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Don't Know Much About History

Controversial changes may be in store for your textbooks, courtesy of the Texas state school board.

by Tim Walker

History, Winston Churchill famously said, is written by the victors. Don McLeroy no doubt agrees.

McLeroy is a dentist from Bryan, Texas, a self-described Christian fundamentalist, and an outgoing member of state school board of education (SBOE). Over the past year, McLeroy and his allies formed a powerful bloc on the 15-member elected board and pushed through controversial revisions to the statewide social studies curriculum.

“Sometimes it boggles my mind the kind of power we have,” McLeroy recently boasted.

To many Texans, however, what’s more mind-boggling are some of the revisions. Critics charge that they promote Christian fundamentalism, boost conservative political figures, and force-feed American “exceptionalism,” while downplaying the historical contributions of minorities. (See slideshow below for examples of the changes.)

Rita Haecker, president of the Texas State Teachers Association, believes the year-long review process deteriorated into a political and divisive spectacle.

“The circus-like efforts of right-wing board members,” Haecker said, “to impose their own religious and political beliefs on the public school curriculum have been and still are a national embarrassment.”

Don McLeroy

The standards will guide textbook purchases and classroom instruction over the next decade – and maybe not just in Texas. National publishers usually cater to its demands because the school board is probably the most influential in the country. Texas buys 48 million textbooks every year. No other state, except California, wields that sort of market clout.

But Jay Diskey, executive director of the Association of American Publishers’ School Division, says fears of a Texas-style national social studies curriculum are overblown because publishers are more accustomed nowadays to producing customized textbooks for different states.

But California isn’t taking any chances. A bill recently introduced in the state legislature seeks to prevent Texas-approved changes from seeping into textbooks in the Golden State.

Even if their reach is limited to Texas, will the new standards capsize social studies classrooms across the Lone Star state? Probably not, says Kirk White, a middle school social studies teacher in Austin.

“Are there some things in there that don’t belong? Sure, but I hope teachers don’t buckle and interpret the language too narrowly,” White says. “If we have to talk more about our so-called 'Christian nation' in class, then let’s talk about it– the good and the bad. A good teacher will know how to take advantage of this situation.”

Video: Inside the rancorous debate over the new Texas social studies textbook standards.


Washington Monthly: Revisionaries - How a Group of Texas Conservatives is Rewriting your Kids' Textbooks

Newsweek: The Texas Curriculum Massacre

Austin Statesman: Texas Influence on Textbooks Could Wane

NEA Today: Textbooks - The Good, The Bad, and the Necessary