If you want your child in public school to learn about the upside of McCarthyism and to think approvingly of Confederate generals, then Texas is your state. The ultraconservative members on the Texas Board of Education have just finished putting their imprint on social studies standards for schoolchildren in the state. The result is a new emphasis on the roles of Christianity, conservative political activism and historical figures who opposed the civil rights movement. Texas has politicized social studies curriculum in a way that will handicap students as they move on to college and into the world, and other states should not make the same mistake.
The conservative Republicans who make up a significant majority on the board don't trust educators much. Last year, the board rewrote the science curriculum to undermine the teaching of evolution and the Big Bang. This time the fight was over Thomas Jefferson and the extent to which he should be studied, since his ideas about the separation of church and state were so distasteful to the group. In the end he made the cut, but the validity of church-state separation was de-emphasized.
Among the many changes the board made to the standards was to make sure that in learning about the civil rights movement, students could also describe the roles of segregationist governors George Wallace, Orval Faubus and Lester Maddox, as well as the congressional bloc of Southern Democrats who wanted to retain the status quo.
Another change was to require students to know about Phyllis Schlafly, the Contract with America, the Heritage Foundation, the Moral Majority and the National Rifle Association.
At one point there was even a proposal to rename the U.S. slave trade the "Atlantic triangular trade," as a way to lessen the offense of slavery. You could almost hear the luggage being pulled out of closets as smart Texas social studies teachers started packing their bags.
These politicized changes to public education matter even to people outside Texas, because the second-largest state tends to have an outsized influence on the content of textbooks sold to the rest of the country. That's probably less true today, with the flexibility that comes with digital publishing. The Florida Department of Education says there will be no impact in the Sunshine State, which sets its own standards. But Texas schoolchildren will be fellow citizens in a mobile society where there is still a need for a reasonable understanding of American history grounded in facts rather than ideology. They should be educated in a curriculum that objective scholars have agreed upon, not indoctrinated by politicians with a political and religious agenda.