An original version posted on 5/18/2010 as "Deconstructing the Texas Calls for Social Studies Overhauls" @ Examiner.com
The past few months have seen an uptick in proposals across two states to radically reform public State education in Social Studies and US History.
Officially signed into law by Governor Jan Brewer on May 11th, Arizona banned ethnic studies classes in public education because of what supporters say are displays of "ethnic chauvanism."
Most controversial in the law are provisions which ban courses "designed primarily for students of a particular ethnic group" and "advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals." The courses affected include Mexican-American/Chicano Studies, African-American Studies, and Asian Studies, which according to Tom Horne, Superintendent of Schools in Arizona, "divides students up, just like the old South."
If public schools do not adhere to law, they stand to lose state funding. The LA Times reported that the Tucson Unified School District's 14-year old Chicano studies program was a main target of the state law.
The latest call for reform for social studies reform will be decided in Texas tomorrow on May 19th when the State Board of Education will vote on whether to pass a list of proposed changes.
The Texas Board of Education released its 5th and Final draft of required Social Studies curriculum for public schools in April. Much contention has arisen over highlighting the influence of religion on the founding fathers with a notable de-emphasis on Thomas Jefferson's influence and the "unintended consequences" of big government programs such as the New Deal or the War on Poverty. Read the document here.
Also included is a call for a "Celebrate Freedom" week.
Perspective: Texas Proposal aims at selective truth
I grew up learning that the truth was the most important thing to aim for in history.
As I've come up in my education, I've learned that history isn't necessarily about telling one objective truth, but about rounding up primary sources and having subjects share their stories about events.
They used parts of American history to invoke a sense that America is rooted in exceptionality, or in other words "being better" than other people. I am quite sure that this type of thinking hints at a truth, but I am not sure that it represents the entire truth.
History is dynamic, always being made, and contains an infinitude of stories to be understood in one neat way.
If American history can be understood as a big collection of snapshot pictures, Texas is taking only the most flattering portraits of American policy and its conservative bases, but catching only invasive paparazzi voyeuristic ones of liberal and international views.
The view presents US history as every event in naturally and eventually agreeing upon or evolving into whatever happens to be the status quo.
The Texas brand of social studies is bent on suggesting that the origins of equality were already implemented in the document. They had been trying to say that the Declaration of Independence which was declared in 1776 was really the stimulus behind undoing slavery in 1865, how it allowed for women's rights movements in the 1920s, and the driver behind diversity we came to accept in law by 1965.
Saying that origins of equality were already in the Declaration of Independence gives off the impression that equal opportunity was all only a matter of rationalized legislation, like changes were all going to happen anyway, minimizing the struggles of different peoples.
The document is based on minimization of the negative impacts of US Foreign policy and conservative domestic policy.
They really want to call capitalism, "free enterprise" in attempt to negate its negative connotations. If were going to play this game of calling everything by a more positive name, let's call communism, socialism or Marxism by their intention-based positive phrase too: "people's needs-based system."
The way they plan to represent other countries is particularly troubling in their selective application of certain loaded and controversial terminology. Bothersome is their selective employment of the word "imperialism."
Traditionally, "imperialism" has been used to describe US foreign policy in the turn of the 19th century into the 20th century. However, notice how imperialism is something only the Japanese do.
- "...explain the major causes and events of World War II, including the German invasions of Poland and the Soviet Union, the Holocaust, Japanese imperialism, the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Normandy landings, and the dropping of the atomic bombs."
This clause is buried deep in the document and very specific. I only read about Japanese imperialism and a broad "European" imperialism. I didn't read anything about American, France, German, Italian, Belgian, Portugese or Spanish imperialism. It is merely German "invasion" of Poland and Soviet Union, no mention of the driving ideology of Nazism, while the Japanese take on a label of "imperialism" as if Japanese people were inherently imperialistic.
