Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Texas Textbook Massacre

Not so long ago, we had some fun at the expense of the Texas State Board of Education, when we found out that they had confused our friend and comrade Bill Martin, professor of philosophy at DePaul University, with Bill Martin, Jr., the author of Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? But we almost knew that this couldn't be the end of the story, just because now the T.S.B.E. would be on our radar.

So it happens that the Bill-Martin-mix-up is only one part of a much larger process. At the moment the Texas State Board of Education is rewriting the standards for their textbooks. The title of Mariah Blake's article summarizes the process: the 'Texas Education Board Is Trying to Infuse Schoolbooks with Ultraconservative Ideology.' This would be a laughing matter, except for the fact that Texas is one of the largest markets for textbooks, and as you can imagine, publishers are willing to rewrite history to make the cold, hard cash. California, of course, usually acts as a liberal balance to the Texas textbook massacre, but with the current budget woes of the Golden State, it won't be buying textbooks until at least 2014.

So what might kids in other states be learning, if their smaller market state buys the same books? Of course evolution is going to be omitted or eviscerated. What about history? Blake writes:
[David] Barton [former vice chairman of the Texas Republican Party]'s goal is to pack textbooks with early American documents that blend government and religion, and paint them as building blocks of our Constitution. In so doing, he aims to blur the fact that the Constitution itself cements a wall of separation between church and state. But his agenda does not stop there. He and the other conservative experts also want to scrub U.S. history of its inconvenient blemishes -- if they get their way, textbooks will paint slavery as a relic of British colonialism that America struggled to cast off from day one and refer to our economic system as "ethical capitalism." They also aim to redeem Communist hunter Joseph McCarthy, a project [Don] McLeroy endorses. As he put it in a memo to one of the writing teams, "Read the latest on McCarthy -- He was basically vindicated."

Ethical Capitalism? No wonder they got in such a huff with Ethical Marxism. Call me cynical, but I'm sure they can come up with something crazier than that. Oh, wait. Here it is:

On the global front, Barton and company want textbooks to play up clashes with Islamic cultures, particularly where Muslims were the aggressors, and to paint them as part of an ongoing battle between the West and Muslim extremists. Barton argues, for instance, that the Barbary wars, a string of skirmishes over piracy that pitted America against Ottoman vassal states in the 1800s, were the "original war against Islamic Terrorism." What's more, the group aims to give history a pro-Republican slant -- the most obvious example being their push to swap the term "democratic" for "republican" when describing our system of government. Barton, who was hired by the GOP to do outreach to black churches in the run-up to the 2004 election, has argued elsewhere that African Americans owe their civil rights almost entirely to Republicans and that, given the "atrocious" treatment blacks have gotten at the hands of Democrats, "it might be much more appropriate that demands for reparations were made to the Democrat Party rather than to the federal government." He is trying to shoehorn this view into textbooks, partly by shifting the focus of black history away from the civil rights era to the post-Reconstruction period, when blacks were friendlier with Republicans. [...] while they concede that people like Martin Luther King Jr. deserve a place in history, they argue that they shouldn't be given credit for advancing the rights of minorities. As Barton put it, "Only majorities can expand political rights in America's constitutional society." Ergo, any rights people of color have were handed to them by whites -- in his view, mostly white Republican men.

Somebody should let the guy know that it's the Democratic Party, not the Democrat Party. But that's a minor point in the larger revisionism. It makes you wish that these people would just home school their kids and keep their hands off of our 'socialist' system of public education.


Doug Indeap said...

Barton should be taken with a grain of salt. Chris Rodda offers a meticulous analysis revealing that zealotry more than fact shapes Barton's work, which is riddled with shoddy scholarship and downright dishonesty. For a detailed analysis, see Chris Rodda, Liars For Jesus: The Religious Right's Alternate Version of American History Vol. 1 (2006). For a quicker, yet telling analysis, see

Devin Zane Shaw said...

Thanks for the links. I'm not worried about any of these people's intellectual abilities...just the fact that they are in positions to make decisions.