Daniel Czitrom: Texas School Board Whitewashes History

Roundup: Historians' Take

[Daniel Czitrom is professor of history at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts. He is author of "Media and the American Mind: From Morse to McLuhan"; "Rediscovering Jacob Riis"; and a co-author of "Out of Many: A History of the American People."]

As a co-author of an American history textbook that was effectively banned in Texas eight years ago, I get a strong feeling of déjà vu all over again as I follow the state's latest curricular wars.

Historians and teachers have reason to be deeply concerned over the latest actions taken by the Texas Board of Education regarding social studies curriculum standards.

The board has moved aggressively to put its hard-right conservative stamp on what students need to learn about the American past. Among the changes made by the board was the elimination of Thomas Jefferson from a list of thinkers who had inspired revolutions around the world. Conservatives object to Jefferson's support for a clear separation of church and state.

This trend is troubling in terms of the writing and the teaching of U.S. history....

...Many conservatives are simply unwilling to accept how much the writing and teaching of American history has changed over the past 40 years.

They want an American history that ignores or marginalizes African-Americans, women, Latinos, immigrants and popular culture. Rather than genuinely engaging the fundamental conflicts that have shaped our past, they prefer a celebratory history that denies those fundamental conflicts....

Future historians may look back at the Texas textbook wars as a prime example of how contemporary political movements shape how we engage history.

I can't think of a better example of that than the current campaign waged by conservatives to remove "bias" from textbooks. Their success threatens to impoverish our students, teachers, and classrooms.

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John Testa - 3/30/2010

Daniel, thank you for your great article. More historians need to speal out on this issue. If the school board views ever become the law of the land it will destroy our whole nation