History Revised, Teachers Sacked: The Book Wars in Texas and Beyond

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* By Luisita Lopez Torregrosa Politics Daily *
It’s been a brawl for years, this education culture war that seems to take on a particularly vicious turn in the heart of Texas. The latest and most important round, a drastic revision of the social studies curriculum standards to put a conservative spin on history and economics textbooks, was given preliminary approval after a series of heated meetings of the Texas Board of Education that didn’t do much to improve the image of the nation’s second largest state as a sometimes small-minded political and educational backwater.

Cartoon by Ben Sargent Click for larger image

In a matter of days last week in Austin, the majority of the 15-member board, insisting they were only trying to offset liberal bias in textbooks, questioned Darwin’s theory of evolution and the constitutional principle of separation of church and state; debated hip-hop and genocide in Darfur; deleted Albert Einstein and Thomas Alva Edison from textbooks; emphasized Christian teachings and fundamentalist values; adopted conservative articles of faith like American exceptionalism; promoted right-wing leaders and organizations like Phyllis Schlafly and the National Rifle Association; and refused to give adequate attention to Hispanic and African American contributions to U.S. and Texas history.

To no one’s surprise, on the final round on Friday, the conservatives pulled a decisive victory, 10-5 — a tally that broke along predictable party lines, Republicans to the right, Democrats to the left. Ethnic minority members stood on the losing side. According to published reports, no experts on the social sciences were consulted. Given the conservative cast of the board, whose members are elected, the changes it has proposed will stand when the final vote is taken in May.

Leaving the meeting, a Democratic board member, Mavis Knight, of Dallas, was fulminating, saying, she could not be a party to “perpetrating this fraud on the students of this state.” It was not a pretty sight. The board will surely become, or has already become, the butt of jokes on late-night shows and “Saturday Night Live.”

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