How Politics Shapes American History Textbooks

McGraw Hill

In a nice piece of investigating reporting and research (which she writes about in this companion piece), New York Times education reporter Dana Goldstein compared middle school and high school textbooks read by students in California and Texas.  These books, published in 2016 or later, had the same publishers and credit the same authors.  Yet they sometimes tell the story of United States history in different ways.

Here is a taste:

The books The Times analyzed were published in 2016 or later and have been widely adopted for eighth and 11th graders, though publishers declined to share sales figures. Each text has editions for Texas and California, among other states, customized to satisfy policymakers with different priorities.

“At the end of the day, it’s a political process,” said Jesús F. de la Teja, an emeritus professor of history at Texas State University who has worked for the state of Texas and for publishers in reviewing standards and textbooks.

The differences between state editions can be traced back to several sources: state social studies standards; state laws; and feedback from panels of appointees that huddle, in Sacramento and Austin hotel conference rooms, to review drafts.

Requests from textbook review panels, submitted in painstaking detail to publishers, show the sometimes granular ways that ideology can influence the writing of history.

A California panel asked the publisher McGraw-Hill to avoid the use of the word “massacre” when describing 19th-century Native American attacks on white people. A Texas panel asked Pearson to point out the number of clergy who signed the Declaration of Independence, and to state that the nation’s founders were inspired by the Protestant Great Awakening.

Read the entire piece here.  The graphics are amazing. You need to read it for yourself to really appreciate the work that went into it.

A few comments:

  • In the passage of the article I excerpted above, the Texas request to include the clergy who signed the Declaration of Independence and the reference to the First Great Awakening influence on the Revolution has David Barton and Wallbuilders written all over it.  Barton, and other conservatives who embrace his view of Christian nationalist history, have sat on the Texas Board of Education-appointed committee that approves textbooks and social studies standards.  I have been following this off and on since 2009. I even wrote an op-ed in the Houston Chronicle addressing Barton’s involvement.  For the record, there was only one member of the clergy who signed the Declaration of Independence.  It was John Witherspoon, the Presbyterian minister who also served as president of the College of New Jersey at Princeton.  And the influence of the Great Awakening on the nation’s founders is a problematic claim.  Yet we see evangelicals like radio host Eric Metaxas and pastor Greg Laurie--evangelicals who probably get their history from Barton– making such statements all the time.   But I digress.
  • This article reminds us that educational publishing is a business.  If Texas or California politicians and government officials want their history framed in a certain way, the textbook companies are happy to do it.
  • It is good to see Goldstein note that U.S. history textbooks, of both the California and Texas variety, have come a long way.  Many of them do a nice job of covering slavery, women’s rights, and immigration.  For example, students no longer read about slaves who prefer slavery to freedom because of kind masters.
  • Of course a textbook is only one tool at the disposal of a middle school or high school history teacher.  A good teacher might even try to show bias in their textbooks, perhaps through an exercise such as Opening Up the Textbook.  Goldstein’s article might be a nice starting point to get students to see that their textbook (or any piece of published material, whether it be hard copy or on the Internet) has a bias.
  • A bit of snark to the end this post.  Goldstein’s article assumes students actually read the textbook.


The American Revolution in Texas Schools


The Texas State Board of Education has “streamlined” the state’s social studies standards in a way that limits what students will learn about the American Revolution.  Michael Oberg, Distinguished Professor of History at SUNY-Geneseo, describes the changes:

One of my favorite undergraduate professors, John Walzer, taught the course I took on the American Revolution a long time ago at Cal State Long Beach. One of his students once made a movie reenacting the Boston Tea Party. The local marina stood in for Boston Harbor, somebody’s fishing boat for The Dartmouth, and cardboard boxes for chests of tea. After the “Sons of Liberty” committed their act of defiance, the cameras followed them home. When they attempted to wash off their “Mohawk” disguises, no matter how hard they scrubbed, they would not come off.They were revolutionaries now, and there was no turning back.

I have always loved that story. It gets at the dramatic urgency of the colonists’ protest movement, and depicts that moment when defiant opponents of parliamentary taxation realized that their relationship to Great Britain as subject and citizen was broken beyond repair. The story of this film helps students see the excitement of the Revolution, but also its danger. It is a powerful and important thing for students to experience.

So I worry that if states like Texas have their way, we will lose the drama and the excitement of the Age of Revolution. In a set of revised learning standards, the Texas State Board of Education reduces the revolution to little more than a constitutional dispute with Great Britain, of value only because it produces the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and a new nation at its end. Nothing is at stake. Little will be lost. The revolution seems inevitable, and no more disorderly than a game of Canasta.

And here is another taste of Oberg’s piece at “Age of Revolutions”:

Given its history of social studies education and its highly politicized methods for revising curricula, it is easy to beat up on Texas. But here’s the thing. Too many of my students think of the Revolution primarily as a creature of the “Founding Fathers.” They associate it, barely, with the Revolutionary War, and know little of the protest movements that preceded it. They know little of the consequences of the Revolution, save for the fact that the United States emerged as a new nation at its end.

