The material in school history textbooks has long been controversial. Liberals think it’s too conservative; conservatives think it’s too liberal.
The problem is, history isn’t just facts, it’s also an interpretation of facts. And depending on whose doing the interpreting, the portrait of the past is shaded differently.
That is the nexus of a recent Texas debate where conservative state school board members pushed through a variety of changes to the state’s school history curriculum. Those changes have come under fire from liberals and some teachers who say they distort American history.
The truth is, history is always being distorted. The victor in any conflict gets to write the textbook and it’s that the version which gets told.
For the last 30 to 40 years, history textbooks have been gradually moving to the political Left in their interpretation of events. That was a reaction to the idea that history texts focused too much on the “big names” in history and didn’t focus enough on what the “common man” contributed to the historical record. In addition, the Civil Rights and feminist movements of the 1960s influenced historians to include more emphasis on how blacks and women influenced history, making the point that history wasn’t just about “dead European white men.”
But as with many political movements, the effort to bring more depth to the historical record has perhaps swung the pendulum too far to the Left in some textbooks. Often very minor players whose role in history was insignificant get elevated in textbook writing, mostly in an obvious effort to be more politically correct and multi-cultural. Some of true leaders of history sometimes get down-played.
The Texas move in May was a reaction to this. In votes split along party lines, Republicans put in new teaching requirements for Texas students (and by extension Texas textbooks) that swing back toward a more nationalistic view of America.
The problem is that in attempting to correct some of the bias that the Left has injected into history textbooks, Texas Republicans have inserted their own political biases.
Whatever the direction the Texas changes take (and there’s some indication of a building backlash), this isn’t the end of the story. There are many more debates to come about the history of America.
1. On the Text Books: Why doesn't this process come down to the best of a balanced group of history teaches and historians writing the books? Why is there an outside board of political class influence involved in the first place?
2. A Big Surprise to Me: Only after reading in the AJC this week that Georgia would join in a national effort to co-ordinate specific targets in learning did it ever occur to me that this was not already bedrock policy in the US.
You mean that with all the money spent in the last 50 years on a jillion educational programs, that there was never a bench mark that required like, algebra to be taught and understood in the 7th grade IN ALL schools nation wide?
With as much mobility as there is in this country, you would have thought this would be a basic premise! A national schedule of achievement is a no brainer, but...given the government we have had from both parties, I guess it's just par for the course because there are plenty of 'no brainers' in both!