The Texas Textbook Massacre: an oligarchy of historical manipulation
by Peter Stern
Texas is in the national news again. Unfortunately, it is not on 'America's Dumbest' television program. I mean no blatant disrespect to anyone in particular, but I am going to be brutally honest in my comments.
There is a strong movement in Texas and throughout the nation by individuals and groups who seem to be committed to push through religious and/or ultra conservative thinking into our public education process. It is occurring with a focus on curriculum, teaching views and textbooks modification and procurement.
There is an additional determination to promote Republican ideology, ideas and direction in the classrooms and textbooks. We are being told that Republicanism was more prevalent throughout American history and textbooks should pursue that direction.
Literally, the founding fathers were NOT yet Republicans, as this party was created long after the writing and signing of Declaration of Independence. The Republican Party initialized long after the American Revolution. The same is true of the Democrats.
In fact, according to Wikipedia:
"The Republican Party was first organized in 1854, growing out of a coalition of anti-slavery Whigs and Free Soil Democrats who mobilized in opposition to Stephen Douglas's January 1854 introduction of the Kansas-Nebraska Act into Congress, a bill which repealed the 1820 Missouri Compromise prohibition on slavery north of latitude 36° 30' in the old Louisiana purchase territories, and so was viewed as an aggressive expansionist pro-slavery maneuver by many. Besides opposition to slavery, the new party put forward a radical vision of modernizing the United States—emphasizing higher education, banking, railroads, industry and cities, while promising free homesteads to farmers. They vigorously argued that free-market labor was superior to slavery and the very foundation of civic virtue and true American values—this is the "Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men" ideology explored by historian Eric Foner. The Republicans absorbed the previous traditions of its members, most of whom had been Whigs, such as Alvan E. Bovay and Horace Greeley; others had been Democrats or members of third parties (especially the Free Soil Party and the American Party or Know Nothings). Many Democrats who joined up were rewarded with governorships: (Nathaniel P. Banks of Massachusetts, Kinsley Bingham of Michigan, William H. Bissell of Illinois, Salmon P. Chase of Ohio, Hannibal Hamlin of Maine, Samuel J. Kirkwood of Iowa, Ralph Metcalf of New Hampshire, Lot Morrill of Maine, and Alexander Randall of Wisconsin) or seats in the U.S. Senate (Bingham and Hamlin, as well as James R. Doolittle of Wisconsin, John P. Hale of New Hampshire, Preston King of New York, Lyman Trumbull of Illinois, and David Wilmot of Pennsylvania.) Since its inception, its chief opposition has been the Democratic Party, but the amount of flow back and forth of prominent politicians between the two parties was quite high from 1854 to 1896."
It is concerning that a small group of non-historians and questionable thinkers on the [Texas] State Board of Education (SBOE), centers around the whims and questionable perspectives of the Governor Rick Perry's appointed chairperson who is "a longtime classroom volunteer" with a Science degree and publisher of a small town newspaper, Gail Lowe; one self-proclaimed power-hungry, religious-directed Dentist, Don McElroy; a lawyer with an undergraduate degree in Biology/Psychology with some more than curious ideas, Cynthia Noland Dunbar; a businessman and former House Rep., Ken Mercer with some questionable priorities; just to name a few.
Another reality is that there is no shortage of attorneys or business people on the SBOE. During the past decade the governor has appointed many such professionals on various committees on public education, which resulted in few -- if any -- positive modifications for an ailing education system. Yet, more of the same people continue to be the "Czars" of public education, the ones who dictate and control its direction.
However, a disturbing highlight is that there appears to be only one Board member with any sort of background of history and that person is Ms. Patricia Hardy, who earned a degree in Social Studies, was a Fulbright Scholar and taught Social Studies in public education.
So, an intelligent question is:
"How is it that a small group taken from 15 individuals on the Texas SBOE with a majority of NON-historians, all but one, is given the almost omnipotent power to determine changes to history textbooks for public education throughout the state and which also influences the modifications to history textbooks throughout the entire U.S.?
The reality is that most people would not go to an accountant to have an important medical surgery done and in parallel reasoning, HISTORY TEXTBOOKS SHOULD NOT BE AMENDED OR MODIFIED BY NON-HISTORIANS.
It should have little or nothing to do with religious backgrounds.
It should have little or nothing to do with Republican vs. Democrat or conservatives vs. liberals.
What is highly significant is that the wrong people are determining THE direction for an entire state's public education curriculum, instruction and textbooks who should NOT have the power to do so.
Most of the members on the SBOE do NOT have the qualifications, background and common-sense to perform the jobs they were appointed and/or elected to do. In fact, if these positions were offered in the private sector the odds highlight that most of the people now serving on the SBOE may not have been hired.
Consequently, for the immediate future, a gloomy dark and threatening cloud hovers over the direction of public education and all thinking people should be significantly concerned.