Will Texas Legislature Repeat 1962 Hearings on What Schoolkids Read?Historians in the News
tags: Texas, textbooks, culture war, teaching history
Heightened scrutiny over how schools teach history -- and whether it was patriotic enough or indoctrinating kids -- spurred the Texas lawmakers to investigate.
Five House members were charged with studying the state’s textbooks with the desire that they emphasized the “glowing and throbbing history of hearts and souls inspired by wonderful American principles and traditions.”
The year was 1962.
Now new fears about censorship in Texas classrooms have reignited as a state lawmaker opened an investigation into districts that carry any of the hundreds of books he’s listed that largely deal with race, gender identity or sexuality.
But even six decades ago, at the height of schoolhouse scrutiny, a former House member charged with investigating textbooks cautioned against state overreach.
“When the time comes when the State Legislature dictates selection of library books in our local school districts, a serious blow will have been dealt to freedom and democracy,” Rep. Ronald E. Roberts, D-Hillsboro, wrote then.
Roberts served at a time when the textbook approval process was mired in controversy and protests against specific sections of books were frequent. Some feared Texas’ textbooks were obscenity-filled or designed to subvert America’s youth.
This was just a few years after Sen. Joseph McCarthy famously held investigations into Communism’s influence on the media and federal government.
Texas’ House Textbook Investigating Committee held hearings across the state, which were suddenly halted after they became so rancorous and the lawmakers received threats.
The legislators couldn’t agree on any conclusion. Each eventually submitted their own individual reports to the Legislature in a move that reflected the heightened discord over what students should learn in school.
Now recent maneuvers at the Texas Capitol to investigate books and curriculum echo this era, historians and educators say. Lawmakers spent months on anti-critical race theory bills that restricted how teachers discuss racism and current events in the classroom or promoted “patriotic education.”
Historian Jeremi Suri, a professor in the University of Texas at Austin’s history department and at the LBJ School of Public Affairs, has found the recent statewide interest in classroom matters out of line with most of Texas history.
In general, most Texans don’t want state lawmakers delving into local school affairs, Suri said.
“This is a member of the state Legislature from Fort Worth, who seems to think that the Legislature should tell people across the state what they should read and what they shouldn’t read,” Suri said. “I can’t think of anything that’s more un-Texas.”
Texas parents or organizations have previously confronted school boards with concerns over individual books, but those were dealt with at the local level, Suri said.