The New Texas School Board Curriculum – Hee, Hee, Hee or No, No, No?

Oh, boy.

The Associated Press reports today, March 13, 2010, that, “A far-right faction of the Texas State Board of Education succeeded Friday in injecting conservative ideals into social studies, history, and economics lessons that will be taught to millions of students for the next decade.”  Apparently, down in Texas, there is a ferocious squabble as to whether students should be taught that Tejanos died at the Alamo alongside Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie.  There are also some prevailing gold bugs down in Lone Star country that want to be assurred that students learn about the decline in the value of the dollar and that they are aware of the history of America’s abandonment of the gold standard.   The history of hip-hop as a cultural movement is to be excluded, while classification of historic periods will remain to be taught as B.C. and A.D.   So, is this something to get worked up about here?  Is there really anything that is newly controversial about school history curriculums that  Texas has revealed to us in “three days of impassioned and acrimonious debate”?

In a word – No.

The late Howard Zinn, former professor of political science at Boston University, former activist, and former historian, said that he learned the same history in elementary school that he learned in high school, that he learned in college, and that he learned in graduate school.  The only difference was that, in graduate school, footnotes were included.  Professor Zinn earned his Ph.D. in history at Columbia University.  What Zinn learned later in his work was that there is really little dispute as to what took place in history.   Fact-checking can easily be used to determine whether something actually occurred.  The real issue with the writing of history is omission.   Zinn argued that what is chosen to be left out of history books is as important as to what is chosen to be included.

While Zinn’s opinion of contextual history was surely not original or unique, he did make a quantum leap.  Seeking to remedy many of the important omissions in American history, as we all learned it in school, he decided to write a book with an emphasis on the omissions.  His wonderful book was, of course, “The People’s History of the United States.”  In that book, one can read about American history, not from the powers-that-be viewpoint, not from the standpoint of the political/economic movers and shakers, not from the dogmatics who had the power and means to determine what our American children would read but, instead, from a completely different perspective.  Zinn made an incredible effort to write history from  minority perspective, from a dispossessed people’s perspective, indeed from the view of largely forgotten and historically invisible peoples.  He wanted to tell their stories, and he was not happy that these stories had been omitted from the teaching curriculum of not only elementary and secondary education, but also, from higher education – indeed from most all widely published sources.  He knew that he, as a professional historian had never learned about this omitted part of history in his education.  It was time, he thought, to shed some light to others on these historical events.

I say, “Let the powers-that-be in Texas re-write the student’s history books as they see fit in their parochial, political and regulatory process. There is really nothing new about these sorts of political squabbles.”  However, I do recommend that, when you deem your children old enough to read an alternative view about American history, encourage them to do so – and start with,”The People’s History of the United States.”  The book will, unfortunately, not likely be introduced into mainstream American curriculums in ours lifetimes, but why not hope?


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30 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. They want to remove Thomas Jefferson, say there was never meant to be a separation of church and state, omit the non-establishment clause, “prove” that McCarthyism was justified…

    These are just some examples of what I consider to be large, ideologically consistent changes to make official for every student in Texas what conservative parents already teach their own children.

    There is something wrong with this.

    • There is indeed something quite wrong with the Texas Board of Education’s attempts at history-twisting. But, as a late friend of mine used to say, “You can’t stop people from being stupid.” Thank you very much for your comments. I appreciate them.

      • I think it only fair to acknowledge that:

        “THE far-LEFT faction of the EDUCATION SYSTEM succeedS EVERY DAY in injecting LEFT ideals into social studies, history, and economics lessons that ARE taught to millions of students NOW AND for THE LAST decade.”

        My sister is a public school teacher in CA. They require continuing education, so she earned her Masters. A required class was how to indoctrinate students into far left, history revisionist philosphies. The professors were not ashamed of or shy about their stated goal.

        That said, I suggest that the horrific situation of the slaves is not learned about enough in history.

        But glossing over the realities of slavery is NOT a conservative ideal. I’m a conservative, and know a lot of other conservatives, and NONE of us sympathize with the slave owners. ALL of us feel profound sadness that this horrible situation ever existed in our country, and that it continues to exist today in our world.

