A Sanitized History

Historians/History




Roberto R. Calderón is an associate professor of history at the University of North Texas. He is the author of Mexican Coal Mining Labor in Texas and Coahuila, 1880-1930 (2000) and is currently working on histories of Tejano politics in Laredo and of Mexican Americans in north Texas. He serves on the boards of the Recovering the U.S. Hispanic Literary Heritage Project, the Farmworker Movement Documentation Project, and an online archival project of the United Farm Workers from 1962-1993. A native Tejano, he graduated from Texas public schools.

I reviewed the social studies curricular proposals available for public comment and, like anyone concerned about public education in Texas, I have read many different published articles and opinions.  I have also participated informally in discussions over the merits of the proposed new curriculum standards with friends, neighbors, and colleagues.  Clearly, there is an overriding mantra throughout the proposed curricular standards that is repeated often, beginning in the elementary grades and carrying over to the high school standards.  The curricular mantra is “free enterprise.”  Periodically, the standards speak of how this is equivalent to “free markets and capitalism.”  Oddly, however, the terms “free market” and “capitalism” have been repeatedly struck from the text.  This has created an interesting conundrum for the curricular standard bearers whose work this represents.

If by free enterprise we mean capitalism and we exalt the mystical working of the markets to the exclusion of all its known attendant creative capacity for continental and global expansion and mischief, for (re)ordering society—in terms of class, racial and gendered hierarchies—of those who are more and less privileged relative to the established greater good, then we have shortchanged providing a realistic and complex view of our collective and individual history to Texas students.

The terms race, class, and gender have largely been struck from the new curriculum.  The same has occurred with the phrase “social construct” and similar heuristic terms used to explain historically and socially based relationships long accepted as common currency in scholarly disciplines.  The history of Texas and the U.S., like that of many similar histories around the globe, is permeated with the sometimes violent and oftentimes inherently systemic consequences that the growth of capitalism wrought upon the land and its many different peoples.  All peoples, one should add, were pivotal for the accumulation of capital, the making and unmaking of different classes of workers, and ultimately of the development of the consumer identity.  Peoples without whom the triumphal claims of free enterprise -- such as it was, and is -- would be much less than what is apparently claimed in our standards. 

We sanitize our history.  We erase all kinds of social, cultural, and economic conflict from it.  We run away, in a sense, from ourselves, from what we and our ancestors – whoever they are – created.  Indeed, this history is highly peculiar, for it avoids acknowledging the accompanying social inequalities that capitalism (and any other economic system, for that matter) creates as it remakes society according to its own rules and imagination.  The matter of privilege -- and of white privilege in particular, given the majority-minority state in which we live today -- is largely relegated to the dustbin of history.  The truth be told, the silences in our histories speak as much truth to power as the histories we publicly uphold.

W must strive to teach a plural people’s history for Texas students in the twenty-first century.  A recent study by the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE) contains in it past, current and future projections for the public and nonpublic high school graduates of Texas from 1991-2022. (1)   According to this study, Texas Latino high school graduates will be greater in number than Anglo high school graduates beginning with the 2010-2011 school year.  By May 2020, the date through which the current social studies curricular standards under discussion will presumably apply, Latino high school graduates in Texas will number an estimated 156,000 students.  By comparison, by the end of the current decade Anglo high school graduates will number 102,000.  That is, the statewide spring graduating classes in May 2020 will host 54,000 more Latino high school graduates than their Anglo counterparts.

This decade’s swift demographic change will render decreasing Anglo high school graduating cohorts relative to Latinos and other students of color.  Therefore, what we decide to do with the current debate and policy concerning these curricular standards will have an immediate impact for the education of a growing majority comprised of students of color relative to an equally growing minority of white students.  We must strive as best we can to arrive at a social studies curriculum that speaks to the many and varied experiences of this highly diverse student body in Texas and by extension across the nation.

During the May 2010 high school graduating ceremonies in Texas, students of color will nearly equal the number of their Anglo counterparts.  In the next few weeks an estimated 110,000 Anglo high school graduates will walk across the stage, and there will be another 106,000 Latino, African American, Asian/Pacific Islander, and American Indian students doing the same.  Ten years from now the tables will have turned.  By May 2020 the projected high school graduating class statewide will host 228,000 students of color compared to the 102,000 white student counterparts.  In short, more than twice as many students of color will receive their high school diplomas from Texas high schools in May 2020 than will white students. And among students of color graduating that year Latino high school students will comprise nearly seventy (68.4) percent of the total.

Therefore our curricular standards must be sensitive to and address the already established diverse racial and ethnic origin of our young scholars, and therein these standards have to be especially sensitive to our state’s rapidly growing Mexican American and Latino student population.  Whether we meet this policy objective will be decided by our elected officials and lawmakers.  But if one were to ask me (and countless others) across this great land of ours, the response would be that we are currently falling far short of the goal.  We have a historic opportunity to do right by all the people who call Texas home.  We must act in unison and work with purpose.

NOTES

(1)  See, Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE), Knocking at the College Door: Projections of High School Graduates by State and Race/Ethnicity, 1992-2022 (Boulder, Colorado: WICHE with support from the ACT and College Board, March 2008), p. 107.  The WICHE has been compiling this particular report for several years.  The current March 2008 edition is their seventh such volume.

HNN Special: Scholars Assess the Proposed Texas Social Studies Standards

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Paul Bingham - 5/26/2010

One very constructive approach is to take conservative textbook revisionists at their word and actually question American history. This can be a powerful tool against this kind of simple minded political shenanigan. See our discussion of this possibility at http://www.deathfromadistance.com/posts/humane-future/2010/05/an-open-letter-to-the-students-of-texas-public-schools/.