Equally troubling is the framing of the Palestine and Israel conflict. They use loaded terminology to circle Palestinians and Arabs, nonchalantly labeling them "terrorists" and pretending that State of Israel wasn't established under much controversy. By framing it as the Arabs rejecting the state of Israel, it makes it seem as if the Arabs were the problem.
The only things the Texas State Board of Education wants students to openly analyze and question are the people and movements that they decidedly don't like. For example, the document calls for "analyzing the unintended consequences of affirmative action and Lyndon B. Johnson's Great Society." There is also a call to "Analyzing the effectiveness of the approach" taken by the Black Panthers versus the "philosophically persuasive" tone of Martin Luther King Jr."
It's peculiar how "consequences" and "effectiveness" are a cause for concern with equal opportunity and civil rights programs.
While given the freedom to analyze the tactics used in civil rights era movements, there doesn't appear to be any similar mandate to analyze the "unintended consequences" of the "conservative resurgeance" of the 1980s or the mandated "Celebrate Freedom Week" itself.
The "conservative resurgeance" was a period that saw Ronald Reagan triple the national debt by cutting taxes while cutting social programs. His great work was being able to firmly instill into the American consciousness the image of the black, undeserving "welfare queen", a distasteful and ultimately divisive image upon which a generation of conservative and tea partiers have used to drum up distaste towards social programs.
Texas: Giving a blueprint for Eugenicist thought
The image of the welfare queen is still alive and well. It's an image of dependency, laziness, and all-around incompetence that continually informs popular perception and legislative decision-making.
The image pervades the way Texas plans to do social studies and teach people about America in the 21st century. They do not give people of color or perceived predecessors any credit for their own advances. It's as if any advancement they have made was a result of "other people's" actions, which by default tends to mean "white people."
For example, when talking about the cultures whose people appear to descend from what is now known as Mexico, the only way to understand them is as outgrowths of people prior to them. The people prior to them are Greece and Rome.
- "...compare the major political, economic, social, and cultural developments of the Maya, Inca, and Aztec civilizations and explain how prior civilizations influenced their development"
Why is there no need to study how prior civilizations influenced the development of Greece or Rome?
Its as if Greece or Rome were people who self-generated themselves and fathered all our ideas, hence fitting this narrative of self-sufficiency coming from one race, the White one.
While the white people were thinking up great ideas in the West, the sparsely populated brown-skinned peoples were just waiting around to be inspired by them.
If white people were the originators of ideas and it is presented that way, it follows that rationally and naturally they would be entitled to ownership over the land; everything in their view was earned fairly. This mentality follows that minimal benefit can be gained from immigration or the infusion of different cultures, which has actually shown to be the opposite in some studies.
They want students to learn that everything of consequence emerged from Europe without any influence or contact from any other group of people whatsoever.
Never mind that Islam and Arabics, some heavy targets in popular American media today for their way of thinking, were responsible for innovations in the medieval era, making contributions to what we label now as "Western medicine." Never mind that the very number system we use today would not have been possible with Roman numerals, but also took Eastern thought to come up with the idea of zero to make the number system work.
The idea of dependency where people from minority cultures need to wait around for white males to come to the rescue is reflected in the way they represent contemporary battles for equal opportunity.
- "Explain actions taken by people to expand economic opportunities and political rights, including those for racial, ethnic, and religious minorities as well as women, in American society"
This provision reads as if women, racial, ethnic, or religious minorities took little or action on their own behalf. They needed "people" to swoop in save the day and are ultimately dependent on majority action.
The study of US geography also carries a Eugenicist bent.
Specifically, they want students to identify "the effects of population growth and the impacts on physical environment." For over 100 years, this has been a pseudo-scientific way to criticize immigrant populations.
If they were really concerned about the physical environment, children should learn that resources tend to be concentrated in the hands of very few people, and continued hyper-consumption combined with a culture of disposal and landfills, those kind of human activities are the real harm to the physical environment, not necessarily certain demographic groups.
For more analysis of the Texas curriculum proposal:The Nation deconstructing Conservatives who use history