Texas offers its schoolchildren a highly truncated presentation of the Revolution, and that is both disappointing and a cause for concern. The state’s approach robs students of the opportunity to explore the contingencies, the rending compromises, and the internal conflict that characterized these years. It deprives students of the human drama, as ordinary Americans—Anglo-Americans divided by class and region, immigrants from Europe from a host of religious traditions, Africans and Native Americans in all their diversity—found themselves forced to choose sides. Revolutions never tolerate neutrality, and the American Revolution was no different. Our students are seldom asked to consider that the gains brought about by the Revolution often came at the expense of others. 

Read the entire piece here.

Texas Social Studies Standards: Here We Go Again!

Hillary Congress

Should Texas students know something about Hillary Clinton?

The Texas State Board of Education voted last week to “streamline” the state’s social studies curriculum because there are too many historical names to memorize.  Here are some proposed changes:

  • Remove “San Jacinto Day” and replace it with “Constitution Day” in a first-grade unit on customs, holidays, and celebrations of the community, state and nation.
  • Remove Hellen Keller from a third-grade unit on “citizenship”
  • Amend the Civil War standards to recognize “the central role of the expansion of slavery in causing the Civil War and other contributing factors including sectionalism and state rights.”
  • Require students to learn about the “heroism” of those who “gave their lives” at the Alamo
  • Reinsert the phrase “Judeo-Christian (especially biblical law) into a 7th grade unit on “major intellectual, philosophical, political, and religious traditions that informed the American founding.”
  • Reinsert “Moses” and remove “Thomas Hobbes from a 7th grade unit on “individuals whose principles of laws and government institutions informed the American founding.”
  • Remove Hillary Clinton from a unit on “the contributions of significant political and social leaders in the United States.”

Some things to think about:

1. Teachers can do whatever they want to do in the classroom.  If they want to talk about Hillary Clinton they can talk about Hillary Clinton. If they want to talk about San Jacinto Day, they can do it.  If they want to talk about the Old Testament as a source of the American founding, they can do so. (Although I would urge them to do it carefully and responsibly, perhaps along the lines of Dan Dreisbach here).

2. These decisions are less about history and education and more about politics.  This is pretty obvious from the examples above.

3. It is important that students are exposed to a variety of voices in American history.  I say this not because I believe in political correctness, but because I believe that all human beings have dignity and thus have voices that should be heard.  If an American history course contains all white voices, this would be a problem.  If an American history course contains all black voices, this would a problem.  For more on my approach here see my Why Study History: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past.

4. In many ways, this entire conversation about standards and who is “in” and who is “out” misses the point of history education.  It favors “coverage” over historical thinking.  Rather than develop this idea here, I point you to other places where I have written about it:

John Fea, “Don’t taint teaching of history in Texas,” Houston Chronicle, July 26, 2009

John Fea, “The Texas Social Studies Standards Debacle,” The Way of Improvement Leads Home, January 15, 2010.

John Fea, “Why study history: A bill before the Pa. Senate is only part of the answer,” Harrisburg Patriot News, July 6, 2017.

Thanks to my colleague Cathay Snyder for bringing this story to my attention.

More Teaching Panels at the 2018 AHA


Mike Davis, one of our correspondents at the 2018 annual meeting of the American Historical Associationchecks in with some reflections on three panels on teaching history.  Read all of Mike’s AHA 2018 posts here. –JF

I attended three panels at the AHA conference on Friday (Day 2), each one engaging with issues relating to historians and their relationship with the broader community.

The first was a sales meeting for Pearson’s new Revel “interactive learning environment,” billed as an alternative to traditional online and physical textbooks designed to meet 21st century students where they live by letting them engage with ADA compliant audio, video, primary sources, and other learning techniques. While I found Revel engaging, I felt particularly empowered by the number and diversity of faculty present for the talk. Junior and senior faculty from high schools, community colleges, Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and comprehensive state universities all turned out for the opportunity to learn better ways to engage with their students.

The second panel: “The Culture Wars of the Texas K-12 Schoolbooks” dealt with Texas K- 12 schools and the efforts by both AHA members and their community allies to both build Mexican-American history studies programs and defend those programs from a hostile state legislature eager to heavily regulate – or outright abolish, any programs that encouraged “nationalism.” The panelists emphasized how the anti-Mexican historiography the state had considered was not simply immoral; it was also bad history, omitting decades of recent Mexican-American historiography. Having used this scholarship myself in the classroom, I was particularly looking forward to this panel and I was not disappointed.

I was particularly pleased at how the panelists – Emilio Zamora (taking the opportunity to present as two of the attendees had been unable to attend thanks to the inclement weather) and Carlos Blanton – emphasized that the focus of their work was on promoting critical thinking and student engagement rather than simply promoting ethnic pride. As they pointed out, this work benefited not just students from a particular ‘minority’ – but all students who get the opportunity to learn the contested nature of history and the way various disempowered groups have fought for power inside historical narratives.

