Rewriting History: Erasing white guilt from American textbooks
(MintPress)— From Texas to Michigan, education curriculum is under attack as school districts across the country try to rewrite the history of oppression in a more positive light.
Tennessee Tea Party representatives have proposed removing textbook references of the Founding Fathers as slave owners; Arizona recently passed legislation forcing a nationally-acclaimed Mexican American Studies program to shut down; and Texas has already implemented textbook changes that gloss over issues from civil rights to capitalism.
Arizona House Bill 2281
On January 10th, the Tuscon Unified School District (TUSD) voted 4-1 to terminate its nationally-acclaimed Mexican American Studies (MAS) program in order to comply with Arizona House Bill 2281, which places limitations on ethnic studies programs in schools. Failure to comply with the bill would cause TUSD to lose almost $15 million in state funding.
AZ HB 2281, passed in December 2010, prohibits courses that promote the overthrow of the U.S. government, promote resentment toward a race or class of people, are designed specifically for a particular ethnic group, or advocate ethnic solidarity.
Tom Horne (R-AZ), Attorney General and former superintendent, presented a proposal in 2011 outlining why he believed the TUSD MAS program violated all four parts of HB 2281.
Horne quoted John Ward, former teacher in the MAS program who said, “Rather than teaching about the trials and successes of Mexican-American culture, the program offered a single narrative to its students…You are a colonized people who have two options. You can either remain willfully subjugated or you can remove the racist colonizers and their power system.”
According to the New York Times, Augustine F. Romero, director of student equity in TUSD, said,
“These courses are about justice and equity, and what is happening is that the Legislature is trying to narrow the reality of those things.”
Hundreds of students in Tucson have begun staging walk-outs in protest of the school board’s decision to close the MAS program.
Tennessee Tea Party Proposal
In Tennessee, Tea Party Republicans also seek to limit school curriculum, particularly by amending textbooks that portray the Founding Fathers in a negative way.
The Tennessee Tea Party released materials regarding state textbooks demanding that “No portrayal of minority experience in the history which actually occurred shall obscure the experience or contributions of the Founding Fathers, or the majority of citizens, including those who reached positions of leadership,” according to the Commercial Appeal in Nashville, TN.
Tea Party activists believe that current textbooks distort Americans’ vision of the Founding Fathers by focusing on criticism of slave ownership and mistreatment of American Indians.
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) said in a speech in Iowa last year that the Founding Fathers of America “worked tirelessly” to abolish slavery. She continued to say, “it is high time we recognize the contributions of our fore-bearers…like John Quincy Adams, who would not rest until slavery was extinguished in the country.”
Rewriting textbooks, however, will not rewrite the actions of the Founding Fathers. John Quincy Adams, although an anti-slavery activist, was only a child at the time the Declaration of Independence was signed. His father was a signatory as well as an anti-slavery activist, however, other Founding Fathers including George Washington, James Madison, and Benjamin Franklin undeniably owned slaves at one point in time.
Texas Textbook Amendments
Perhaps the most extensive recent attempt to whitewash school curriculum came in 2010 when the Texas State Board of Education adopted textbook changes highlighting conservative Christian elements while downplaying topics like civil rights, religious freedom, American capitalism and more.
The board voted 9-5 along party lines in favor of Republicans. Other states may also be affected by the changes since Texas is a major publisher of textbooks across the nation.
Among the changes were amendments to shift focus away from Thomas Jefferson and the idea of separation of church and state, emphasis on global organizations’ attempts to undermine US sovereignty, and text references of President Obama as Barack “Hussein” Obama.
The board rejected several amendments proposed by Democrats to update historical classifications from B.C. and A.D. to B.C.E. and C.E., discuss hip hop as a powerful cultural movement, and to include more Latino figures in textbooks referring to events like the Alamo.
Senior board member, Mary Helen Berlanga (D-Corpus Christi), was so angered by the amendments that she walked out of a meeting for the first time since she joined the board in 1982. The New York Times reported that Berlanga stormed out of the room, saying, “they can just pretend this is a white America and Hispanics don’t exist.”
Political Ideology Trumps Education
Amendments to textbooks and school curriculum are not expected to stop any time soon. Just last week the ACLU in Michigan wrote a letter condemning a school district for violating the First Amendment by banning two award-winning novels that express hardships in African American history. The books were deemed inappropriate because of references to sex, ghosts, and infanticide.
It is the job of school boards to adopt changes to educational programming. However, educators and historians are concerned that political ideologies are jeopardizing equal education. The driving force behind all three controversial education cases in Arizona, Tennessee, and Texas all came from conservative Republicans groups.
In a testimony by representatives of the NAACP, Rod Paige, former Education Secretary under George W. Bush, told the state board of education, “we have allowed ideology to drive and define the standards of our Texas curriculum and it has swung from liberal to conservative depending on the members of state board.”
Paige emphasized, “what students are taught should not be the handmaiden of political ideology.”
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