      • Mathilda – I’m curious what school teaches a course like that, the name of the course, etc. I would like to look into that further.

        Also, I agree that glossing over slavery is not a conservative idea; however, it does seem to be the same groups of conservative Christians bringing these suggestions and other attempts to promote themselves. It is hard for me to even imagine textbooks teaching children our government was founded on Christian principles, downplaying Thomas Jefferson, and these other radical ‘revisions’ of history.

  2. Actually, Zinn’s book was required reading for my history class my junior year of high school. It was for AP US History, so not a huge number of students took it, of course, but it was our primary textbook that year. That was about 8 years ago. Fantastic class, but mainly because of a fantastic teacher who felt that students were missing key ideas from our history from glossed over textbooks.
    Interesting blog you’ve got here 🙂

    • Hey, thanks for your comments – and you compliment about my blog. I try.

      Very interesting about your high school AP History class using the Zinn book. Naturally, I (and probably some others who have read your comment) are curious as to the name and location of your school. If you feel comfortable in revealing it, I would like to know. Again, thank.

      • I also read Zinn’s Peoples’ History because it was required in my AP US History class at Pacific Collegiate School in California. In a state ranked 49th in public education, PCS ranks among the top ten schools nationally, but there is some disagreement on the legitimacy of the rankings. []

        Classes in so-called revisionist history provide value because they teach students to ask questions of the information they receive. Their intention is not to replace one doctrine with another, though I am sure this can happen. People, of whatever age, don’t automatically know to ask questions. I can argue that this complacency is at the core of America’s political dilapidation.

        You, and everyone who has commented here, have demonstrated that you can ask questions. So you care about education and it’s influence on politics–good for you. You’re a minority. The problem is not that the schoolbooks have poor facts, missing facts, or a right/left bias. The information will always be poor. Until schools, and more importantly families, adopt a culture of question-driven learning–until people on a large scale become curious about the information they are given–the national dialogue about education that schools need to thrive will not take place.

  3. There is a problem with learning directionally biased history well described by J. William Fulbright in his book “Old Myths and New Realities” Random House, 1964. It begins as follows:

    “There is an inevitable divergence, attributable to the imperfections of the human mind, between the world as it is and the world as men perceive it.

    “As long as our perceptions are reasonably close to objective reality, it is possible for us to act in a rational and appropriate manner.

    “But when our perceptions fail to keep pace with events, when we refuse to believe something because it displeases or frightens us or is simply strangely unfamiliar, then the gap between fact and perception becomes a chasm, and action becomes irrelevant and irrational.”

    • Thanks. I very much like Sen. Fullbright’s quote, which you provided. I also liked Senator Fullbright. I think my overriding point in my article was, “What has happened in history can be easily fact-checked.” That means that is quite easy to call out the politicians on their biased agendas and historical distortions,

  4. Finally, someone turns the bus to the right for once. Won’t make up for the last 100 years of left turns, but oh well. Of course the libtards are mad – suddenly chapters of spin on people like Cesar Chavez and Che Guevara are replaced with, wait for it,…actual American history. A breath of fresh air this morning!

    • Just can’t enter the debate without an insult, huh? “Libtard?” You’re not exactly making a conservative like yourself look intelligent. Try loosing your displaced anger and try again.

  5. Sean…Libtard doesn’t make Andy look very intelligent and more than a bit insulting. But…spelling losing as loosing doesn’t place you in the genius catagory either. Forget church and state….schools should at least be teaching proper spelling, don’t you agree?

    • I wish we could get over the spelling niggle. A lot of brilliant people can’t speel. Andy is carrying out a tactic to troll liberal blogs to make insulting comments to stir up emotions. It is the best he can do since he can’t argue the logic. Anyway, thought provoking post. I wonder if enough parents are that thoughtful.

      • And every last one of you misspelled a word. Congrats! Anyone consider that it may have been a typo??

  6. My wife teaches AP US hist in ultraconservative Moore,OK and she and others in her department use Zinn constantly in history classes.

