Texas, Textbooks, the Washington Post and Ann Althouse
The Left in this country has been having a hissy fit over conservatives on the Texas State School Board amending the social studies standards in that state. For example, California State Senator Leland Yee (D. San Francisco) has introduced a bill that would require the California Board of Education to be on the lookout for any Texas content in reviewing public school textbooks. He also makes the hilarious statement that the Texas curriculum changes pose a threat “to the apolitical nature of public school governance and academic content standards in California.” This in a state where the legislature has instituted a Harvey Milk Day to propagandize students in the gay rights agenda, and where the California Education Association, the teacher’s union, is the largest spender on politics in the state.
To support the meme of the Left that evil conservatives were perverting educational standards in Texas, the Washington Post wrote a hit piece that may be read here. Ann Althouse, law professor and blogger decided to compare the claims of the Washington Post to the new standards. Here is what she found:
Let me embarrass the Washington Post. Below, the material from the WaPo article, written by Michael Birnbaum, is indented. After the indented part, I’ve located the relevant quote from the Board of Education text, found here. (I’m searching 3 PDF documents: Economics with Emphasis on the Free Enterprise System and Its Benefits Subchapter A. High School; Social Studies Subchapter B. Middle School; Social Studies Subchapter C. High School.)
The Washington Post writes:
The Texas state school board gave final approval Friday to controversial social studies standards….
The new standards say that the McCarthyism of the 1950s was later vindicated — something most historians deny –…
The students are required 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 Venona Papers confirmed suspicions of communist infiltration in U.S. government…” The word “vindicated” is inflammatory and unfair. What is the Washington Post saying historians deny? One can be informed of the reality of what the Venona Papers revealed about communist infiltration into the U.S. government and still understand and deplore the excesses of “McCarthyism.”
…draw an equivalency between Jefferson Davis’s and Abraham Lincoln’s inaugural addresses…
Students are required to “analyze the ideas contained in Jefferson Davis’ inaugural address and Abraham Lincoln’s ideas about liberty, equality, union, and government as contained in his first and second inaugural addresses and the Gettysburg Address.” The word “equivalency” is uncalled for. The requirement is to analyze, not to be indoctrinated that the ideas are the same.
… say that international institutions such as the United Nations imperil American sovereignty…
What I’m seeing is “explain the significance of the League of Nations and the United Nations” and “analyze the human and physical factors that influence the power to control territory, create conflict/war, and impact international political relations such as the United Nations (UN), the European Union (EU), or the control of resources.” Where is the language that can be paraphrased “imperil American sovereignty”?
…. and include a long list of Confederate officials about whom students must learn.
Students are required to “explain the roles played by significant individuals and heroes during the Civil War, including Jefferson Davis, Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee, Abraham Lincoln, and congressional Medal of Honor recipients William Carney and Philip Bazaar.” Only Davis and Lee were Confederate officials! There is also this: “describe the role of individuals such as governors George Wallace, Orval Faubus, and Lester Maddox and groups, including the Congressional bloc of southern Democrats, that sought to maintain the status quo [in the Civil Rights Era].” That’s obviously not from the Civil War, but I can see why it’s annoying to Democrats.
They also removed references to capitalism and replaced them with the term “free-enterprise system.”
The document on economics does use the term “free enterprise system” throughout, but students are required to “understand that the terms free enterprise, free market, and capitalism are synonymous terms to describe the U.S. economic system,” so what is the problem?
Virtually everything cited in the article to make the curriculum seem controversial is misstated! Appalling!
ADDED: Birnbaum had an article in the previous day’s Washington Post that does contain quotes, and these have to do with changes that went through on Thursday (and which do not — but should! — appear in the documents that are available at the Board of Education website):
Students will now study “efforts by global organizations to undermine U.S. sovereignty,” an addition late Thursday evening encouraged by board member Don McLeroy (R), who has put forward many of the most contentious changes….
Another one of the seven conservative board members, David Bradley (R), added a list of Confederate generals and officials to the list of topics that students must study.
This provides support for Birnbaum’s statement that the standards “include a long list of Confederate officials about whom students must learn.” And it answers my question “Where is the language that can be paraphrased ‘imperil American sovereignty’?” My criticisms about “vindicating” McCarthyism, “the equivalency between Jefferson Davis’s and Abraham Lincoln’s inaugural addresses,” and the term “free-enterprise system” remain.
I have not been defending the Texas standards, only attacking the quality of the journalism that fails to quote or link to a text that is referred to. Birnbaum’s Friday article contains some useful quotes (though still not a link to the whole text). The Saturday article was unanchored to text and forced me to look for what I could find on line. I’m also criticizing inaccurate paraphrasing, like the use of the words “vindicating” and “equivalency.” Birnbaum’s take on the standards might be true, but in an article that refers to a text, I do need to see the text. Paraphrasing, without the text, raises suspicions, and I don’t apologize for having those suspicions.
