Texas textbook vote highlights disputes over US history – and how to teach it

21 Nov 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Texas Takes Steps to Improve Accuracy of Future Textbooks. Except It Doesn’t..

Texas education officials nixed a proposal to let university experts check state textbooks for factual errors – reviving a long-simmering dispute over ideological bias in how history and science are taught in public schools. In what should by no means be a viable arrangement of words, Texas has decided not to let experts fact-check its consistently misleading if not blatantly fictional textbooks.

Remember the Houston-area mom who sparked worldwide outrage by pointing out the description of slaves in her son’s geography textbook as “workers from Africa”?AUSTIN, Texas – Texas has rejected allowing university experts to fact-check its public-school textbooks in the wake of a 9th grade world geography book mistakenly calling African slaves “workers.” The Republican-controlled Board of Education approves textbooks for statewide use.

Some Texas conservatives applauded the state Board of Education’s 8 to 7 decision Wednesday to stand by its current process, which relies on citizen panels to vet textbooks. Others, however, say the vote’s results are another example of how the nation’s increasingly polarized ideologies are affecting school curricula. “This debate is almost entirely driven by ideology, as history is inherently political,” writes Brad Cartwright, director of the University of Texas at El Paso Center for History Teaching & Learning, in an e-mail. “Thus, people with differing political perspectives will nearly always disagree about the way history is presented.” “Students should be made aware of the interpretative nature of historical study so they can understand the ways the past is used in the present,” he adds.

The measure was likely proposed in response to a complaint last month, when a Houston mother found her child’s newly approved geography textbook referred to African slaves shipped to plantations in the United States between the 1500s and 1800s as “workers.” Instead of requesting academic consultation, the board voted unanimously to require that review panels be made up of “at least a majority” of people with “sufficient content expertise and experience,” at the discretion of the Texas education commissioner. With more than 5 million students enrolled in its public schools, Texas is the nation’s second-largest textbook market, buying about 48 million books every year, according to the National Educational Association.

Ellen Rockmore, a writing professor at Dartmouth College, wrote an opinion piece for the New York Times last month suggesting the authors of Texas textbooks structure their sentences to favor slave owners and downplay the horrors of slavery. “Through grammatical manipulation, the textbook authors obscure the role of slave owners in the institution of slavery,” she says. “The textbook publishers were put in a difficult position. San Antonio Republican Ken Mercer called the system “the best in America.” Ratliff had noted that some conservative board members have long stocked review panels with people more concerned with ideology than subject matter expertise. In 2014, debate erupted over perceived biases in the content of 104 new textbooks, “with some liberals crying foul over pro-Christian lessons and conservatives complaining of anti-American and pro-Muslim biases,” the Monitor’s Husna Haq reported.

They had to teach history to Texas’ children without challenging conservative political views that are at odds with history.” Roy White, a veteran of the US Air Force and head of the conservative group called Truth in Texas Textbooks, which participates in the review process, told board members that reviewers had successfully identified numerous errors in the geography book that had sparked the recent controversy and attributed the inclusion of the term “workers” for slaves to inevitable human error. Well, for one thing, per a Texas Tribune report on the vote, there are often “philosophical differences” between the conservative board and those professorial types. That gave rise to controversies over how textbooks handle climate change and evolution, or how they describe the influence biblical figures such as Moses had on America’s Founding Fathers.

Among the complaints from both parties were passages that depicted minimum wage as a controversial legacy of the New Deal, marginalized or lionized Reagan, downplayed the achievements of Hispanics, presented pro-Israeli arguments on Middle East conflicts, incorrectly depicted jihad, and overemphasized the influence of the Ten Commandments and other Christian tenets on the American Revolution. The issue was revived in the run-up to Wednesday’s vote, as critics challenged the state board’s process for vetting textbooks – an approach that relies on review panels of parents, teachers, and other members of the public who are nominated by the board. Griffin of the NCSS. “Our students deserve better than being force-fed a perspective.” Instead, she notes, “they have to learn how think,” which requires ways of teaching history that encourage more than rote memorization.

To ensure an accurate and balanced approach, school boards and the review panels that vet textbooks must consist not only of a cross-section of educators in the subject matter, curriculum experts, and the public, but also individuals whose ideas cover a spectrum of political thought, critics say. “Texas has excellent educators and administrators who are trained to creatively and effectively teach the state’s students; yet, their efforts are continually hindered by elected officials who lack the necessary training and knowledge to best serve our students,” writes Dr.

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