School textbooks go under revision

Leah Mulaly

     The Texas Board of Education has recently decided to revise the social studies textbooks used in public schools, effectively rewriting the way history will be taught to the next generation of Texans. These sweeping changes will affect every public school student in Texas—all 4,700,000 of them. The proposed changes include an emphasis on American capitalism, the effect of Christianity on the Founding Fathers, questioning the idea of separation of church and state.

     After three days of meetings, the 15 members of the Board voted, resulting in a ten to five split along party lines—all the Republican members voted in favor of the amendments, and outnumber the Democratic constituency on the Board. Those with conservative views believe that the Founding Fathers were guided by Christian values, whereas moderates maintain the government was created to be secular or free from religious prejudices.

     “I don’t like the fact that these board members are literally changing history to fit their own conservative beliefs when historically we are a secular, liberal nation,” Daniel Salazar, junior, said.

     In 2010 alone, Republican School Board members have passed over 100 amendments to the curriculum standards of history, sociology and economics courses in all grade levels. Many Board members claim that the textbooks were “skewed” in favor of liberal ideology and that they’re “adding balance,” according to Dr. Don McElroy, a dentist and leader of the Board conservatives. No historians, sociologists or economists were consulted.

     “I think it’s kind of ridiculous,” Zach Warren, junior, said. “Even though I agree with conservative ideals, I think textbooks need to be used to educate youth, not to force conservative ideals upon them.” McElroy was not reelected to next year’s Board of Education. In his place is a more moderate Republican. Several members of the board will be changed before the textbook publishers produce drafts of the new textbooks, so the end results may be different than the current proposed revisions. The new books will make their first appearance in the 2011-2012 school year and could cost schools up to 500 million dollars.

      One major controversial change was the work of lawyer Cynthia Dunbar, who believes the country was founded on Christian beliefs. Dunbar cut Thomas Jefferson from a list of people whose writings inspired such events as the American Revolution. Jefferson engineered the idea of separation of church and state, which may have something to do with his removal. In his place are religious figures such as St. Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin and William Blackstone. There is debate amongst the parties on the Board of Education as to whether or not the Constitution mandates separation of church and state. Democrats on the Boards tried to pass an amendment stating that “the founding fathers protected religious freedom in America by barring the government from promoting or disfavoring any particular religion above all others” but it was defeated on a party-line vote.

     “I feel that the Board’s decision to cut out Thomas Jefferson . . .  is totally foolish,” Vaibhav Sapuram, junior, said. “He was a highly inspirational man who wrote our Declaration of Independence and helped define our nation’s values.”

     Other changes include the teaching of Conservative icons such as Phyllis Schlafly, the Contract with America, the Heritage Foundation, the Moral Majority and the National Rifle Association. Chapters on the civil rights movement will also be rewritten to include the violent approach taken by the Black Panthers alongside Martin Luther King’s peaceful movement. Also, Republicans will be given credit for Congressional votes on civil rights legislation.

     “It sounds like students will know more about what happened, that it wasn’t all non-violent,” Jonathan Goodwin, senior, said. “I think that’s a good thing.”

     Another issue is the rejection of American Latino contributions. Hispanic School Board members have attempted to put more Latino leaders in Texas school books several times but have been continually shut down. This caused one member, Mary Helen Berlanga, to leave a meeting declaring that the Board was rewriting history “not only of Texas but of the United States and the world” and pretending that Hispanics “don’t exist.”

     “Being Latina myself, I would appreciate some recognition,” Gaby Aguilar, junior, said. “I think textbooks should be more inclusive of all American experiences and cultures to create a more well-rounded education.”

     In addition, Joseph McCarthy, the Republican senator who accused many government officials of being communists in his infamous witch-hunt, will be depicted as correct in much of his finger pointing. Plus, the word “capitalism” will be replaced by “free-enterprise system” and champions of this economic theory like Milton Friedman and Friedrich von Hayek will be included next to standard economists like Karl Marx.

      The Board also passed an amendment requiring the teaching of “the importance of personal responsibility for life choices” in regards to teenage suicide, dating violence, sexuality, drug use and eating disorders. The conservative Board member responsible, Barbara Cargill, says “The topic of sociology tends to blame society for everything.”

     “I think we should blame ourselves for the choices we make,” Kristen Threlkeld, senior, said. “Society may influence [us], but we make the final decisions.”

     The proposed changes to the curriculum will be published in a state register, making them available to public comment for 30 days and a final vote is scheduled for May 21. The repercussions of this important vote will be sure to affect public school students for years to come.