Here are the revisions made in the curriculum standards for high school social studies in Texas. It is telling that these types of modest revisions can rouse such a tempest and to so little purpose. Students in public schools in Texas will still be taught overwhelmingly by teachers who are members of the National Education Association, the teacher’s union, which routinely takes left wing stances on the political issues of the day. More to the point, the teaching of social studies will still receive short shrift at most schools, judging from the historical illiteracy of most high school graduates. Political bias in school textbooks I think is a problem, but the main issues are too many teachers who cannot teach effectively, too many students who do not seem to want to learn and too many parents who could care less. Of course this is why the homeschool movement is growing as parents flee an increasingly useless public school system.
Update: Commenter J. Christian directs our attention to a great post by Steve Sailer:
“Steve Sailer wrote a pretty damning piece on one high school history textbook:
It’s hard to read that and not come to the conclusion that something in education has gone horribly wrong.”
From the post by Mr. Sailer:
But war heroes are, of course, in short supply in this textbook. American history’s greatest fighting admiral, Raymond Spruance, victor at the tremendously dramatic 1942 Battle of Midway, goes unmentioned. Nor do we hear about Clarence Wade McClusky and Max Leslie, the dive bomber commanders who decided not to turn back from their search for the Japanese fleet despite being so low on fuel that half their planes would have to ditch in the Pacific. By pressing onward, they suddenly were rewarded with the most glittering panorama any American warriors have beheld: the heart of the Japanese navy three miles below them.
As Admiral Morison wrote of the Japanese fleet on the morning of June 4, 1942 after the heroic but fruitless sorties by the slow, low-flying American torpedo bombers had been shot to pieces by the Japanese fighters:
“The third torpedo attack was over by 1024, and for about one hundred seconds the Japanese were certain they had won the Battle of Midway, and the war. This was their high tide of victory. Then, a few seconds before 1026, with dramatic suddenness, there came a complete reversal of fortune… At 14,000 feet the American dive-bombers tipped over and swooped screaming down for the kill.”
Five minutes later, three Japanese aircraft carriers were sinking. The ultimate defeat of Japan was now inevitable.
How hard did the textbook authors have to work to make Midway dull?
Answer: Nation of Nations’ section entitled “The Naval War in the Pacific,” which covers the turning point years of 1942 and 1943, gets all of two pro forma paragraphs.
In contrast, eight paragraphs are devoted to the internment of Japanese, seven to women and the war, and five to “Minorities on the Job.”
Hilariously, the naval war gets the same amount of text as the 1943 Zoot Suit riot in East LA!
Another example: October 1944’s Battle of Leyte Gulf, perhaps the largest naval encounter of all time? The complicated Japanese battle plan succeeded in luring Admiral Bull Halsey out of position, opening the door for a Japanese task force centered around the Yamato, the largest battleship in history, to blast Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s landing force off the Philippine beach to which he had famously returned five days before.
Yet, the Japanese leviathans were driven off by the furious attack of Clifton Sprague’s small American ships in what Admiral Morison calls “the most gallant naval action in our history, and the most bloody.”
Leyte Gulf gets one (drama-free) sentence.
When I was growing up in Los Angeles, where so many veterans of the Pacific settled, the struggle with Japan loomed as a national epic. Since then, it’s largely disappeared from consciousness—especially compared to the war with the Nazis, which presents the more comfortable scenario of white Americans defeating white Europeans.
Poor Tom Hanks has been reduced to promoting his current HBO miniseries The Pacific, successor to his 2001 European theatre of operations miniseries Band of Brothers, as being about “a war of racism.” (I seem to recall it had something to do with Pearl Harbor, but what do I know?)
Of course, leaving out so many annoying white male Heroes of Accomplishment from the textbook doesn’t mean that the historians have managed to dig up comparable diverse Heroes of Accomplishment.
Instead, the space mostly gets filled with Heroes of Suffering.
And who made them suffer?
You get one guess.
At one point, I went looking in this textbook’s index for the Civil War hero, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, colonel of the XXth Maine Volunteers. By repelling repeated assaults on crucial Little Round Top hill on the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg, Chamberlain more or less saved the Union. (He’s played by Jeff Daniels in Ron Maxwell’s movies Gettysburg and Gods and Generals.)
I suspect teenage boys might find him, you know, interesting. Maybe?
Well, needless to say, Joshua Chamberlain isn’t in the Nation of Nations’ index. I did find, however:
Chanax, Juan, 1096—1098, 1103, 1124, 1125
Who, exactly, is Chanax and why does he appear on six pages when Chamberlain can’t be squeezed in anywhere?
It turns out Chanax is an illegal immigrant from Guatemala who works in a supermarket in Houston. This hero’s accomplishment is that he brought in 1,000 other illegal aliens from his home village.
This is how history is taught in too many classrooms: dull, politicized junk. I can’t blame the students for not wasting their attention on this drek.