The Textbook Wars

For some reason I got into a discussion about history textbooks with my son recently. The gist of the conversation dealt with how texas textbookshistory is being blatantly revised for political and/or religious purposes. From day one there have been those who’ve denied the Nazi holocaust or that man ever walked on the moon. And, believe it or not, the Flat Earth Society still exists.

Our conversation centered around the influences Texas has on the content and bias of textbooks in America. Texas is so large and selling its public schools books so profitable they have a huge impact on what and how things get taught.

When I began teaching high school history most American History textbooks were still Eurocentric. Little attention was given to the feelings, experiences, and accomplishments of those other than immigrants from Western and Northern Europe. They also didn’t dwell much on the failures or weaknesses of America’s legal, political, and economic systems. To get a history textbook adopted it still had to fly Old Glory pretty high.

The last American History text I taught from was a far cry from what I began with. It was much less narrow, more inclusive and aware of the nation’s diversity, more willing to openly address our collective behaviors and question our less than stellar decisions. For example, it seriously questioned if FDR had cooked the books to get us involved in WWII or if LBJ had lied to the nation about the reasons we became so involved in Vietnam. In other words, textbooks were becoming more honest and recognizing that history is not a story frozen in ideology or myth. It could be told that Washington didn’t really cut down a cherry tree without risking one’s teaching career.

My son and I agree that we seem to be taking steps back these days. Religious fundamentalists are making progress getting creationism taught as a science and that the Bible is a primary source of world history. Right-wing politicians in many states, especially Texas, are being successful in promoting the idea that the Founding Fathers were like-minded when we know such was not the case. How can we forget that Michelle Bachmann argued that the FFs ended slavery?

I don’t know where this will end but those who control what is taught in Texas are fighting hard to get the story told just how they want it told. They are currently insisting, among other things, that Native Americans and African-Americans had little to do with forging our history or that the philosophers of the Enlightenment played little part in the formation of American political thought.

As to why this is important just consider that there has never been a dictatorship in which the people had free access and input into their history. In every incident I’m aware of one of the first actions of an authoritarian takeover is the elimination of free ideas and the adoption of an “official” version of history. When Joseph Stalin’s actions became an embarrassment to the Soviet Union they dealt with it by simply rewriting history and leaving Stalin out of the story. They even relocated his gravestone to the back lot of the Kremlin. Wonder if Texas will someday omit Lyndon Johnson from its history because he signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964?

For more on what Texas is up to click HERE.

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