Historical “Revisionism” of Texas Board of Education: Retrenchment toward White Supremacy



The recent highly publicized approval of a social studies curriculum by the Texas Board of Education (TBOE) highlights not only the extremism being increasingly spread by decision-makers in the state, but how those ideologically driven decisions will soon infect the education of students across the country. Simultaneously, it reveals much about the white supremacist framing of educational standards and how white people’s attempts to reframe and romanticize history in their honor continue to serve this ongoing “racial project.”

Last Friday the TBOE, divided along party lines, approved a curriculum that puts a religiously, politically and ideologically conservative mark on history and other textbooks to be used in the state. While the problematics of the Republican’s 100+ amendments were far ranging, from a racial perspective the TBOE actions are part and parcel of the continued retrenchment in education (as in other major institutions) toward the values of white supremacy. These members assumed the traditional white privilege of defining history toward their interests, with a stunted regard for truth or justice. Indeed, standards originally drafted by professional standards writing committees composed of professors, teachers and curriculum experts, were sliced and diced by board members, who ideologically reframed multiple matters with a simple majority vote.

That these non-experts/non-historians/non-scholars simply changed curriculum standards to better align them with their own racist, sexist and religiously monolithic worldviews is alarming enough. Indeed, even Don McLeroy, leader of the board’s conservative Christine faction and a dentist by trade, himself asserted in an interview with ABC Nightline that the power of the board “boggles his mind.” Equally concerning is that the influence of these unabashedly agenda-driven board members extends nationally, as publishers craft their books to meet Texas standards because the state forms one of the largest consumer blocs.

Specific examples of the racial problematics of the TBOE’s historical revisionism abound. While professional history experts attempted to appropriately adjust characterizations of nineteenth and twentieth century U.S. State actions from “American expansionism” to the more historically accurate “American imperialism,” the TBOE swiftly reverted the curricular standards back to the seemingly neutral, even benevolent “expansionist” terminology. This framing effectively nullifies the racism of events such as the genocidal removal and slaughter of Native Americans, land dispossession of Mexicans in the American Southwest, and the imperialist actions driving much aggressive foreign policy in places such as Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines. Indeed, such actions were fundamentally driven by the economic interests of white elites, and legitimized by the racist ideologies of Manifest Destinyand white superiority and civilization.

On the topic of the continued discrimination faced by people of color, conservative members of the TBOE were boldly invalidating. In his live blog of the three-day meetings, Steven Schafersman of The Texas Observer documented that board member Barbara Cargill baldly insisted “that the country has been very good to minorities” and “things are much better for them.” In a move suggesting her actions were more malevolent than ignorant, Cargill led a successful effort to remove a standard that asks students to “explain how institutional racism is evident in American society.” Revealing just the kind of white-framed worldview from which board members were operating, amendments such as this ensure that future generations of white children will continue to internalize this white racial framein an uninterrupted, uncritical, unchallenged manner.

Conservative members were successful in many other such racially troubling efforts, as they blocked the passage of numerous amendments that would have corrected the gross underrepresentation of Americans of color in history books by more accurately reflecting their individual and collective contributions to the nation. They similarly succeeded in such endeavors as removing the Central American freedom-fighter Oscar Romerofrom a list of individuals who led resistance against political oppression, and “hip hop” as an example of a significant cultural movement (inserting country music instead). In perhaps the most blatantly racist amendment, Conservative members succeeded in the attempt to subvert impressions of the U.S. Civil Rights Movement by ensuring that students would study the “violent philosophy” of the Black Panthers alongside the nonviolent approach of Dr. King. Members clearly seek to characterize the more “militant” factions of the movement as dangerous enemies of American justice, and to contextualize white backlash to the civil rights agenda as reasonable. To be sure, this characterization is a flagrant misrepresentation of the Black Panther Party, which rightly and courageously condemned the racism and violence of American society and organized around the self-defense and self-determination of oppressed black communities. This brazen move is wholly indicative of the TBOE’s efforts to undergird the values of white supremacy on which this nation was founded and has operated ever since.

In a point that must be a primary feature of any racial analysis of the board’s action, Schafersman insightfully observed that “[the TBOE] claim[s] they are responding to the ‘revisionism’ of the ‘liberals,’ but in fact they are reacting to the long-overdue presentation of accurate and reliable history for the first time in Texas public schools.” Because the U.S. is ordered around white supremacy (the concentration of all forms of – power, economic, political – in the hands of whites) and white privilege (the unearned privileges that white people gain as a result of this structural organization of power), efforts to alter that order generate much intense backlash from whites. More simply stated, when the world is crafted toward your benefit, the move toward justice feels like victimization. The Board’s efforts clearly demonstrate that when the “normality” of white power is threatened, white elites will react to restore what appears to them a natural order of national and global white dominance.

