Noel S. Anderson: Texas Politics is More Than Just Textbooks

Roundup: Media's Take

[Dr. Noel S. Anderson is Associate Professor of Political Science and Education at the City University of New York - Brooklyn College. His work focuses on urban politics, human development and education and comparative issues in public policy (U.S. and South Africa).]

So the Texas Board of Education in a 9-5 split, voted this past Friday, with conservative Republicans in the majority, to essentially deny its own history and miseducate its children. The controversial vote was to change the social studies and history curriculum in the state, to eliminate or rewrite numerous references from “slave” in the transatlantic slave trade to Thomas Jefferson to the role of the United States in the creation of the United Nations. The change was not done for the sake of history but for ideology. Conservatives, particularly the former chair of the Board of Education, Don McElroy maintained that the curriculum was too left leaning, supposedly a vestige from when Democrats controlled the Board.

This Texas curriculum battle even brought former Secretary of Education and Bush-ite, Rod Paige to the table with NAACP chair, Ben Jealous, who reminded folks that this is “taking us back to the 1940s” in our racial history.

But in fact, Mr. Jealous should have said 1840s. Battles over school curriculum are as old as the United States. Even before schooling became “public” in the mid 1800s (after the Civil War in the South), administrators and teachers in one room schoolhouses battled over whether to abandon the Bible as the central text of learning for a more secular curriculum that educates through “Enlightenment” ideas.

Simultaneously, waves of immigration from Ireland, and later, other European countries bolstered nativist fear of the United States being “overrun” with Catholics and other “outsiders”. This virulent nativist stance metastasized into political associations in the 1840s like the “Know Nothing” Party where members like former President Millard Fillmore promoted slavery and Protestant Republicanism as a solution to maintaining a prosperous Anglo-Saxon country. Fast forward over 150 years later, and the emergence (or reemergence) of the Tea Party and its members such as Rand Paul vowing to take back “our government” and “our country” creates a head rubbing response “who’s country is he talking about?”

But in fact the Texas curriculum is simply a convenient proxy for festering nativist politics. For a state board of education, the governing body of schools, to blatantly change language, eliminate historical references and the so called “left politics” from textbooks in plain sight of the kids its charged to educate shows that its about denying history. Further, to eliminate any mention of noted Latino leaders or important events such as the organizing of Mexican labor workers in the state when over half of the 4 million children attending schools in your state are Latino defies logic and simply indicates a deep seated fear of reality.

The reality is Texas, and the United States for that matter, is changing, demographically. Latinos and people of color are remaking U.S history everyday, with every birth, border crossing and airport arrival, increasingly becoming the majority in this country. So whether Texas attempts to change textbook chapters or Arizona checks people’s papers, the United States is no longer, and will never return to what it never was.

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Michael Schack - 5/31/2010

There seems to be the political and historical “nostalgia”. The democrat’s nostalgia runs in two directions: the 1960’s with Vietnam Nam and the civil rights movement coloring their perception. The second nostalgic perception has to do with the Great Depression, and the role of government. The Republican nostalgia seems to be older almost 1950’s. When society had clear roles. The pill was not on the market. And everyone lived in neighborhoods An economy that was growing based on consumer goods still produced in this country. In addition the “counter culture”, immigration were present yrt below most people’s radar. (for those who aer old enough In 1950 did you ever hear Miles Davis, Norman Mailor, Allan Gnsberg, Ornette Coleman,Jasper Johns?) The issue is how can both parties and their members give up the influence of the past. and see what are the the issues in the present that build from the past. I do not think history works in chunks of time 1877 - 1920 . that just offerers a structure. The birth of our country had precedents. What is necessary is to agree on what are the precedents that matter and leave the paradigms out.