Now that the new social studies textbooks are set to start hitting Texas classrooms this fall, it's time to remember why that's an alarming move.
The new textbooks were drafted according to standards set up by the State Board of Education back in 2010. This is the same board that tried and failed to kick Darwin out of the science textbook curriculum in 2009, but they got back in the ring with social studies standards the following year. The social studies textbooks that were cobbled together based on these guidelines are, shall we say, a bit controversial on a number of points, as we've written before. However, in the aftermath of the Charleston church shootings that left nine dead at a historic black church last month, critics are circling back around to scrutinize the Texas State Board of Education's take on the Civil War and a few other key events. We've looked at what the textbooks say on the Civil War, Reconstruction and the Civil Rights movement — the sections that are looking even more glaringly off-balance as it has become intensely embarrassing to even own a Confederate flag — and pulled a few examples that explain why people are not happy about the board's take on this stuff:
5. The picking and choosing. In the new textbooks, students will be required to read the inaugural address by Confederate President Jeff Davis. That's fine. Of course people should read the Davis speech — how else will they get a full view of history? The problem is that students will not have to read the infamous speech given by his vice president, Alexander Stephens. While the Davis speech alludes to slavery so delicately — never even mentioning the word — that it backs up the contention that the big issue that tore this country apart was states rights, not slavery, it's hard to miss what Stephens meant. Specifically:
"Our new Government is founded upon exactly the opposite ideas; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition."
So yeah, in this case having a class read one speech given at the Confederate inauguration while skipping the other is kind of a big deal, since it changes the entire slant of what the war was about.
4. The KKK and Jim Crow laws have been revised right out of the history book. Seriously. There's no mention of the Ku Klux Klan, the group that rose up during Reconstruction and was really into racism, white supremacy and those distinctive white sheet costumes. As far as future Texas school children know, none of that happened, and everybody got along swimmingly after the Civil War. In fact, anyone reading these books today will be rather confused. It's hard to make sense of Brown vs. Board of Education, of the Civil Rights movement, of Martin Luther King Jr. and even Ferguson and the South Carolina shootings if you don't know — because it's not mentioned in the textbooks — about the Jim Crow laws that created racial segregation in all public facilities in the South from Reconstruction right up until 1965. And yet, none of this gets a mention. Yeah, it looked like a gross oversight before and now it has lurched over into grotesque.
3. The Civil War wasn't even about slavery. Yep, the State Board of Education really outdid themselves on this one. During the Textbook Wars, the board was on a mission to remove the "liberal bias" from the Texas curriculum. That meant correcting — or whatever — the record to show that the Civil War was really fought over states rights. Board member Pat Hardy claimed that slavery was “a side issue to the Civil War" and somehow she said it and it has appeared, like magic, in the new social studies textbooks. Aside from being an oversimplification of a complicated issue — because there were a ton of issues — it's insane to try and pretend that millions in slavery had nothing to do with the bloodiest war in American history. And yet that's exactly what the books are claiming.
2. The whole segregation thing wasn't that big a deal. 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 McGraw-Hill's new Texas-inspired social studies textbook "United States Government." It seems that the State Board of Education's interpretation of history (they'd have done better if they actually hired cats to do an interpretive dance of all of history for every Texas student) has concluded that Jim Crow laws totally didn't place almost insurmountable educational burdens on black students. According to this reasoning, the bitter opposition to desegregation wasn't even an issue, and they don't even bother mentioning that one school district in Odessa, Texas wasn't even considered properly desegregated until 2010. Because that's all a part of the "liberal bias."
1. These textbooks will end up being used by school children across the country. That's the thing, in spite of the glaring oversights that appear in these new textbooks, it probably wouldn't be such a big deal to the rest of the country if they weren't going to end up with the exact same textbooks themselves. Texas is the second largest textbook market in the country — after California — so publishers tend to cater to Texas State Board of Education requirements when writing the textbooks. That was less of an issue before the Textbook Wars got started, but publishers have duly gone along with the State Board of Education and written textbooks with an eye toward meeting the state requirements. Hence why, just as everyone is talking about the Confederate flag and issues of race in the wake of South Carolina, Texas gets to be the state that is going one step further and teaching the whole war to free the slaves as the war of Northern aggression. President Abraham Lincoln is lucky he's in the books at all.