While the efforts of the professional standards writers to correct social studies standards toward a more inclusive, critically honest curriculum fall far short of the major overhaul of education needed, the TBOE’s actions destroyed what little progress might have been made. Conservative members efforts to “bring balance” must be read as retrenchment toward white supremacy.

Comments

  1. Will

    Man, this is so pathetic, I can’t even write a comment to express how pathetic this is. The blog in itself illustrates that. Yet, there will be people that will wonder why students of color drop out.

    • Jennifer Mueller

      Excellent point Will – It’s amazing students of color have managed to be successful at all given the abundance of oppressive factors they face within the institution of education (from these curricular issues, to extreme funding disparities, etc.). It’s a testament to the strength and persistance of black students, black families, black teachers – indeed, the black community at large. And as gatorglenn points out below, it’s worse than simply putting out material that students of color have little incentive to develop an interest in – it is the ongoing, explicit project of instructing students of color in white supremacy.

  2. Powerful post, Jenni! You did a great job of touching on the flood of racist activity from the TBOE. I’m more than a little embarrassed by the huge gap between the quality of your post and mine on the same subject.

    If I could push the conversation in any direction, I’d like to hear your thoughts about the following. All anti-racists now have the added burden of pursuing texts that accurately cover history and teaching our children (and all children, if we are professional educators) accordingly. This seems to me to be an extra cost. As tax-payers, we are subsidizing the “miss education” of everyone (to paraphrase Dr. Carter Woodson). We are paying for people to explicitly teach white supremacy. [I know we already were, but this appears to be a zealous amplification.] We also must pay money to decolonize and reteach our children and the next generation. Then, we have the added cost of teaching/debating deeply misinformed people. We also must contend, permanently, with the ill-informed policies these ignorant generations will produce. All of this seems an unjust impoverishment (in terms of money and energy) for people of color and anti-racists.

    Conversely, the supporters of the TBOE and its racist changes are saved all of these costs. The changes not only indoctrinate the next generation, they also prevent these racist ideologues from paying the emotional costs of facing tough questions from their children. Answering questions about racism is painful to whites. These TBOE changes spare many whites much of that pain. [Conversely, they put that pain on children of color, who must search for absent answers as to why they suffer all the psychological and economic costs of racism.]

    These changes also save whites the cost of gathering resources and explicitly teaching these falsehoods themselves. Ironically, whites have already set up the infrastructure to do this slanted teaching in the form of segregated and private schools and home schools, particularly among evangelicals. It is just a matter of selecting the texts that they want. No need to slant ALL the texts and force people of color and anti-racists to subsidize those texts.

    The TBOE standards do more than revise (i.e. lie about) history. The TBOE is stealing from us. They are stealing our money, time, emotional and psychological peace, children’s minds, and our history! We must fight back!

    • Jennifer Mueller

      Glenn, your take on this as an issue of unjust impoverishment/enrichment is a *tremendously useful* framework for understanding just what’s happening here. Thank you so much for suggesting it. I would say that the board’s actions make abundantly clear that this is not simply about everyone accessing and controlling their piece of the disproportionately divided “pie” (since as you note – given educational segregation, etc., there would seem less imperative to control the whole market when you already have such a large share). They are clearly committed to complete domination. And, I think it speaks to the fear of allowing cracks in the foundation via people of color and anti-racists accessing educational and other resources. In the end, it might be a poor plan on their part, because it hightlights the terrain of racial oppression more clearly, and thus sets up the possibility of a more active movement toward racial justice.

  3. Dr. Terence Fitzgerald

    Good overview of the argument Jennifer. What is interesting and less talked about in curriculum development in public schools is the middle ground that takes place due to white racial framing. For example, school districts wil adopt a curriculum approach that attempts to avoid the issues of past crimes committed toward of people of color in social studies classes. A sort of, “don’t ask and we def won’t talk” approach to these issues. I feel this can have a devasating effect as well as the push that is occurring in Texas.