  7. Andy, your post was a real let down. I was reading through the comments, thinking to myself, “wow, these are remarkably civil”. Then I read your “libtard” comment. What is with you Conservatives? Why can’t you manage to open your mouths without letting bile spill out? Your pissed off. I get it. Well, guess what? So are we. But, because Liberalism is grounded in a form of morality that Conservatives have long since abandoned, we tend to try to maintain a certain level of civility.

    • Actually, it’s “you’re pissed off.” Sorry about the libtard thing. Plenty of examples of liberals unable to maintain civility…please refer to any G8/G20 meeting. Also, your morality is just different from what we consider morality; that doesn’t necessarily make us (or you, for that matter) wrong. I’m sure most liberals sincerely believe their philosophies are best for the state/US/mankind, etc. So do we…decisions on who gets to try what will continue to happen at the ballot box, I hope.

  8. School boards are GREAT tools of propaganda,where the Right is ALWAYS RIGHT,and the Left always left to the Leftovers,Always want to settle the History of opression
    Right on what´s Right with the Left and WRONG, Totally Wrong with the Right.Both Right and Left Sides of Your Bodies are NEEDED to COMPLETE an otherWise DYSFUNCTIONAL
    Human Body,and to that You Both need a COMPLETE History,including Your Medical History-as otherWise Your Menthal State WILL always feel that there is something MISSING in the picture here…!-History is part of The Peoples Heritage,and the fundamental amendments does not allow it!-as simple as that!-so the right tend to forget some hard fought RIGHTS of the Country…!-and next You WILL see is ANOTHER war,and then Another War and then…!-until the society brakes into a fatal divide!-You are ALL obliged and kindly invited to avoid that.

  9. If parents want ideological education for their children, they should home school them or find a private school that aligns with their ideals.

    What school is a Jewish child supposed to go to in Texas now? Or a Muslim? Or a non-religious child?

    Is Texas openly stating that it will only educate Christians? Or in other words, is Texas offering unequal rights based on religious beliefs?

    Why are people so affixed to the relatively-ancient wording (read: interpretation) of a short document written in an extinct dialect by a small group of people (the constitution)? Is anyone really claiming that society has not changed in 300 years? If so, maybe we should get rid of all of the amendments and revert back to the original. Though I suppose if you are willing to believe the text of the Bible (older, more heavily interpreted & translated, far more rich with ambiguity) then maybe the constitution falls under a skewed definition of “modern”.

    • Jack,

      Texas is NOT stating that it will only educate Christians. It is simply stating that it would like to see some more of the religious and cultural underpinnings that influenced the development of this nation. If that’s a problem for you, then that’s YOUR problem.

      Also, you ask why people are “so affixed to the relatively-ancient wording” written in “an extinct dialect”. You make it sound as though there is no further use for ideas, philosophies, inventions, or advancements that had been posited and documented more than what, 50, 100 years ago? If that is your intent, then please relinquish all modern conveniences you now enjoy and go cower in a cave somewhere and sharpen your stone-tipped spear. You’ve convinced me that you have no interest in the arts, literature, architecture, engineering, mathematics, science, technology or government that have been refined over several millennia of civilization, and documented in horribly antiquated and extinct dialects. And please stop using this English language you think has progressed far beyond that “extinct dialect”. You would perhaps be better served by developing a more modern language that is not constrained by the grammar, syntax, and vocabulary that is overwhelmingly similar to what was used 300 years ago.

      Finally, you seem to find it easy to disparage the Bible without recognizing that a good many of the mores and laws that provide for your peaceful existence are based upon the Judeo-Christian values that are inspired by that ancient work. Never mind the fact that it is the most heavily attacked writing in history, while remaining the most published and read, and most attested and approved piece of literature ever produced.

      But please keep in mind that your liberty to criticize what many consider sacred has been heavily influenced by that work that you seem to think “rich with ambiguity”, and therefore of little intrinsic value. Somehow, “biting the hand that feeds you” comes to mind….

      I think if anything is skewed here, it’s your belief that anything “modern” can exist without anything “ancient”. By its very definition, “modern” is the opposite of “ancient”.

      But does that mean that a “modern interpretation” contradicts an “ancient interpretation”? Actually, no it does not. I think you’ll find that it’s more newsworthy when a “modern interpretation” contradicts an “ancient interpretation”. Therefore, it is more commonplace that a “modern interpretation” will typically affirm an “ancient interpretation”. Thus, your implication that “modern” is better than “ancient” doesn’t hold up very well.

