Friday, April 8, 2011

Don't Mess With Textbooks

The Daily Beast reports: "The conservative majority of the Texas State Board of Education adopted new guidelines for social-studies textbooks that reflect their conservative political views. The new guidelines will emphasize the Christian beliefs of the Founding Fathers. Students in Texas will be expected to learn about the emergence of the conservative movement in the 1980s and 1990s. The new textbooks are supposed to promote patriotism and respect for the “free-enterprise system.”

The problem with this system is that the Texas state board determines to textbook publishers what should appear in history books, and will only purchase books that meet stated requirements for its students. Books that are not approved by the state board cannot be purchased with state funds. This is an incredibly powerful lever for the state board. So far, the state board has insisted that words and phrases must be deleted from reading textbooks if they contained "anything that criticized their idea of family values. They fought to remove stories about witchcraft, fantasy, disobedient children, permissive child rearing, as well as anything that criticized the nation and its laws. Any stories in which bad behavior went unpunished were excised."

Diane Ravitch, who wrote The Language Police: How Pressure Groups Restrict What Students Learn, writes, "It makes no sense to have an elected or appointed school board deciding which facts belong in history textbooks and which scientific ideas are valid. They do not have the qualifications to do this and they should not have the power to do it. No matter how many experts they call upon, this is a foolish way to revise textbooks.The job of the state board should be to evaluate which classroom materials seem to be most effective in helping students learn the subject and to make that information public."

A valuable lesson learned through history is of the mistakes, downfalls, and wrongdoings of mankind, as so future generations can process those mistakes, critique them, and not repeat it. Sanitized or politicized textbooks postulates that history is on a righteous path, rather than a series of unfair, violent, and often evil struggles between imperfect people and nations. Students must understand history in an honest context in order to make analytical decisions about current affairs, politics, government, race, law, culture and international relations. Why would Texas ever disadvantage their students in such a way as to make them completely out of touch with why the world is the way it is?

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