As Texas goes, so goes the Nation?

Taken from Google Images

After reading the selections for this week’s class (Wright, “The Ethics of Living Jim Crow,” “Big Boy Leaves Home,” “Down by the Riverside,” and “Long Black Song” in Uncle Tom’s Children; Selections from Langston Hughes, The Ways of White Folks, “Home” and “Father and Son”; and, Gretchen Sorin and Mary Aimonovitch, Through the Eyes of Others.), I couldn’t help but think of the current media firestorm over the Texas State Board of Educations ruling on new social study standards pushing Texas textbooks in a more “right” direction.

Taken from Google Images

Regardless of your political views, going through the Texas Education Agency (TEA) Archive’s is a real treat.

After listening to several sections of meetings held over the last year, I was shocked by how far the Texas State Board of Education (TSBE) was willing to water-down American history. I was especially appalled by certain board member’s quests to eradicate representations of minorities.

In an April 22, 2009 meeting, a board member, Bill Ames, told the board that he felt that there was too much emphasis on America’s negative past and those groups who helped enforce that view.

His direct quote is: “…I contend that there is an overrepresentation of minority content. And that’s all TEKS driven. The specific TEKS say ‘the problems of women,’ ‘the problems of immigrants,’ ‘the problems of minorities.’ There is nothing in the current TEKS that talks about celebrating America’s positive successes.” [1]

The TSEB recently sanctified this view, along with other historical gems like keeping note-worthy Hispanics or social leaders out of the textbooks, by a 10-5 vote, along party lines. [2]

So, why does this matter? I’m sure that debates like this happen all over the nation on various topics within history and the press gives it little to no air time. The problem with Texas is that they have a perceived (there seems to be some debate about how exactly influential Texas is) dominance in the textbook market. Why? Texas’s education standards are notoriously demanding about what textbooks can and cannot teach students. This, coupled with the fact that Texas is the second largest textbook buyer in the nation, makes for a potent truth: make your textbook Texas friendly and you have yourself a lucrative business. [3]

It also matters because there have been a rash of “noose” incidents within the last decade, most recently from the University of California San Diego where racists outbreaks led to a student leaving a noose in the campus’s library. In many of these cases, those who left nooses defended themselves that they simply had a lack of judgment and didn’t think clearly (aka, know enough) about all the symbolism involved. Personally, I believe that to be a weak defense; however, if textbooks and history standards only reinforce the “positive” side of American history and leave out those “problems” facing America’s past…who really is to blame?

Throughout our reading this week, violence and the crisis of Black identity in “White” world were major themes in the literature. Wright and Hughes exposed the vast nuances of the time of their characters; no character tells a typical or simple story of the Black experience in America simply because there is no typical story of the Black experience in America. From Wright’s characters struggle to fit the accepted “Black” mold to those characters of Hughes’s who are divorced from both their Black and White world—all stories end in horrifying, gut-wrenching violence.

Wright and Hughes show the nuances. History is nuanced. We, as a society, should be striving to learning and bring to light these nuances. Nuance isn’t a bad thing. While I understand that you cannot include every nuance within a standardized textbook, I also think you shouldn’t run away from it. By ignoring the nuances and refusing to show that they are there, we are only creating more “problems” for the future—for you, me, and everybody.

Taken from Google Images

If teachers, textbooks, etc. taught more about the “problems of minorities,” maybe it would become less about minorities’ problems and more about the problems America is still trying to overcome.


[1] “Archived Audio Files,” January 19, 2010, http://www.tea.state.tx.us/index4.aspx?id=4473. Click April 22, Committee on Instruction. TEKS stands for the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills.

[2] James C. Mckinley Jr, “Texas Conservatives Win Curriculum Change,” The New York Times, March 12, 2010, sec. Education, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/13/education/13texas.html.

[3] Brian Thevenot, “The Tipping Point: Texas Textbook Politics Meets the Digital Revolution,” The Texas Tribune, November 6, 2009, http://www.texastribune.org/stories/2009/nov/06/tipping-point-texas-textbook-politics-meets-digital-revolution/.

5 thoughts on “As Texas goes, so goes the Nation?

  1. I keep wondering about the students’ reactions to these changes in their educational material. I like that you included a picture of students obviously speaking out against the revisions, but do they have much influence on what they are or will be learning? I feel like these decisions by policy makers have in essence left out the students in favor of imposing their own political powers. They seem to be banking on ignorance on the part of the students; like they will never notice large chunks of American history missing from their education. There seems to be too much available information today for this to go unnoticed by students. I wonder how this blatant political decision will play out in the atmostphere of the classroom?

  2. I saw this story on some other news outlets and the more I couldn’t believe what was being changed in the Texas standards. Here is a link to one article I read, written by someone at the hearings.

    http://scienceblogs.com/dispatches/2010/03/texas_boe_removes_jefferson_fr.php

    The Texas Board of Education has removed Thomas Jefferson from the list of influential Enlightenment thinkers and their disputing the separation of church and state. At risk of sounding elitist, does it concern anyone else that the people deciding the history standards for the second biggest textbook market in the country are in no way trained historians?

  3. It’s kind of ironic, though, isn’t it?

    160 years ago, many white men like Mr. Ames were arguing that we couldn’t possibly abolish slavery; it was too integral a part of the American economy. Doing away with it was unthinkable. Now this, the issue that caused a civil war, is so unimportant a subject that it’s being removed from history textbooks?

    90 years ago, they were arguing that giving women the vote would be the ruin of the American family. Today, the issue of women’s suffrage isn’t worth a mention?

    5 years ago–oh, no, illegal Mexicans! Remember Lou Dobbs’ hysteria (and the classic South Park episode? They’re takin’ our jobs!)? You’d think our neighbors to the south were planning a full-scale coup d’etat of DC. Now we’re just going to sweep this OMGMAJORCRISIS under the rug?

    These issues are important enough when the establishment wants them to be important (ie, when they can be used to sensationalize and maintain power). But stick them in a context in which the people in charge don’t come out squeaky clean and virtuous, and they seem awfully eager to adapt the “Everything’s peachy–we’re all best buddies!” version of American history.

    1. I find this topic of removing unpleasantness from our school curriculum, to be absurd. However it is also something that has been going on forever. The phrase “history is written by the victor” seems to have hit home with some Texans. I understand national pride and wanting to pass that pride down to the next generation however, we as a nation are only what we have overcome and made of ourselves. So much of our history is already under-represented or as in the case of gay history in the U.S. not represented at all.
      America was built upon a native population that are now mistakenly thought to be “disappearing”; colonized by the English, Dutch, Spanish and more, this entire nation is an amalgamation of minorities. The negativeness that this local Texas man is attempting to reduce in the school text books would eliminate the majority of all history. We as a people and a nation are defined by our actions and reactions to events and to eliminate this from our curriculum would be a disservice to the emerging generation. The readings from Write and Hughes were difficult to read, the content barbaric. And constantly while I read, I had to remind myself that as hard as it was to read and though they were works of fiction, they were based on the truth of race torn southern culture. While reading about the viciousness of white hatred toward the black population I kept thinking about how it was all born of ignorance. Hughes depicts a white educated woman befriending a black musician and that friendship being misconstrued, resulting in the musicians murder. Ignorance breeds fear and misunderstanding, so the only solution can be to educate. In removing minorities from the common course of study we would risk the rise of ignorance and thus the rise of racial misunderstandings and worse.

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