      Or, to put it another way, “there is nothing new under the sun.” By the way, that’s in the Bible…you’re free to go look it up…it was written by a guy named Solomon over 5,000 years ago….

  10. I didn’t want to believe that things were really this bad. I actually agree that there needs to be some balance and accuracy in teaching about things such as the War Between the States and what it was about (it’s not a simple matter, if you really look at it – wars are rarely as simple as the winners write in the history books), I agree that sometimes we’ve gone too far in the opposite direction, but history books, dang it, should be about factual history, not about factions, and factions is what we’ve got right now.

    Pretending that the bad things didn’t exist does NOT make our country stronger, Mr. McLeroy. Apparently you think that the United States of America, and its citizens, are not strong enough to acknowledge mistakes made and still love our country and be proud of her. One would think that you aren’t even a Texan, based on this attitude, as it’s certainly not one that is representative of our Great State OR of our country. You seem to be running scared and your belief system seems to be so weak that it needs to be supported by forcing everyone else to agree with you or at least pretend that they do, and you feel the need to indoctrinate everyone to that end. Which, of course, means that you don’t have a lot of true faith in the Christian religion, either.

    Pretending that Thomas Jefferson didn’t exist will not make him go away. I recommend that you read the Virginia Act for Religios Freedom that was the precursor to our own 1st Amendment. You might find it, dare I say, educational as to the benefits of the separation of church and state to religion, as well as to the state.

  11. This is an example of what is wrong with slavish adherence to so-called constitutional principles. Historically, schools have been operated locally, with little Federal interference. Ironically, George Bush promoted and passed the No Child Left Behind Act, which imposes federal standards across the country. Many see this as effectively dumbing down our children, as educators and teachers focus on passing tests to avoid penalties. So essentially, conservatives don’t mind contradicting constitutional principles, when it is perceived to benefit their political position of indoctrinating children to their non-intellectual beliefs and values.

    • I am a physicist and a teacher that is now in law school studying constitutional law. I don’t like NCLB for a good many reasons. However, President Bush’s support of non-constitutional statutes does not make such support a facit of conservativism, but rather makes it clear that President Bush wasn’t as strong of a conservative as he has been painted. Many of Bush’s policies opened the doors for Obama’s agenda since then.

      Frankly, I too am concerned by Texas’ conservative revisionist indoctrination techniques, just as I am concerned about such techniques that have been used for liberal doctrines. That being said, from a constitutional standpoint, this dispute really is a matter to be left to the states. If the citizens voted them in, then let them pick their slant rather than some NEA board who wasn’t voted in by the people. That does seem more “democratic”, doesn’t it.

  12. I went to public school in West Texas in the 1960’s. I learned that the community did not respect the law or the truth. We had scripture readings every morning and were told that if we believed the lie of evolution we would spend eternity in hell.

    I am familiar with their anger about reality’s bias, and I wonder why the anger persists. There must be some advantage to preferring group identity for determining what’s true over careful observation and thought.

  13. If you write a text book containing solely what you consider to be omissions from other text books, have you not created a text that omits a points of view?

    It seems to me that you’re upset as no one asked your point of view as to which points of view should be included or omitted. However, that’s just my point of view.

    • Zinn wanted to simply fill in some unknown gaps. It was never his purpose to make his book a definitive history text. I think he revealed his intention upfront in the title of his book.

      Thanks for your comments.

  14. The idea that history can be fact-checked ignores the epistemological problem that facts don’t really exist independently of those who perceive them. Thus, all we can really say to Holocaust deniers, Apollo moon landing skeptics and 9/11 crackpots is that the evidence for their point of view seems fragile at best and, most importantly perhaps, their view of things is not shared by the vast majority of thoughtful people. In the end, in other words, the “facts” of history come down to a vote.

    If one is troubled by the events in Texas, perhaps the concern should be focused instead on the underlying problem of the norms of education having been funneled into the hands of a tiny elite — thus empowering a small group to dictate what nearly everyone will learn — and then down the road perhaps skewing the “vote” of what constitute the “facts” of history.

