Texas, Textbooks, the Washington Post and Ann Althouse

Before I ran off to law school three decades ago, I obtained my BA in the teaching of social studies, and I have kept my eye on education political issues.

The Left in this country has been alarmed over conservatives on the Texas State School Board amending the social studies standards in that state.  For example, California State Senator Leland Yee (D. San Francisco) has introduced a bill that would require the California Board of Education to be on the lookout for any Texas content in reviewing public school textbooks.  He also makes the hilarious statement that the Texas curriculum changes pose a threat “to the apolitical nature of public school governance and academic content standards in California.”  This in a state where the legislature has instituted a Harvey Milk Day to propagandize students in the gay rights agenda, and where the California Education Association, the teacher’s union, is the largest spender on politics in the state.

To support the meme of the Left that conservatives were perverting educational standards in Texas, the Washington Post wrote a  piece that may be read here.  Ann Althouse, law professor and blogger decided to compare the claims of the Washington Post to the new standards.  Here is what she found:

Let me embarrass the Washington Post. Below, the material from the WaPo article, written by Michael Birnbaum, is indented. After the indented part, I’ve located the relevant quote from the Board of Education text, found here. (I’m searching 3 PDF documents: Economics with Emphasis on the Free Enterprise System and Its Benefits Subchapter A. High School; Social Studies Subchapter B. Middle School; Social Studies Subchapter C. High School.)

The Washington Post writes:

The Texas state school board gave final approval Friday to controversial social studies standards….

The new standards say that the McCarthyism of the 1950s was later vindicated — something most historians deny –…
The students are required to “describe how McCarthyism, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), the arms race, and the space race increased Cold War tensions and how the later release of the Venona Papers confirmed suspicions of communist infiltration in U.S. government…” The word “vindicated” is inflammatory and unfair. What is the Washington Post saying historians deny? One can be informed of the reality of what the Venona Papers revealed about communist infiltration into the U.S. government and still understand and deplore the excesses of “McCarthyism.”

…draw an equivalency between Jefferson Davis’s and Abraham Lincoln’s inaugural addresses…
Students are required to “analyze the ideas contained in Jefferson Davis’ inaugural address and Abraham Lincoln’s ideas about liberty, equality, union, and government as contained in his first and second inaugural addresses and the Gettysburg Address.” The word “equivalency” is uncalled for. The requirement is to analyze, not to be indoctrinated that the ideas are the same.

… say that international institutions such as the United Nations imperil American sovereignty…
What I’m seeing is “explain the significance of the League of Nations and the United Nations” and “analyze the human and physical factors that influence the power to control territory, create conflict/war, and impact international political relations such as the United Nations (UN), the European Union (EU), or the control of resources.” Where is the language that can be paraphrased “imperil American sovereignty”?

…. and include a long list of Confederate officials about whom students must learn.
Students are required to “explain the roles played by significant individuals and heroes during the Civil War, including Jefferson Davis, Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee, Abraham Lincoln, and congressional Medal of Honor recipients William Carney and Philip Bazaar.” Only Davis and Lee were Confederate officials! There is also this: “describe the role of individuals such as governors George Wallace, Orval Faubus, and Lester Maddox and groups, including the Congressional bloc of southern Democrats, that sought to maintain the status quo [in the Civil Rights Era].” That’s obviously not from the Civil War, but I can see why it’s annoying to Democrats.

They also removed references to capitalism and replaced them with the term “free-enterprise system.”
The document on economics does use the term “free enterprise system” throughout, but students are required to “understand that the terms free enterprise, free market, and capitalism are synonymous terms to describe the U.S. economic system,” so what is the problem?

Virtually everything cited in the article to make the curriculum seem controversial is misstated! Appalling!

ADDED: Birnbaum had an article in the previous day’s Washington Post that does contain quotes, and these have to do with changes that went through on Thursday (and which do not — but should! — appear in the documents that are available at the Board of Education website):

Students will now study “efforts by global organizations to undermine U.S. sovereignty,” an addition late Thursday evening encouraged by board member Don McLeroy (R), who has put forward many of the most contentious changes….

Another one of the seven conservative board members, David Bradley (R), added a list of Confederate generals and officials to the list of topics that students must study.

This provides support for Birnbaum’s statement that the standards “include a long list of Confederate officials about whom students must learn.” And it answers my question “Where is the language that can be paraphrased ‘imperil American sovereignty’?” My criticisms about “vindicating” McCarthyism, “the equivalency between Jefferson Davis’s and Abraham Lincoln’s inaugural addresses,” and the term “free-enterprise system” remain.

I have not been defending the Texas standards, only attacking the quality of the journalism that fails to quote or link to a text that is referred to. Birnbaum’s Friday article contains some useful quotes (though still not a link to the whole text). The Saturday article was unanchored to text and forced me to look for what I could find on line. I’m also criticizing inaccurate paraphrasing, like the use of the words “vindicating” and “equivalency.” Birnbaum’s take on the standards might be true, but in an article that refers to a text, I do need to see the text. Paraphrasing, without the text, raises suspicions, and I don’t apologize for having those suspicions.

Politics since the days of Horace Mann have always played a large part in curriculum development for public schools which is why states produce laundry lists of dos and don’ts in regard to what is taught. For example in Illinois the kids get off for Casimir Pulaski day and learn about him in school. Pulaski played a fairly minor role in the American Revolution dying at the siege of Savannah in 1779 leading a cavalry charge. However, activist Poles in Chicago wanted him in, so class time is taken up on this minor figure. What is unusual in Texas is not the politics, but the publicity it has received.

Here are the revisions made in the curriculum standards for high school social studies in Texas.  It is telling that these types of modest revisions can rouse such a tempest and to so little purpose.  Students in public schools in Texas will still be taught overwhelmingly by teachers who are members of the National Education Association, the teacher’s union, which routinely takes left of center stances on the political issues of the day.  More to the point, the teaching of social studies will still receive short shrift at most schools, judging from the historical illiteracy of most high school graduates.  Political bias in school textbooks I think is a problem, but the main issues are  too many teachers who cannot teach effectively, too many students who do not seem to want to learn and too many parents who could care less.  Of course this is why the homeschool movement is growing as parents flee an increasingly useless public school system.

About these ads

3 Comments

  1. Naturally, WaPo cannot even now bring itself even now to admit that there actually _were_ Communist spies and sympathisers. But I hope that Texas educators will encourage students to look at the methods used by HUAC, et al. in the pursuit of such.

    Likewise, while I applaud teaching the Civil War incl. about CSA oficers I have a sneaking suspicion that in Texas they may be held up as heroes.

    There is a Latin saying I forget which translates “He who makes distinctions educates”. The devil, as always, will be in _how_ these things are taught.
    But good luck getting subtlety from any media, especially an agenda-driven paper like WaPo.

  2. In regard to the Confederate generals TC, it is amusing to read Southern and Northern text books and how they treated the Civil War. Up to 1965 one would be hard pressed at times to realize that they were teaching about the same conflict! There is one incident of Texas in the Confederacy that I hope all Texas student’s are taught, and I will address that in a future post.

  3. When you think about it, couldn’t you say it was insulting to say there were no Russian spies in the 1950s? That would imply that the KGB was either incompetent, slothful, or cowardly. I have heard many evils spoken of Russian spies but those three vices were never prominent.


Comments are closed.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 145 other followers

%d bloggers like this: