be having sex right now, “tolerance,” and global warming.”

    Right. My wife the high school teacher teaches her kids that they should be having sex. And there is no science behind global warming.

    Are you for real?

    (School textbooks from Texas would tell you you are… )

  • Rabiner

    mpolitio:

    Kids today go through school without learning anything about civics. They instead are taught about how they should be having sex right now, “tolerance,” and global warming. Anything that can be done to fight back against this should be done.

    Lefties have no problem “politicizing education”: they have been doing it since the 60s. The L.A. USD School Board has declared that students there will be taught that the AZ immigration law is ‘un-American.’ Conservatives have no choice but to respond.”

    Sex education in health class is warranted so students engage in protected sex as opposed to unprotected sex. Are you still of the belief that teenagers aren’t sexually active? Is there a problem with teaching ‘tolerance’? That seems like a social goal that in a diverse country that we tolerate the differences since you can’t really teach ‘acceptance’. And please link to me where LAUSD has the power to change state curriculum and influence text books for 30 some states for the next 10 years?

  • LFC

    They instead are taught about [snip] global warming.

    Oh, you mean “science”. Yeah, I can see how that would get a far right-winger all stirred up. Can’t be teachin’ that left-wind science stuff unless it backs the right-wing predetermined view.

  • sinz54

    sparty:

    Go read my post again.

    And then why don’t you go read Zinn’s ghastly “textbook” for yourself.

    It really comes down to this:

    It doesn’t matter if you’re liberal or conservative or moderate. For 180 years, the traditional mainstream view in America was that the United States had done much more good than harm for both its own people and the rest of the world. But since the 1970s there was a tremendous push by New Left radicals who went into education to teach American kids that their country basically sucks.

    I don’t want a sanitized view taught.
    I want kids to learn what mistakes America made along the way.

    But I also don’t want to leave kids with the entirely false impression that the United States is just some racist, imperialist, colonialist, misbegotten aggressor that is wrecking the Earth and that should never have been created on top of land that once belonged to the Indians.

    Those radical leftists, like Zinn, who hold that view are wrong.

    The world is much better off–MUCH better off–that the United States existed than if the British had won in 1776.

    And that is a message that mainstream liberals as well as conservatives ought to sign up to.

  • JJWFromME

    Teaching Zinn in high school would be inappropriate unless he was given proper context (a competing view, for instance). I don’t think a Zinn history book is the equivalent of a high school history textbook intended for a general audience of students.

  • jakester

    Honestly Texas should be able to put whatever they want in a text book. But why should the text book industry be so lame that they can’t print different editions for different places? Why is Texas the lead dog on text books? that is like letting a barely literate student be the commencement speaker

  • drham3rd

    This can be a non-issue since the Internet could actually make textbooks obsolete. If kids were taught how to find and evaluate information online, any teacher could allow the net to be their textbook. This would simply negate this whole issue. Of course the publishing world might suffer BUT why should our education system have to depend upon a 19th century tool!

  • drham3rd

    This is a Non-Issue because of the Internet! Teachers do not need textbooks, they simply need to teach students how to properly search and interpret information on the net. There is so much good information that students could access and learn from that we DO NOT need to keep using a 19th century tool!