• Texas, Dover, and History

    We’re looking at a potentially fascinating (and highly ironic) situation here in Texas. You’ve heard the saying that those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it. Well, this may be coming true… literally.

    The Texas State Board of Education recently voted to accept textbooks that (they demanded) contain incorrect information. In fact, the board members knew that the books were flawed, because almost every actual historian in every university in the state of Texas complained, wrote letters, spoke at the meetings, etc. The SBOE deliberately excluded those types of people (experts) from the review process.

    What kinds of flaws are we talking about. Well, we’re not entirely sure because several changes were done last minute with no review… even by the SBOE board members.

    But here’s a sampling (from the Texas Freedom Network Review (PDF)):

    • A number of government and world history textbooks exaggerate Judeo-Christian influence on
    the nation’s founding and Western political tradition.
    •Two government textbooks include misleading information that undermines the Constitutional
    concept of the separation of church and state.
    • Several world history and world geography textbooks include biased statements that
    inappropriately portray Islam and Muslims negatively.
    • All of the world geography textbooks inaccurately downplay the role that conquest played in the
    spread of Christianity.
    • Several world geography and history textbooks suffer from an incomplete – and often inaccurate
    – account of religions other than Christianity.
    • Coverage of key Christian concepts and historical events are lacking in a few textbooks, often due
    to the assumption that all students are Christians and already familiar with Christian events and
    • A few government and U.S. history textbooks suffer from an uncritical celebration of the free
    enterprise system, both by ignoring legitimate problems that exist in capitalism and failing to
    include coverage of government’s role in the U.S. economic system.
    • One government textbook flirts with contemporary Tea Party ideology, particularly regarding the
    inclusion of anti-taxation and anti-regulation arguments.
    • One world history textbook includes outdated – and possibly offensive – anthropological
    categories and racial terminology in describing African civilizations.
    • A number of U.S. history textbooks evidence a general lack of attention to Native American
    peoples and culture and occasionally include biased or misleading information.
    • One government textbook (Pearson) includes a biased – verging on offensive – treatment of
    affirmative action.
    • Most U.S. history textbooks do a poor job of covering the history of LGBT citizens in discussions of
    efforts to achieve civil rights in this country.
    • Elements of the Texas curriculum standards give undue legitimacy to neo-Confederate arguments
    about “states’ rights” and the legacy of slavery in the South. While most publishers avoid
    problems with these issues, passages in a few U.S. history and government textbooks give a nod
    to these misleading arguments.

    In 2005, there was a school district in Dover, PA, that was sued by a family for the attempt to push Intelligent Design as a viable alternative to evolution. In a court of law (unlike the SBOE meetings), both sides got enough time and got to cross examine the other. It was an absolutely stunning defeat for the creationists. A Republican judge, appointed by Bush, actually listened to the experts and judged that ID was creationism.

    Sadly, the school district had to pay out over a million dollars in legal fees (seriously damaging the district financially) and every member of the school board lost their re-election.

    I’m looking forward to the first time some teacher tried to teach that Moses influenced the founding fathers{1} and the parents sue the crap out of the district. In the creationism debate circles, it’s called a Dover Trap. Basically, the higher ups (SBOE) says that something is OK, when everyone knows it really isn’t. Sadly, they aren’t the ones going to be sued. It will be a school district. And people like David Barton will get their butts handed to them in court (if they bother to show up… some of the ID “heavy hitters” bailed on their testimony).

    The big problem is that school text books are expensive and schools often use them for way more than 10 years. That means that books with incorrect information will be purchased by schools (because there’s no other choice) and be used for at least a decade. Regardless of law suits and findings. It’s just not possible for a cash-strapped education system (Texas is in the bottom five states for money per student in the US).

    Further, and worse, teachers are the ones who have to present this information. As we have seen with creationism for the last 60 odd years, teachers sometimes don’t know what the correct information is. Many teachers are not content specialists. They are education specialists. Because programs like science and math are both difficult and experts rarely are public school teachers, teachers in these subjects are paid extra as “highly qualified teachers”. So, many teachers will move to science and math teaching. However, they don’t have that much actual knowledge of the subject.

    For example, one university in the state of Texas, requires only 10 science courses for their 4-8 grade composite science certification. Only 6 of them are junior or senior level and 4 of those 6 are in geology. How can a teacher with 4 biology courses (two of which are introductory courses) understand evolution to the point of being able to properly teach that difficult and contentious subject in a classroom.

    That same school, for the 4-8 Social Studies teacher certification degree requires THREE!!!! history courses, not including the two history survey courses required of all degree plans. How can a teacher with almost a full semester of history courses understand the problems with these textbooks.

    I’ve watched many teachers who literally read the book to the students and then review the chapter questions. That’s their level of knowledge about the subject. Sad but true.

    Whats’ worse is that some teachers know the correct information, but due to ideological issues, DO NOT TEACH IT. Just like creationists, they are purposefully lying to their students. These people may really believe that the US is a Christian nation and that all Muslims are terrorists and the GOP is really about jobs and the little guy.

    I had thought that the publishers would not give in to the SBOE. The publishers of the biology textbooks didn’t give in. They presented correct science. They did not present lies. But the people in the history department of those publishers have given in, to some degree or another, to the SBOE.

    It’s really a sad day.

    There is a bright spot though. That possibility of a Dover Trap. If it doesn’t happen in three years, then I’ll sue when my boy gets to middle school. I’ll do the same thing that worked in Dover. get the ACLU, the FFRF, and a large panel of actual history experts. Then go over the problems point-by-point with a court of law.


    P.S. I had another post about how I want to see education change in the next few years and I’ll get to that, but this was more important.

    [1] Yes, that’s actually a claim in at least one book… that Moses was a direct influence on the founding fathers.

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    Article by: Smilodon's Retreat