Censors, it has been said, are paid to have dirty minds. Education panellists, at least in certain jurisdictions, are paid to prevent the exercise of one at all. For that reason, fifteen unknown individuals in a state should not be vested with the power to centrally control what is read or taught in texbooks. But that is certainly not the case in Texas, where educational expertise is less prized than political expediency in the coverage of such subjects as history and economics. The Texas Board of Education members have endorsed a draft proposal on the state’s social studies curriculum that is a miracle in not only being long but patchy. The Republic faction was glowing with triumph after the vote.
According to the conservative majority on the board, American students will have to study such matters as ‘American exceptionalism,’ a necessary piece of education equipment for the true, second amendment wary Texan. Children will be fed a hearty diet of messianic stodge at the expense of cosmopolitan enlightenment, while such cultural references as Hip Hop will disappear as examples of American cultural prowess. The Enlightenment will be minimised as a source of inspiration for the American Revolution, while the Judeo-Christian inspirations will be marked in bold. The sterile term ‘capitalism’, an effective libel against a treasured economic system by ‘liberal professors’ (according to Board Members Terri Leo and Ken Mercer) would receive a re-christening, moving about the world as ‘free enterprise’. Friedrich von Hayek’s dark musings on the welfare state would have to make a prominent appearance in the economics course. Leo felt more than a touch smug at these historical touch-ups, calling the proposed Texan standards ‘world class’ and ‘exceptional’.
These events will hardly come as any surprise to the student of Texan curricula. Each curriculum reform tends to return to basic, patriotic principles in Texas. ‘American, and especially Texan, history is glorified,’ claimed a 2006 study from the Fordham Institute’s review of Texas’ existing history standards. Jim Crow’s legacy and the KKK are not so much condemned as wholly ignored. The history makers that matter are corporate giants who represented the best type of capitalism. History is made by robber barons rather than the sweat of the ‘common’ folk. The Texan class room is evidently no place for the pedagogical techniques of Howard Zinn.
The Board of Education has certainly had its conservative influences. Its members have also been, according to reports, casting more than keen eye on the Wedge Document, the Discovery Institute’s study advocating the regeneration of American culture through an affirmation of God, Christian values and the evils of scientific materialism. The Discovery Institute, for those unfamiliar, is the pivot of the intelligent design movement.
One wonders whether the board has simply missed the point to this whole, rather silly exercise. Irrespective of what subject matter, erroneous, contentious, or otherwise is fixed in such a curriculum, fundamental matters such as literacy and lack of resources in teaching remain. Texas remains a considerable offender in that regard, with a functional literacy level of 19 percent. This is compounded by a considerable number of undocumented immigrants, mainly Hispanic, whose role in Texan history, like those of other minorities, has been airbrushed in this curriculum. Whether any of these considerations will be addressed by the time the final vote takes place in May is unlikely. Illiteracy, and a considerable degree of ignorance, is set to flourish.
BINOY KAMPMARK was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org