The last panel I attended today was “Teaching the Master Narrative: American History Textbooks in the 20th Century”, a panel inspired by the scholarship of Kyle Ward (Minnesota-Mankato) that looked at the changing (or unchanging) ways various key moments in the “master narrative” of American history have appeared in secondary schools. The University of Miami’s Michael Horton looked at Columbus, offering his audience an interesting antidote to usual Whiggish notions of “historical writing improving over time” by looking at the historians of the 1920s and 1930s who were actually quite critical of Columbus and his career. In the same vein of anti-Whiggishness, Michael Kniesel at Kent State looked at the Boston Tea Party in high school textbooks – finding no particular improvement in accuracy in the way textbooks have discussed the Tea Party from the early 20th century. American teachers are reluctant to paint figures from the American Revolution as economic terrorists – despite the historiography in recent decades leading that way.

Finally, Lindsey Bauman looked at the way textbooks in the 1950s dealt with slavery – finding that textbooks generally relied on Ulrich Phillips’s master-centered economic history when telling the story of slavery. Bauman’s research showed that even as historiography in the academy moved beyond Phillips’s white-centric and white supremacist take on the history of slavery, school textbooks continued to directly use arguments and evidence from a work published some thirty-five years earlier even by the 1950s.

This was a good day – and it left me with good thoughts for my own panel presentation tomorrow. I look forward to seeing readers at the Early Career Lightning Round at 10:30AM on Friday.

Another Social Studies Debate is Brewing

This time in Minnesota

John Hinderaker supports John Fonte’s criticism of the new Minnesota social studies standards.  Michael Lynch, writing at his blog Past in the Present, responds to the whole mess.  Here is a taste of that response:

Lawyer and commentator John Hinderaker is upset because the new standards emphasize the different impacts that the American Revolution and the Civil War had on various groups.  He writes, “One might have thought that events like the American Revolution and the Civil War would affect Americans generally, but such a concept is foreign to today’s academics.”

Well, certainly the Revolution and the Civil War did affect Americans generally, but it didn’t affect all of them in the same way.  If you were a white male living in Pennsylvania, the Revolution probably resulted in a greater exercise of political power.  If you were a white woman living in Massachusetts, you took on new roles as a republican mother and citizen.  If you were an enslaved black male who managed to hitch a ride with the British as they evacuated the seaboard cities, you got freedom.  And if you were an Indian of any gender living in the Ohio Valley, the Revolution wasn’t exactly a bonanza.  There’s nothing wrong with teaching kids about the varied effects of important events.  Indeed, history teachers need to introduce the complexity involved in significant events like the Revolution.

Hinderaker also charges the standards with attributing “institutionalized racism” to big business.  But that isn’t exactly what the relevant passage says: “As the United States shifted from its agrarian roots into an industrial and global power, the rise of big business, urbanization and immigration led to institutionalized racism, ethnic and class conflict, and new efforts at reform. ”  The standards are clearly dealing with a number of transformations in the U.S. during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, of which the rise of big business was only one.
The rise of big business, the growth of cities, and immigration resulted in a number of changes in American life, including racism, class conflict, and reform efforts.  And, of course, shifts in immigration patterns and urban growth in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries did result in institutionalized racism, as evidenced by the emergence of measures like the Chinese Exclusion Act and the restrictions on Asian immigration in the Immigration Act of 1917.

Perhaps, then, the problem isn’t with the standards, but with the reading comprehension of the people criticizing them. Or perhaps the problem is something else. Hinderaker writes that when he saw Joseph Brandt’s name on the standards’ list of “historically significant people” from the American Revolution, he had no idea who he was and had to look him up.  He notes only that Brandt was “a Mohawk Indian,” which is sort of like saying that Stonewall Jackson was “a guy from Virginia.”  Since Hinderaker had to look up the name of one of the most important figures of the Revolutionary frontier, might I suggest that he isn’t the person to be assessing standards for teaching history in Minnesota’s schools?

As I wrote several times (click link and scroll down) during the entire Texas social studies debate, citizenship is one reason, but not the primary reason, that history should be taught to school children.  I am not denying the fact that history can teach kids civic literacy.  We certainly want our kids to know the century in which the American Civil War took place or the name of the first president of the United States.  But history offers so much more.  It provides students with a new way of thinking about the world that allows them to see themselves as part of something bigger.  As my colleague Joseph Huffman says in this video, it adds an extra dimension to the way we understand our lives. 

History cultivates humility and empathy and intellectual hospitality–the kind of skills necessary for democracy to thrive.  While the choice of topics that student’s study is important, it would seem that these kinds of skills can be gleaned from learning how to interpret primary documents from any people group or movement in the American past.

The study of history is less about teaching kids what is good or bad about the United States and more about teaching them to function in a democratic society.