    There is a rather rich irony in play here. The Texas School Board issue flows directly from the decision over a century ago to adopt compulsory, “public” education in this country. The picture painted in every school history book is that this decision came as a result of horrible abuses of children who were treated nearly as slaves in sweatshops and farms, deprived of what should have been their birthright to a good education.

    What is overlooked by these textbooks is that the literacy rate in this country was, at that time, about 98%. There is little doubt that there were children being treated badly, but when put into the perspective we now enjoy, where we can see the results of this government solution — low and still declining literacy rates — it seems time to ask which is the solution and which is the problem.

    Returning to the crux of the irony, this authoritarian, mandatory education behemoth now continues its tradition of remaking “history” (including the justification of its own genesis) to suit itself, carrying along enough people in its gigantic jaws to actually make a difference in what will be taken as “fact” by generations to come.

    The point is that if education had remained a private matter, flourishing and succeeding as it already was, the private enterprises furnishing this service would have been forced to compete with each other, and those which taught gibberish would have found themselves pushed to the sidelines and ultimately into oblivion — all without the need for any public angst or the beating of breasts.

    To put it in the computer metaphor, distributed processing always beats centralized processing — both in speed and in reliability. As long as we continue with this “public education” mistake we will continue to reap the results.

  15. Michael,

    I like your website very much. I found the discussions very interesting. I forwarded your article on the Texas School Board Curriculum issue to a colleague of mine who is a retired history professor. I was interested in his take on the article, but he had little time since he was preparing for another of his many trips. Still, his reply was thoughtful, informed and candid, as usual. I asked his permission to share his reply with you and he agreed. Here it is:

    from Peter Shattuck, Professor Emeritus, Sacramento State University, Sacramento, CA.


    Howard Zinn seems to have been a wonderful human being. Sometime in the 60s, he wrote a sharply revisionist work, The People’s History of the US. Basically, he took the generally accepted version of American history and turned it upside down.

    He wrote at a time of incredibly energetic scholarship, during which a great many unrecognized and unsung people appeared in the narrative of American history. Unfortunately, Zinn remained stuck in the 60s. He seems to have ignored the immense changes in the discipline, sticking instead to his once-radical interpretation. Meanwhile, the writers of textbooks enthusiastically incorporated new research, sometimes too enthusiastically. For examples of what I’m talking about, (I refer you to) the recent biography of the Hemmings family, the slaves of Thomas Jefferson. Or read Jack Rakove’s latest book, The Revolutionaries, or anything written by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich.

    I’m glad Mr. Funk has caught up with Howard Zinn — and Zinn’s version is certainly preferable to that of the majority on the Texas Board of Miseducation. But it’s a sad commentary on the discipline when a well-meaning critic can ignore a half-century of vital scholarship. We can expect ignorance from the Governor of Virginia, but it doesn’t need to be so widespread.

    Anyway, thanks for sharing the site. I’ll try not to think of Texas while we circumnavigate Newfoundland.



    Steve Gregorich, Dean Emeritus
    CSU, Sacramento

    • Steve,

      First, thank you for your compliments about my website. I write increase my personal pleasure and to reduce my blood pressure. Sometimes, however, it turns out the other way around.

      As to your friend, Peter. . . . um, well. I would like to conjecture that without Zinn, the discipline of history likely would have continued in its rather sad state. He was a seminal figure, if not the seminal figure in creating what Peter describes as “a time of incredibly energetic scholarship.” Zinn was not a figure who floated along with some magical, scholarly wave. Without meaning to deify him, he created and, indeed, popularized the wave. I’m sure you are familiar with the three i’s of creation – first, the innovators; second the imitators; and third the idiots. The energetic times to which Peter refers, I would characterize as the period of the imitators.

      I thought that it was quite cruel, and wrong, for Peter to state offhand that Zinn was stuck in the 1960’s. That was simply an unncessary and gratuitous cheap-shot, likely aimed at Zinn’s politics. He was a socialist before the 1960’s, and remained so until his death. But, stuck? No, not stuck. Steadfast, maybe. No matter, a great man.

      Again, thanks for the feedback.

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