10 Crazy Things in Texas's Proposed New Social Studies Textbooks

UPDATE September 16, 2014: Crazy things in textbooks aren't just limited to the field of social studies. A new report found some pretty crazy things on the subject of climate change as well.

It seems the Texas education system is still nursing a hangover from the State Board of Education's raucous culture-warrior party days. Hell, it's possible they're still drunk. A while back in 2009 members of the SBOE tried to cut the actual science from the state's science standards (namely, Darwinian evolution, go figure.) Then they came back ready to swing for the fences, passing social studies curriculum standards that even a conservative think-tank called a "politicized distortion of history" driven by the evangelical Christian-right agenda."

Well now we get to see the fruit of all that labor: the new social studies textbooks, which the SBOE will vote to approve or reject in November. These proposed textbooks were written based on the state's new curriculum standards - standards that, it was pointed out in 2011, downplay the screwing over of Native Americans, as well as slavery, among other things. Meanwhile, the "Biblical influences" underlying America's founding were brought front and center. The standards were put into place writing these new textbooks, and the results are questionable at best, according to a report from the progressive education watchdog group Texas Freedom Network.

Anyways, after the whole science textbook brawl, the folks at TFN were, perhaps understandably, a little leery of the efforts to create textbooks following the SBOE standards. TFN got a group of professors and academic types together to review the textbooks, and the academics were not entirely impressed. In fact, some passages apparently left them horrified, based on the report they just put out. You can read the main report and all the sub-reports that went into it, if you've a hankering to. We can't say these reports are exactly knee-slapping funny, but we still found ourselves cackling with ghoulish delight at what could soon be taught as "history" and "fact" in a Texas classroom near you. Here's a list of our favorites:

10. Moses basically invented the United States. Surprising, we know. We honestly were under the impression that the Founding Fathers - though all likely versed in biblical scripture - relied pretty heavily on people like John Locke and company, but it seems we were misinformed, as far as these textbooks go. One textbook asks students, "Where did the Founders get their ideas?" To our surprise, Moses (as in Exodus, Ten Plagues, played-by Charlton Heston Moses) is at the top of the list. The book follows up with Locke, Charles de Montesquieu and William Blackstone, but Moses and his stone tablets are definitely leading the pack.

Sure, Thomas Jefferson was basically cribbing from Locke when he wrote the Declaration of Independence, but really Moses was the one who helped start it all, according to this textbook (and we are using the term "textbook" very lightly.) Heck, it's been clearly documented how the ideas of Locke, Montesquieu and Blackstone contributed to the country's founding documents (Locke's central ideas are either paraphrased or alluded to in the Declaration of Independence, while Montesquieu and Blackstone get mention in the Federalist Papers), but it turns out that Moses did all the heavy lifting first.

According to Perfection Learning's textbook, the "concept" that Moses supposedly contributed to the founders: "A nation needs a written code of behavior." And thus Moses gets the credit. Then, in a delightful bit of embroidery, Moses and Solomon share credit for helping plant the seeds of democracy "deep in human history." We just won't even bother to mention in the text that Moses was more into theocracy than democracy, and Solomon was a monarch, and one who believed that cutting a baby in half was a pretty fair form of justice. But yeah, sure. It was all thanks to those two.

9. "Much of the violence you read about in the Middle East is related to jihad." Really? It's that simple, is it? We had no idea that all of the many tensions, tendencies and complexities - economics, natural resources, population pressures and all - that are the makeup of the complicated political, social and economic world that is the Middle East were just the cause of one little old holy war. Man, if we had known this sooner, perhaps there would be peace in the Middle East by now. Someone should hurry up and carry Active Classroom: World History over the big water to that sandy place that probably looks exactly like the cartoon world of Aladdin (complete with talking parrots) right this second. Someone needs to call President Obama right this second and say the answer to ISIS and the civil war in Syria and the mess in Iraq and the whole Israel/Palestine conflict is to be had in the pages of this one book. Send it to Congress too. Because it's all related to jihad. We'll bet hundreds of years of conflict over religion and, you know, oil have nothing to do with anything. Not a smidge.

8. Hindus are strict vegetarians. Did y'all Hindus hear that? If you are having a piece of chicken while reading this, drop it immediately. According to the textbooks created along the guidelines arbitrated by the Lone Star State, you are totally doing your whole religion incorrectly. Hey, we know some Shaivites aren't even vegetarian and that Brahmins get to eat fish and other meat, but the textbook says no meat for y'all. And these textbooks are always right. Kind of. Also, selfishness is the only form of desire, Buddhists. Adjust accordingly.