But I have said this all before and I am sure I will be saying it again.

Mississippi House Bill Seeks to Ban ‘Partisan Agenda or Philosophy’ in History Classes

I haven’t seen anything like this before.

In response to the recent conservative rewriting of the Texas social studies standards, the Mississippi House of Representatives is considering a bill that would prevent history courses from promoting “any partisan agenda or philosophy.”

According to this article, the bill would prevent a teacher from endorsing liberal ideology, conservative ideology, or any ideology in-between (The one case study offered in the article is a parent complaining about her child getting indoctrinated in history class with liberal idea).

Should this bill pass, it should get very interesting when Mississippi officials try to enforce it.

HT: AHA Today

Texas Social Studies Standards: The Final Version

Texas Freedom Network reports that the Texas State Board of Education has finally posted on its website the final version of the state’s new social studies standards. You can read them here.

You can also read our commentary on the whole controversy here. It looks like our coverage of the standards may have finally come to an end. We had a good run with this here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home and we made some new friends along the way. Texas moves forward with some very problematic social studies standards, but I still think that the power rests with the teachers and how they implement them in the classroom.

Texas, Stalin, and History Textbooks

BBC News Magazine is running an opinion piece by David Cannadine on writing history “to accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative.” It has some interesting comparisons between Stalin’s approach to history and the approach taken recently by the majority members of the Texas Board of Education.

Now before you jump down my throat, I want to be clear as to what I am saying here and what I am not saying here. I am not saying that the conservative members of the Texas Board of Education are Stalinists. But I am saying that both the Soviets and the Texas Board, though they differ ideologically, both seem to want to promote a kind of history in schools that celebrates heroes, downplays the negative, and exalts the nation.

Here is a taste:

According to a newspaper report last week, the Russian authorities have recently gathered together a group of academics to draw up a school textbook that would present an approved version of the complex and controversial events that make up Russian history.

The aim is to play down the deplorable excesses of the Communist regime: the show trials, the purges, the gulags, the abuses of human rights and the denial of individual freedom.

As one official explained, “we understand that school is a unique social institution that forms all citizens”; which means it is essential they should be taught history, especially the right kind of history. “We need a united society,” the apparatchik goes on, and to achieve that end, “we need a united textbook”.

This isn’t the first time such an enterprise has been undertaken in Russia since the Bolshevik Revolution. Indeed, an earlier leader who had exactly the same idea is one of the people who must be causing this recent gathering of academics the greatest difficulties.

For in 1934, it was Stalin himself who convened an earlier meeting of historians to discuss the very same issue, namely the teaching of history in Russian schools. He disapproved of the conventional class-based accounts then available, which were strongly influenced by Marxist doctrines, and which traced the development of Russia from feudalism to capitalism and beyond.

“These textbooks,” Stalin thundered, “aren’t good for anything. It’s all epochs and no facts, no events, no people, no concrete information.”

History, he concluded somewhat enigmatically, “must be history” – by which, in this case, he meant a cavalcade of national heroes, whose doings might appeal more broadly to the Russian people than the arid abstractions of class analysis and social structure.

As such, Stalin’s earlier enterprise in national history writing sounds rather similar to what’s happening now. Yet in any country which aspires to a measure of academic freedom, and it is to be hoped that such is the case in Russia today, it’s very difficult to produce an agreed account of the national past.

HT: AHA Today

Texas Schoolbooks and the Nation

Were we wrong when we said, “As Texas goes, so goes the nation?”

One of the reasons why so many people outside of Texas were monitoring the changes the State Board of Education made to the state’s social studies standards was because Texas was the second largest textbook buyer in the nation. Many feared that the decisions made in Texas would impact the entire nation because textbook publishers tend to cater to their largest consumers. In other words, kids in New Jersey would be reading the same textbooks as kids in Texas.

But a recent Associated Press article says that this is not necessarily the case. It appears that textbook companies are able to easily tailor textbooks to meet the specific needs of individual states.

This is good news. There seems to be an excellent chance that “what happens in Texas, stays in Texas!”

Live Blogging of Texas Social Studies Hearings

As usual, the Texas Freedom Network is offering live blogging of the meetings of the Texas State Board of Education. The Board is once again discussing the state social studies standards. It looks like politics as usual.

Here is a taste of what is going on:

11:23 – Kelly Shackelford, head of the Liberty Institute/Free Market Foundation, the Texas affiliate of the far-right Focus on the Family, is up. Shackelford argues that the words “separation of church and state” aren’t in the Constitution. Neither, we might say, is “fair trial,” “separation of powers” “checks and balances” and other basic constitutional principles. Shackelford thinks “separation of church” is being used to “abuse” the freedom of students. He wants students to contrast the intent of the Founders (or what he believes was the intent of the Founders) who wrote the Constitution with the phrase “separation of church and state.”

11:32 – Board member David Bradley calls separation of church and state a “myth.” He notes that the Ten Commandments adorn federal buildings like the Supreme Court.

