Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Texas Re-education System

This past week, the education board down in Texas decided to revise their text books in order to make them better reflect their conservative values. These revisions included the dropping of certain historical topics and the substitutions of others. According to an article in the Seattle Times, some choice changes included limiting discussion of Thomas Jefferson because of his secular views and giving greater attention to the views of the Confederacy. Other revisions include replacing the Martin Luther King holiday with Veterans' Day in terms of holidays first graders are taught about. The board rejected suggestions to include mention of Hispanics who died fighting Texas at the Alamo.

My Gut Reaction: Universities are going to have to start requiring remedial courses for any students coming from Texas public schools.

Analysis: The driving figure behind these changes is Don McLeroy, a Christian conservative who wants to edit learning materials to reflect his own Judeo-Christian vision. His goal is to teach students that America was founded on Christian values, ignoring the deistic and secular values of many founding father such as Jefferson. As part of this approach, textbooks will be required to play up clashes between the United States and Islamic countries, depicting these conflicts as battles between Christianity and Islam. McLeroy-a dentist with no educational experience-proudly states he bases his textbook choices on how they discuss Christianity and Israel. One of his most famous quotes is "Someone needs to stand up to these experts!"

Part of this effort will include increased emphasis on conservative figures such as Phyllis Schlafly, the Heritage Foundation, and Ronald Reagan. While historians such as Eric Foner agree that students should be taught about the conservative movement as one of the major influences on modern history, one wonders whether such a biased curriculum will be accurate. For example, can someone like Don McLeroy be expected to approve textbooks that mention Reagan's role in supporting death squads in Central America, his support of the Afghan groups that grew into the Taliban, the increased rates of homelessness under his government, and the role of economic deregulation started under Reagan that culminated in our current economic crisis?

The effects of this decision are not limited to Texas. Because it is such a large state and market for textbooks, future textbook revisions for the entire nation will inevitably reflect Texas's rules. To make matters worse, California, which usually acts as a counterbalance to Texas due to its more liberal requirements, has put off all new textbook orders until 2014 due to its financial crisis.

Given that the effects of this decision could extend well past the borders of Texas, it is only appropriate that it should be met with a national response. First and foremost, this decision makes a case for national standards for textbooks, in order to prevent fanatics in one state from derailing the educational system. The interaction of different states in determining what goes into text books would prevent one ideology from totally dominating.