7. Mark Twain may have named the Gilded Age, but he was obviously wrong about it. The Gilded Age was the best. Seriously, according to some of these textbooks, from the 1870s to about 1900, life was just grand in the United States, despite what Twain, that grouchy old writer, had to say about it. Everyone was happy. Everybody was optimistic and whistling while they worked in factories that were perfectly safe. There definitely wasn't desperate poverty amongst millions of European immigrants pouring into this country. The fact that women couldn't vote - and wouldn't be able to until 1920 - wasn't a big deal at all. See, they could get married, work as servants or shop girls, go work in factories or have low-paying but utterly respectable jobs as teachers. Plenty of options. Plus, Social Darwinism became a thing about this time, and that whole "survival of the fittest" mindset, as applied to human society, really made for a caring society. See, Twain was critical, but "most Americans were not as cynical. The dizzying array of things to do and buy convinced the growing middle class that modern America was in a true golden age," according to Pearson Education's United States History: 1877 to the Present. Sure. Whatever.  

The cartoon that goes with the textbook thoughts on taxes. They're agin' 'em.
The cartoon that goes with the textbook thoughts on taxes. They're agin' 'em.

6. Nothing good has happened in society since 1927. "In the words of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., taxes are 'what we pay for civilized society.' Society does not appear to be much more civilized today than it was when Justice Holmes made that observation in 1927," according to MacGruder's American Government. Right, creating Social Security, ending segregation, the Civil Rights Act, the Violence Against Women Act, the Clean Water Act. Nope, none of that has made us more "civilized."

5. Apparently we still say "negro"? "South of the Sahara Desert most of the people before the Age of Explorations were black Africans of the Negro race," according to World History A: Early Civilizations to the Mid-1880s. So "Negro" is suddenly an acceptable term to be used in a friggin' school textbook. It's pointed out in the report that use of the term is "archaic and fraught with ulterior meaning." Reading that one sentence makes us intensely curious about what the authors of this textbook had to say about the rest of early civilization. Both curious and afraid.  

Sitting Bull obviously hasn't read this version of history.
Sitting Bull obviously hasn't read this version of history.
Photo from Library of Congress

4. The Native Americans hung out with the Pilgrims and the whole thing turned out just fine for Squanto and his buddies. "In the fall of 1621, the Pilgrims included their new Wampanoag friends in a feast of thanksgiving," according to United States History to 1877. Basically, just picture the sharing of corn and pie (because there's always pie at Thanksgiving.) And that's pretty much how things go for the Native Americans right up until they get to Little Big Horn. There's no mention of the many tensions and problems, of smallpox, or Manifest Destiny or the whole brutal bloody dealings with President Andrew Jackson. Nope, just a friendly thanksgiving. Nothing else to see here. And that whole Little Big Horn thing came out of nowhere. 3. "Harvey Milk was the first openly gay elected official in the United States." Wrong. It's just incorrect. The mayor of San Francisco (as he was called though he was actually elected to the city board of supervisors) was one of the first but he was not the first openly gay official elected to public office (and there plenty of not-so-open ones elected before him.) Other openly gay or officials preceded him, including Kathy Korazchenko, elected to the Ann Arbor city council in 1974, and Elaine Noble, who took her seat in the Massachusetts Legislature in 1974.  

A pretty concise summary on the textbook thoughts on Affirmative Action.
A pretty concise summary on the textbook thoughts on Affirmative Action.
From the report

2. The whole segregation thing wasn't that big of a deal. Yep, Brown v. Board of Education only happened because sometimes "the buildings, buses, and teachers for the all-black schools were lower in quality," according to United States Government by McGraw-Hill. Really? That was it? Most of the schools designated for African American children were gleaming marble halls of learning with adequate classrooms, teachers, books and school supplies? The Jim Crow laws didn't place obscene limits on educational opportunities for black people? Well, then we are just flabbergasted. Why on earth did people fight the desegregation of schools so bitterly then? Why did it takes decades to get the schools desegregated - one school district in Odessa, Texas was finally ruled officially desegregated in 2010 - in Texas alone, if it was all so simple? Also, "it seems clear the days of affirmative action programs are drawing to a close," according to MacGruder's American Government. Huh.

1. The "Gay Liberation Movement" The "gay liberation movement" -- or as the rest of us call it the gay rights movement -- was totally the same as "social upheaval" and a society that was "spinning out of control," according to American History II: Post-Civil War America to the Present. Because obviously Stonewall and the whole thing about LGBT citizens making strides toward key civil rights advances should be associated with a crumbling society. Probably because society ceased to make any advances in civilization as of 1927. Yup, that must be it.


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