11:34 – Shackelford: There are people who want to engage in a “religious cleansing” in this country. He argues that students are being punished for expressing their faith in public schools.

11:37 – Board member Cynthia Dunbar: “tremendous confusion” about how the First Amendment should be implemented in relation to religious freedom. It’s hard to disagree — people like Dunbar and Shackelford have worked hard make it confusing.

11:39 – Board member Barbara Cargill: students used to be taught correctly about the First Amendment’s protection for religious freedom (meaning that they weren’t taught about separation of church and state).

AHA Takes on the Texas State Board of Education

The American Historical Association has finally weighed in on the Texas Board of Education social studies curriculum. Here is the press release:

WASHINGTON DC, May 18, 2010 —The elected council and officers of the American Historical Association fully concur with the commitment expressed by many members of the Texas State Board of Education that historical understanding is an essential element in educating young people in their developing role as citizens of their state, the nation, and the world. The Council, however, calls on the Texas State Board of Education to reconsider their recently proposed amendments to the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills for Social Studies. We attach, therefore, a statement prepared by key elected officials of our organization who have studied the documents relevant to the State Board of Education’s upcoming decision. This statement proposes a constructive way forward for reconsidering the amendments with the goal of enhancing the historical education of Texas school children. We strongly endorse the statement’s urgent call for a delay in the decision on the current proposed amendments. The American Historical Association, chartered by the Congress of the United States in 1889 includes almost 15,000 individual members as well as 113 affiliated organizations committed to the study of history.

The formal statement is an interesting one. The statement praises the standards for Texas History and World History for their “exemplary attention to the diversity of human population, and the ways in which an accurate understanding of the past requires a reckoning with that diversity.” It then asks the Board to consider the same kind of attention to diversity in the United States history standards, with particular attention to the U.S. history before 1877 standards. Here is the paragraph from the AHA statement dealing with pre-1877 United States history:

The proposed U.S. History standards for the period before 1877 make a radical shift from
the Texas History standards, almost entirely discounting the importance of human
activity in North America before the British colonization of the Atlantic Coast. This
reverses the major premises that guide the students’ learning in middle school, and such a
shift is sure to be disorienting and perplexing to them. Just as important, the U.S. history
standards drop the Texas history standards’ careful attention to the context of European
settlement, and the thorough reckoning with the presence of Indian people and
representatives of the various empires. While this omission raises considerations of
fairness, there is a larger problem of historical accuracy. The complicated process that
led to the creation of the United States involved a great range of people, ideas, and
interests. To draw a comparison with science education, no curriculum in chemistry
would be of much value to students if it made arbitrary selections and deletions among
the elements to be studied; if the focus were to be on oxygen with hydrogen omitted, then
students would be at a considerable disadvantage when it came to understanding water.
The analogy applies directly to U.S. history: omit the key elements of Indian, Spanish,
African, and Mexican people’s presence and actions, and the resulting history will not
qualify for the adjective accurate. Thus, bringing the proposed U.S. History standards
into a direct relationship with the current Texas History standards would not only bring
clarity and consistency to hundreds of classrooms, it would also provide a firmer
foundation for a more accurate knowledge of American history.

This seems to be a fair treatment. While some might wish that the AHA would also raise questions regarding the politicized nature of the post-1877 United States history standards, I think the committee drafting this document responded with appropriate prudence.

A Review of the Revisions to the Texas Social Studies Standards: High School

We continue with our final segment in our review of the Texas Social Studies curriculum standards. You can review the revisions here. Also check out our previous reviews.

When it comes to high school social studies standards, Texas does not break the standards up by grade. Instead, they provide standards for specific disciplines, including US History since 1877, World History, World Geography, United States Government, Psychology, Sociology, Special Topics in Social Studies, Social Studies Research Methods, and Economics. I am going to end my series of reviews by focusing solely on the U.S. history standards.

p.1: The U.S. History to 1877 begins: “In United States History Studies Since 1877, which is the second part of a two-year study that begins in Grade 8, students study the history of the United States from 1877 to the present. The course content is based on the founding documents of the U.S. government, which provide a framework for its heritage (italics mine). I am confused why the outside reviewers opted to include this phrase and why it is necessary? What exactly does it mean to suggest that the “course content” in a post-1877 U.S. history course “is based on the founding documents of the U.S. government?” How will the “founding documents” be incorporated into this course? This needs further qualification.

p. 2: In the high school curriculum, the content of the “Celebrate Freedom” week has been expanded. For example, “the student is expected to identify and analyze the text, intent, meaning, and importance of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, including the Bill of Rights and the full text of the first three paragraphs of the preamble to the Declaration of Independence….” Also, “the student is expected to identify and analyze the application of these founding principles to historical events in U.S. history” and “explain the contributions of the Founding Fathers such as Benjamin Rush, John Hancock, John Jay, John Witherspoon, John Peter Muhlenberg, Charles Carroll, and Jonathan Trumbull.”

