Friday, Apr 20, 2018
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Marilou Johanek

Texas textbook changes could have far-reaching effects

EDUCATION professionals who are truly committed to improving the quality of learning in the classroom must empathize with the Greek mythological figure Sisyphus. For years, conscientious teachers and school administrators, along with math, reading, and science experts, have been pushing programs and proposals that they know produce positive results among students.

But like the cursed boulder that poor Sisyphus was doomed to keep pushing uphill, just to watch it roll back down, progressive efforts to advance K-12 education frequently roll back into regressive territory.

For example, even as earnest attempts are under way to raise the academic bar in public schools by drafting common grade standards throughout the country and revising the Bush-era No Child Left Behind law, a Texas-sized rock is barreling downhill to set back education.

I hope the curricular debate launched by the Texas Board of Education is not a harbinger of things to come. Lord knows, the last thing struggling U.S. students need is to be deliberately dumbed down by hard-core ideologues tweaking textbooks to indoctrinate instead of inform.

The right-leaning alterations in textbook standards approved by the Lone Star State's board could have far-reaching implications. Texas is a major textbook buyer. Its enormous print run for schoolbooks leaves most districts in other states adopting the same course material.

So the Texas board can spell out what goes into 80

percent of the nation's textbook market. Scared yet? You should be.

Recently, the board put a conservative stamp on the textbooks most students in the state - and, by extension, much of the country - will be studying in history, sociology, and economics classes. The board recommendations, approved on a 10-5 vote split down party lines, go beyond troubling to truthless and twisted.

Driven to add "balance" in academia "skewed too far to the left," the Texas panel decided to skew the content of state textbooks to suit its partisan values. Consider the ideological changes sought by a powerful bloc of board members dedicated to rewriting history as they think it ought to have been.

Among the more than 100 amendments they passed to revise the 120-page curriculum standards proposed by teachers, the board of

non-educators questioned concepts such as the separation of church and state

and the secular nature of the American Revolution. As one dismayed history professor put it: "They prefer a pseudo-patriotic history that denies the fundamental conflicts that have shaped our past."

Republican board members also included a plank in their revisions - a political appendage - endorsing a greater emphasis on "the conservative resurgence of the 1980s and 1990s, including Phyllis Schlafly, the Contract With America, the Heritage Foundation, the Moral Majority and the National Rifle Association."

Other perversions of history to fulfill an agenda involve a more-positive portrayal of disgraced anti-communist crusader Joseph McCarthy, and new language illuminating the adverse "unintended consequences" of Great Society programs such as Title IX and affirmative action. The legacy of liberalism that provided equal gender access to education resources and sought to remedy historic workplace discrimination against blacks evidently needs to be qualified.

Then there are terminology adjustments to retire words deemed too

ideologically loaded by the conservative majority on the board. Thus is

"imperialism" replaced with "expansionism" to characterize America's modern rise to world power, and "capitalism" dropped in favor of the more-positive "free market."

Students who review the civil rights movement and the nonviolent philosophy of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. should also understand how the Black Panthers embraced violence, the board says. And textbooks will now note the votes in Congress on civil rights legislation that Republicans supported.

Thomas Jefferson has been cut from a list of writers influencing the nation's intellectual origins, which may have something to do with his pioneering work on the legal theory of church-state separation. But Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson has been elevated as a prototype of effective leadership.

The recommended changes - which will likely stand - serve as a template for textbook publishers who distribute material throughout the educational system. Students nationwide who should be learning how to think, ask questions, and make judgments from an expansive perspective of course work may have to navigate around isolated facts based on specific political interests that slant lessons to emphasize or omit points of view.

Meanwhile, those who are committed to strengthening the country's educational future are engaged in a Sisyphean labor of love.

Marilou Johanek is a Blade commentary writer.

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