Monday, September 7, 2009

Could Texas' Gingrich-Based High School History Curriculum Go National?

The GOP-controlled State Board of Education is working on a new set of statewide textbook standards for, among other subjects, U.S. History Studies Since Reconstruction. And it turns out what the board decides may end up having implications far beyond the Lone Star State.

The first draft of the standards, released at the end of July, is a doozy. It lays out a kind of Human Events version of U.S. history.

Approved textbooks, the standards say, must teach the Texan student to "identify significant conservative advocacy organizations and individuals, such as Newt Gingrich, Phyllis Schlafly, and the Moral Majority." No analogous liberal figures or groups are required, prompting protests from some legislators and committee members. (Read an excerpt here.)

The standards on Nixon: "describe Richard M. Nixon's role in the normalization of relations with China and the policy of detente."

On Reagan: "describe Ronald Reagan's role in restoring national confidence, such as Reaganomics and Peace with Strength." (That's it.)

The Cold War section is rendered as "U.S. responses to Soviet aggression after World War II ... "

The state board of education, made up of 10 Republicans and five Democrats, has to vote on the standards twice in the coming months before they would go into effect.

Comments in the margin of the draft explain the proposed changes. And a persistent, tendentious conservative voice comes through throughout. Next to the section listing key names and groups from the civil rights movement and 60s activism, including Martin Luther King, Betty Friedan, and the American Indian Movement, it's noted that a committee member demanded parity ... for late 20th century conservative groups:

MV[Multiple Views]: One person: inclusion of 7 names and organizations disproportionate compared to only 3 in conservative section.

Next to a noncontroversial seeming item requiring students to "describe how McCarthyism, the arms race, and the space race increased Cold War tensions" is the note:

"MV[Multiple Views]: One member thinks that if McCarthyism is noted, then the Venona papers need to be explained that exonerates him."

A bullet point on "women and minority employment" as an economic effect of World II caused "one member" to gripe "there is too much emphasis on multiculturalism."

And "one member" deemed a section on "effective leadership" a perfect place to bring to students' attention Charlton Heston's celebrated (among right-wingers) culture war speech.

Here's what makes this a national story: what happens in Texas doesn't stay in Texas, says Diane Ravitch, professor of education at NYU.

That's because Texas is one of the two states with the largest student enrollments, along with California. "The publishers vie to get their books adopted for them, and the changes that are inserted to please Texas and California are then part of the textbooks made available to every other state," says Ravitch, who wrote a book about the politics of textbooks.

Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute explains it as a simple economic calculation by the big textbook publishers. "Publishers are generally reticent to run two different versions of a textbook," he says. "You can imagine the headache the expense the logistics, the storage, all of it."

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