As I have mentioned in previous posts, this “Celebrate Freedom Week” was added by the State Board of Education (SBOE). Two thoughts: First, I wonder if so much exploration of the Founding period is necessary in a post-1877 history course. Second, the choice of Founding Fathers is biased toward those men who expressed some sort of Christian commitment. Now I am not opposed to students learning about Witherspoon (Presbyterian), Jay (Anglican), or Carroll (Catholic), but it seems as if the conservative Board is dabbling in the same kind of selective history that they accuse their liberal opponents of engaging in. Where is Franklin, Jefferson, Washington, Thomas Paine, Ethan Allen, etc…? This seems to be a deliberate attempt to “Christianize” the standards at the expense of fair coverage.

p.3: In the 1877-1898 period, “The students is expected to analyze political issues such as Indian policies, the growth of political machines, civil service reform, and the beginnings of populism. (Italics are mine). The “populist” standard was added by the outside reviewers. I don’t know why it was added. Perhaps Tea Party conservatives want students to learn about populism. Or perhaps liberals want students to learn about William Jennings Bryan and the redistribution of wealth. Whatever the case, this is a good addition.

p.3: In the 1898-1920 period we begin to get into some of the most controversial parts of the standards. For example, the world “imperialism” has been replaced with “expansionism” when referencing the Spanish-American War and the United States acquisition of Guam, Hawaii, the Philippines, and Puerto Rico. “Expansionism,” of course, implies the spreading of American ideals and values to these places. “Imperialism” is a bit more ominous term that implies a somewhat “forced” exportation of American ideals to these places. Anyone who has studied this period in any detail knows that the actions of the United States in these parts of the world have not always been commendable. (Students should really read a poem like Kipling “White Man’s Burden” here and debate which word is most appropriate). “Expansionism” and “imperialism” are both words that can describe the way the shapers of U.S. foreign policy in this period saw their mission. If a wide array of primary documents are used here, students will see that both “expansionism” and “imperialism” were at work here.

p.5: The board does not want U.S. foreign policy to be seen as imperialistic, but its members have no problem changing “expansion” to “aggression” when describing the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

This leads to an interesting thought. High school students would probably learn more about history and historical thinking if they were given the revisions to these standards and asked to debate them in class. By doing so they would see the way politics and American exceptionalism have contributed to the historical narrative they are being taught. A teacher might ask them why the word “expansion” is used to describe U.S. foreign policy, but “aggression” was chosen for the Soviet Union. High school students are definitely ready for this kind of analysis and historical thinking. Let them see first-hand how politics are shaping the curriculum in Texas.

p.5: Students are expected to “describe how McCarthyism, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), the arms race, and the space race increased Cold War tensions and how the later release of the Verona Papers confirmed suspicions of communist infiltration in the U.S. government.” I am not expert on the Cold War or anti-communism, but it seems as if this standard could strike more of a balance. Sure, students can learn about the Verona Papers, but they should also learn about the unnecessary hysteria associated with McCarthyism.

p.6-7: “The student understands the impact of political, economic, and social factors in the U.S. role in the world from the 1970s through 1990.” This standards seems to be overly politicized. (And I might add that all of it was added by either the SBOE or the outside reviewers). In this standard, students learn about Nixon and Reagonomics. But I am confused about why a standard about the “U.S. role in the world” from 1970-1990 should require students to learn about Phyllis Schafly, the Contract with America, the Heritage Foundation, the Moral Majority, and the National Rife Association.” These conservative organizations and movements had little to do with foreign policy. Moreover, the fact that these groups are included and not liberal or moderate political organizations is perhaps the most blatant example of the way in which politics is driving this entire process.

p.10: There has been much debate over the SBOE’s attempt to require students to learn about “American exceptionalism.” I have no problem with this, as long as the concept is taught historically and not politically. “American exceptionalism” has certainly been a dominant theme in American history. No historian would deny this. As a result, students should learn about it. But if the purpose behind this standard is to endorse American exceptionalism, then I have a problem with the standard–not because I agree or disagree with American exceptionalism, but because a good history teacher does not use the past to endorse political positions.

p.11: These all seems very silly, but if you are going to include “country and western music” then why not also include “hip hop?”

I will stop there. The SBOE will decide on these things this week.

A Review of the Revisions to the Texas Social Studies Standards: Grade 8

We continue with our review of the Texas Social Studies curriculum standards. You can review the revisions here. Also check out our previous reviews.

