June 5, 2021

Meg White: Texas Needs A History Lesson

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Meg White is a lifelong educator and an advocate for public schools. She’s also the co-author of William Franz Public School: A Story of Race, Resistance, Resiliency, and Recovery in New Orleans. In this recent piece, reposted here with permission, she takes a look at the Texas GOP push to drive discussions of racism out of the classroom. 

Well, last week for a minute there was something nice to say about Texas, having defeated another bill to support vouchers in public education. The minute passed.

This week, Republican lawmakers worked to reframe Texas history lessons by diminishing any references to slavery and anti-Mexican discrimination. According to Romero, these are, “some of the most aggressive efforts to control the teaching of American history”.

The other states, so far, include Idaho, Louisiana, New Hampshire, and Tennessee whom have all introduced bills that would ban teaching about the enduring legacies of slavery and segregationist laws, or that any state or the country is inherently racist or sexist (NYT).

Educators, historians and activists say these new curricula ignore the role of slavery and campaigns of anti-Mexican violence and would fail to educate a generation of students growing up in Texas (NYT).

Advocates of the bill say it ensures students aren’t taught that one race or gender is superior to another. Critics say it limits how race in America is taught.

According to The Texas Tribune, the Senate-approved bill includes curriculum standards that students are required to understand, including the Declaration of Independence and the Federalist Papers. However, the bill stripped more than two dozen requirements to study the writings or stories of multiple women and people of color that were previously approved by the House. The Senate voted to include the Federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, the 13th 14th and 19th amendments to the U.S. Constitution and the complexity of the relationship between Texas and Mexico to the list of required instruction.

The most controversial aspects of the bill include that teachers must explore current events from multiple positions without giving “deference to any one perspective”, and bans students from receiving course credit for civic engagement; including lobbying for legislation or other types of political activism (Texas Tribune).

House Bill 3979 requires the State Board to develop new standards for civics education with a corresponding teacher training program to start in the 2022-23 school year.

The Senate approved the bill in an 18-13 vote over opposition from educators, school advocacy groups and senators of color who worry it limits necessary conversation about the roles race and racism play in U.S. history.

Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, said Texas schools should emphasize “traditional history, focusing on the ideas that make our country great and the story of how our country has risen to meet those ideals”. But Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, said the historical documents required in the bill only reflect the priorities of white senators (Texas Tribune).

Rep. Steve Toth, R- said, “House Bill 3979 is about teaching racial harmony by telling the truth that we are all equal, both in God’s eyes and our founding documents. Do you want our Texas kids to be taught that the system of government in the United States and Texas is nothing but a cover-up for white supremacy? Do you want them to be taught a souped-up version of Marxism?” (Chron.com).

I guess it’s easy to have this kind of mentality when you don’t come from the side of the systemically oppressed. We’re constantly shown that we live in two different Americas — one where white men can wreak havoc on the nation’s Capitol, and Black men and women can be shot dead with no rhyme or reason (Chron.com).

Is it the members of government that push this legislation through against the will of the people of Texas? Is it even against the will of the people of Texas? Are most people of Texas in support of this bill? What happens to our society, our education if we decide what history is taught and what is ignored (can it really be ignored???)?

This is frightening and it’s not the first time there’s been controversy over how history is taught. In an article in the New York Times last year, Dana Goldstein found two history textbooks teaching different information. For example, she wrote, “California includes an excerpt from a novel about a Dominican-American family. In the same place, Texas highlights the voice of a Border Patrol agent (NY Times). Goldstein brings to light several other discrepancies. I encourage you to read her article.

Just because I cover my eyes so I don’t see something, doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.

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