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?