In Grade 8, students in Texas study the history of the United States from the “early colonial period through Reconstruction.”

p. 19: The original introduction to the standards reads: “Historical content focuses on the political, economic, and social events and issues related to the colonial and revolutionary eras, the creation and ratification of the U.S. Constitution, challenges of the early republic, westward expansion, sectionalism, Civil War, and Reconstruction.” The word “religious” was added the list of approaches (political, economic, etc…). This is a good decision. You cannot understand early America without understanding religion.

p.20-21: Once again “Celebrate Freedom Week” has been added to the curriculum and the new emphasis on free-market capitalism that we saw in earlier grades continues to be stressed.

p.21: The student is expected to identify the major eras and events in U.S. history through 1877, including colonization, revolution, drafting of the Declaration of Independence, creation and ratification of the Constitution, religious revivals, including the Second Great Awakening, early republic, the age of Jackson, westward expansion, reform movements, sectionalism, Civil War, and Reconstruction…” The “religious revivals, including the Second Great Awakening” phrase was added by an amendment of the State Board of Education (SBOE). I have no problem with students learning about the Second Great Awakening. This revival plays a significant role in my treatment of the early 19th century. But to include this as a separate category seems a bit out of place. Any good history teacher will treat the Second Great Awakening as part of his or her coverage of either the early republic or or the Age of Jackson.

p.22: Students are to “compare political, economic, religious, and social reasons for the establishment of the 13 English colonies.” The word “religious” was added to this list by the outside reviewers. This is a good move. I don’t see how you can talk about the motivation for settlement of the English colonies without discussing “religion.”

In general, the colonial period seems to be treated here as a largely English event. This, of course, goes against much of the scholarship in the field that sees “colonial America” as an era in which multiple European and native American groups encountered one another in North America. For example, there is very little covered in the colonial history standards that deal with Spanish colonization in the southwest or native Americans.

p.23: While I am supportive of Texas students learning about Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant, and Abraham Lincoln, I do not see why they need to be described as “heroes.” This language was added by the State Board. Some of these men were great leaders who were worthy of emulation, but they were all deeply flawed as well. The use of the word “heroes” makes it difficult to see them as fully human.

p.23: There has been some gripes about the Board including the phrase “analyze the ideas contained in Jefferson Davis’s inaugural address…” Frankly, I think students should learn about Davis’s ideas. I teach them all the time. The inaugural address provides a great window into understanding the mentality of the Confederacy at the start of the Civil War.

p.25: In a standard on the free exercise system, the students are asked to “explain why a free enterprise system of economics developed in the new nation, including minimal government intrusion, taxation, and property rights….” The “minimal government intrusion” seems too political.

p.25: Students are asked to “identify the influence of ideas from historic documents, including Magna Carta, the English Bill of Rights, the Mayflower Compact, The Wealth of Nations, the Declaration of Independence, the Federalist Papers, and selected anti-federalist writings, on the U.S. system of government. The Board added Wealth of Nations to this list. I would also like them to mention something about classical republicanism.

Grade 9 is next.

A Review of the Revisions to the Texas Social Studies Standards: Grade 7

We continue with our review of the Texas Social Studies curriculum standards. You can review the revisions here. Also check out our previous reviews.

According to the standards: “In Grade 7, students study the history of Texas from early times to the present. Content is presented with more depth and breadth than in Grade 4.” As I mentioned in my Grade 4 review, I am no expert on Texas history. So this will be brief.

p.14: I noticed that in the 20th century history of Texas standard, one of the suggested topics is the rise of the “evangelical movement of the late 20th century.” This was added by the outside reviewers (probably David Barton or Peter Marshall). In other words, the conservatives on the State Board of Education want the children of Texas to learn about themselves and their movement. Frankly, conservative evangelicalism has been such a powerful force in Texas that I think any student of history should learn about it. They should learn about the rise of evangelicalism in the same way that they should learn about any other significant actor or movement in history regardless of political or ideological affiliation.

p.17: Students should “identify the contribution of Texas leaders, including Lawrence Sullivan “Sul” Ross, John Hance Gardner (“Cactus Jack”), James A. Baker III, Henry Gonzalez, Kay Bailey Hutchison, Barbara Jordan, Raymon L. Telles, Sam Rayburn, and Raul A. Gonzalez. Baker and Hutchsinon were added by the conservative outside reviewers. If you are going to include Hutchison and Baker then why not include Lloyd Bentsen, Ann Richards, Charlie Wilson, George H.W. Bush, John Connally, Lauro Cavazos, or George W. Bush? Phil Gramm was removed from the standards. Why?

p.18: In the section on science, technology, and society, the following standard was cut by the outside reviewers: “The student is expected to “make predictions about economic, social, and environmental consequences that may result from future scientific discoveries and technological innovations.” Why was this cut?

p.18: I notice in several places in the standards, the outside reviewers (I don’t know if they were from the Left or the Right) added the phrase “through established research methodologies.” Is this code for something?

Grade 8 is next.

A Review of the Revisions to the Texas Social Studies Standards: Grade 6

We continue with our review of the Texas Social Studies curriculum standards. You can review the revisions here. Also check out our previous reviews.

We now move into the Middle School (grades 6-8) curriculum.

