Eric Foner: Twisting History in Texas

[Eric Foner, a member of The Nation's editorial board and DeWitt Clinton Professor of History at Columbia University, is the author of Give Me Liberty, an American history textbook.]

The changes to the social studies curriculum recently approved by the conservative-dominated Texas Board of Education have attracted attention mainly because of how they may affect textbooks used in other states. Since Texas certifies texts centrally rather than by individual school districts, publishers have a strong incentive to alter their books to conform to its standards so as to reach the huge Texas market. Where was Lee Harvey Oswald, after all, when he shot John F. Kennedy? In the Texas School Book Depository--a tall Dallas building filled with textbooks....

More interesting is what the new standards tell us about conservatives' overall vision of American history and society and how they hope to instill that vision in the young. The standards run from kindergarten through high school, and certain themes obsessively recur. Judging from the updated social studies curriculum, conservatives want students to come away from a Texas education with a favorable impression of: women who adhere to traditional gender roles, the Confederacy, some parts of the Constitution, capitalism, the military and religion. They do not think students should learn about women who demanded greater equality; other parts of the Constitution; slavery, Reconstruction and the unequal treatment of nonwhites generally; environmentalists; labor unions; federal economic regulation; or foreigners....

In grade one, Veterans Day replaces Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the list of holidays students should be familiar with. (Later, "building a military" has been added as one of two results of the Revolution--the other being the creation of the United States--an odd inclusion, given the founders' fear of a standing army.) The Double-V Campaign during World War II (blacks' demand that victory over the Axis powers be accompanied by victory over segregation at home) has been omitted from the high school curriculum. Japanese-American internment is now juxtaposed with "the regulation of some foreign nationals," ignoring the fact that while a few Germans and Italians were imprisoned as enemy aliens, the vast majority of people of Japanese ancestry who were interned were US citizens....

Clearly, the Texas Board of Education seeks to inculcate children with a history that celebrates the achievements of our past while ignoring its shortcomings, and that largely ignores those who have struggled to make this a fairer, more equal society. I have lectured on a number of occasions to Texas precollege teachers and have found them as competent, dedicated and open-minded as the best teachers anywhere. But if they are required to adhere to the revised curriculum, the students of our second most populous state will emerge ill prepared for life in Texas, America and the world in the twenty-first century.

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Mike Schoenberg - 3/19/2010

We can only hope that the publishers have a backbone and refuse this B.S.

Craig Michael Loftin - 3/19/2010


John D. Beatty - 3/19/2010

Eric Foner, Marxist school historian talks about twisting history. I distinctly recall something about a pot and a kettle...and a color that we must not mention because Foner's "sensitivity" buddies on the Left might be upset...

Lisa Kazmier - 3/19/2010

I think you captured the why of what was done. I remember when Deborah Gray White told me that TX wanted her to remove any mention of slavery from her text "lest it hurt students' feelings." It was incredible. It totally feeds in some teachers' abilities to lie about slavery (the "it wasn't so bad" line).

The only good thing it does is give ppl like you or me the chance to blow these kids' minds when you tell them the truth. I've always thought it wrong to lie to kids about anything but there it is and I deem it my job (or have) to be straight with them.

Loved your appearance with Stephen Colbert.

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