  4. marandaNJ

    Jennifer wrote:”Conservative members were successful in many other such racially troubling efforts, as they blocked the passage of numerous amendments that would have corrected the gross underrepresentation of Americans of color in history books by more accurately reflecting their individual and collective contributions to the nation.”
    I’m really stunned by this article. The history books I work with have seemed to grow more progressive over the years. One of the ones I use now was published by National Geographic and definitely stresses Imperialism as our national Policy since 1900. It also depicts true horror stories of how the Spanish conquistadores and priests [no less] treated the Aztecs and other indigenous groups in South America. Full page biogs of Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Rosa Parks, Louis Armstrong and Many more African Americans.Tons of stuff about African American contribution to the arts etc. Word-for-word excerpts from people who were former slaves. The point is it could use much more minority perspectives on history [especially Latino]but it’s definitely heading in the right direction.
    So I was hopeful. Now this? I honestly can’t understand this. We have a Black History Month but now we’re Not imperialists? We’re “expansionists”? Manifest Destiny is Not looked on as a B/S slogan to excuse decimating the native Americans? In the Philipines, we helped them gain independence from Spain, then Told Them Outright we weren’t leaving, and that was that. Same thing in Hawaii.
    And today I happen to know the major oil companies, like Shell and Exxon, have formed a cartel to divide up Iraq and we are keeping troops there to protect our oil interests. 9/11 was an excuse to take over the OPEC countries. Exxon’s been salivating over Iraq for decades. But it’s politically incorrect to call it Imperialism today, like it was properly labeled in 1900. Now the bill of goods [for the latter part of the 20th century to the present] is we’re doing it to inseminate democracy all over the world. Hopefully nobody believes this, right? Yeah, right.
    I’m just stunned. I never thought this would happen. America’s in danger of losing its place as the most powerful country on Earth. That’s one of the reasons for bringing back the Wizard of Oz magic show. These new textbooks are probably trying to impress on young people Our Rightful Place in History so they won’t Question any Viet Nam moves anymore or our mistreatment of minorities. I guess it was all justified. Who was the “ghost writer” on this feed anyway? Sounds exactly like what Stalin and Hitler did to propaganda the populace before delivering the one-two punch. Something big is brewing here folks. This is Not Good.

    • Jennifer Mueller

      It’s interesting, because even people who acknowledge that racial oppression is still a problem, and that white supremacy remains the order of the day, are often inclined to describe contemporary racism as very “covert” and under the radar. And while I do agree that is often the way racial oppression operates in the post-Civil Rights era, the actions of the TBOE offer a clear example of how whites still often weild their racial power very brazenly. Indeed, I think all of the talk of racial progress has emboldened whites who now feel the pendulum’s swung too far in the other direction and they’re now being victimized (hence my point at the end – challenges to the normality of white privilege feel like victimization to whites, and incite severe backlash). I think given the other examples out there right now (e.g., the racially vitriolic nature of the teaparties, etc.), we can expect more such backlash. Perhaps the “upside” of this is that it offers the possibility of jolting folks who’d be inclined to join the movement, so to speak, but who’ve retired to or stayed on the line – e.g., people of color who have accessed some power, but who’s relative success may be re-challenged by the white power structure who now want to brazenly inculcate their kids, etc.; whites committed to anti-racist action, etc.

  5. distance88

    This recent uh, white-washing of history textbooks in Texas reminded me of Loewen’s book “Lies My Teacher Told Me”.

    How is it that Texas became the sole/primary provider of school textbooks nationwide? This has always seemed odd to me..

    • Jennifer Mueller

      good cite on the Loewen book – although I take issue with some of the arguments he makes in the book, it’s a really excellent read for anyone who missed it. The TBOE’s actions ensure that students will remain disconnected, and likely disinterested in history, and as Glenn mentioned above, completely mis-educated.

      Re: the textbooks, Texas is not the primary provider of the nation’s textbooks, but because they are one of the largest purchasers of textbooks, textbook publishers craft their books to meet Texas’ standards, and then those books get sold nationwide. As marandaNJ notes above, there is some choice among textbooks, but it’s akin to some small bottlery trying to capture the consumer bloc controlled by Coke or Pepsi. Choosing more critical textbooks requires an instructor with the time, energy and consciousness to look outside of the most readily available and marketed options. And, of course, in Texas, teachers will be totally out of luck in this regard given these newly required standards.

      • distance88

        Thanks for your response, Jennifer. I was misinformed re: Texas & textbook production. But what you said makes sense since Texas is such a large state with a large number of purchasers. Have you found that other states are (or have been) following these Texas Board of Ed. standards (I’m assuming Texas isn’t alone here)? And which states do better in terms of textbook criteria/selection? Is there such a thing as an ‘honest’ U.S. history textbook? That’s a lot of questions, sorry.

        • Jennifer Mueller

          I am actually really glad you raised the issue of state standards generally. Texas was one of two states (Alaska, the other), to decline participation in a national standards-writing effort that has been undertaken by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. The national standards process has been endorsed by the Obama administration, as they undertake their $4 billion overhaul of education to correct the disaster we currently have in place as a result of NCLB(http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/11/education/11educ.html?hp). So, the Texas BOE’s recent efforts partially stems from their refusal to take part in this national effort, which aims to correct many of the perverse incentives created by NCLB, such as the lowering of state standards to help schools meet NCLB requirements.

          Alaska and Texas also declined to apply for a one-time potential $700 million education grant to improve their schools, as part of the U.S. DOE’s “Race to the Top” program (which the $4 billion is funding). Obviously, the “states rights” dogma (and framing of this as a matter that “socializes” education) is a key reason, along with the desire to do exactly what they did, which is to design their own curriculum to indoctrinate students toward their own worldview.

          As far as whether there is an “honest” U.S. history textbook, others are better equipped to answer that question. Often cited as the best in this regard is the late (and much revered) Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States.”

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