The grade six standards deal with World History. (Or one might argue that it is world history as taught through the eyes of United States values as defined by the Texas State Board and some of the external reviewers).

p.1: Once again, the Board wants the students to “identify the role of the U.S. free market system.” Since this is covered in every grade level, wouldn’t it be appropriate that students learn something about another economic system that operates or has operated around the world? After all, this is world history. (OK–we get some of this in the “economics” section on p. 5).

p. 2: “Celebrate Freedom Week” is also part of the World History curriculum. I guess this is the week when 6th graders think about how great the United States is while they study the cultures of other nations.

p.2: “The student is expected to identify and describe the influence of individual or group achievements on various historical or contemporary societies such as the classical Greeks on government and the American Revolution on the French Revolution; and evaluate the social, political, economic, and cultural contributions of individuals and groups from various societies, past and present.” If I was a teacher who had to execute this standard I would have no idea what it means. It is poorly written, vague, and confusing. Try reading it aloud.

p.5-6: The “economics” section of the sixth grade standards borders on a particular vision of America that extols limited government (comparing unlimited government to the persecution of Christians in Sudan). It suggests government regulation might have some impact on “economic development” and “business planning.” I hope that students will also learn about both the positive and negative effects of government regulations. It would seem that the teachers would have the liberty to discuss both.

p.7: “The student is expected to analyze the efforts and activities institutions use to sustain themselves over time such as the development of an informed citizenry through education and the use of monumental architecture by religious institutions.” This standard is a bit strange. It was added by the outside reviewers, either David Barton or Peter Marshall. One could think of dozens of ways that a society sustains itself that would probably be considered more important than “monumental architecture by religious institutions.”

Grade 7 is next.

A Review of the Revisions to the Texas Social Studies Standards: Grade 5

We continue with our review of the Texas Social Studies curriculum standards. You can review the revisions here. Also check out our previous reviews.

Grade 5 focuses on the history of the United States. This is pretty standard across the country.

p.33: “Students identify the role of the U.S. free enterprise system within the parameters of this course and understand that this system may also be referenced as capitalism or the free market system.” Apart from being stylistically redundant, it appears that the conservative members of the board are obsessed with having the students learn about free-market capitalism. This goal has appeared in the standards of every grade thus far. It was added by Board amendment.

p.33: Once again, David Barton’s “Celebrate Freedom Week” has been added to the curriculum. See my thoughts about this in my comments on the Grade 3 standards.

p.33: Interesting: “United States history” begins in 1565, with the founding of St. Augustine. This was added by the outside reviewers and adopted by the board. Apart from the problem that the “United States” does not begin until 1776, I am curious about the choice of 1565. Why not 1492? Of course the real scandal here is that the native Americans–the real “Americans”– are not included as part of this narrative.

p.34: After some early controversy, it looks like Anne Hutchinson made the cut under the “individuals during the colonial period” standard. The outside reviewers–probably Barton or Peter Marshall–added Plymouth Colony leader William Bradford. The Board added John Wise (1652-1725), a congregational minister from Ipswich, Mass. This is a strange addition. I am guessing Wise was added because he gained a reputation for opposing British taxation schemes and he was a clergyman. If you want a New England clergyman why not Cotton or Increase Mather or Jonathan Edwards? The colonial period is also tipped heavily toward New England. There is one “significant individual” from Virginia (John Smith) and one from Pennsylvania (William Penn). No representative from New York or the lower South. Whether the authors of the standards realized it or not, they are clearly promoting a “New England as America” model of colonial history. This makes sense from the perspective of the conservative Board. New England was the “shining city on a hill.”

p.34: The individuals from the American Revolution are described as “Founding Fathers and Patriot heroes.” (Added by the outside reviewers). John Adams, Samuel Adams, Benjamin Franklin, the Sons of Liberty, and Nathan Hale have been added to this standard. They join Jefferson and Washington. How about some ordinary people? How about some women?

p.34: “Identify the issues that led to the creation of the U.S. Constitution, including the weaknesses of the Article of the Confederation.” The “weakness…” phrase was added by the outside reviewers. This is another interesting decision. The standards are clearly embracing a “critical period” approach to the Articles. They completely ignore the fact that there were some who opposed the Constitution and thought the Articles would be fine after a few reforms. The irony in all of this is that the conservative “federalists” on the Board would probably find more in common with the 18th century opponents of the Constitution–the men who actually liked the Articles of Confederation.

p.34: A standard is added about the causes and effects of the War of 1812. This seems necessary. The War of 1812 is often overlooked.

p.35: For the 20th century, students are required to learn about Jane Addams, Susan B. Anthony, Dwight Eisenhower, Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Cesar Chavez, FDR, Ronald Reagan, and Colin Powell. Fair enough. But if you are going to pick a group of noted 20th century individuals, should Colin Powell be included? Reagan and Chavez were added by the outside reviewers.

p.39: Under “Citizenship” 5th graders are expected to “explain the contributions of the Founding Fathers to the development of the national government.” This was added by the outside reviewers. It is probably necessary.

Grade 6 is next.