The grind: Texan textbooks take turn for worse

Story by David Taintor

Information is becoming less reliable. The Internet, bolstered by Wikipedia, is awash with falsehoods only a Google search away. Television is by no means any better, with pervasive infomercials selling undependable products at outrageous prices. And now textbooks in Texas are one step closer to being a little less trustworthy, too.

If journalism is said to be the first draft of history, then textbooks should be among the final drafts. But the Texas Board of Education voted 10-5 last Friday to approve changes to the state’s history and economics textbooks.

The changes include an emphasis on the “conservative resurgence of the 1980s and 1990s” and a more positive portrayal of Cold War anti-communism. Thomas Jefferson is also stricken from the list of writers who influenced the nation’s constitution, and changes in terminology replace capitalism with ‘free-market system’ and imperialism with ‘expansionism,’ Yahoo! News and the New York Times report.

The list goes on, including listing country and western music as some of the nation’s most important cultural movements, while hip-hop is stricken from that list.

The Times reports that no historians, economists or sociologists were called upon to comment on the change in curriculum. This is a political abomination and a tragedy for students of Texas. If there’s one place that politics shouldn’t be able to wedge its crooked fingers, it’s the classroom.

Don McElroy, who serves on the board, said the changes are balancing academia that has shifted too far to the left. While the stereotype is that most teachers are liberal, textbooks, at the very least, should be free from political bias.

Political bias is no stranger to the way people study the world, however. When Arno Peters introduced a more accurate picture of the world’s land mass in 1974, it showed the continent of Africa much larger than previous projections. While every two-dimensional map distorts the globe, this projection caused enormous political controversy.

The way westerners study the world – geographically, historically, economically – has long been influenced by our advantageous position in the world. The decision in Texas to reform textbooks takes this position to the extreme. Students today need a global and accurate picture of the world they live in.

They need to be taught history from a world perspective, not a complimentary American one.

If we wish for the United States to fit into a global world, it’s time to be humble enough to accept that we’re not the world’s patriarch, nor do we need to be.

This decision is further dangerous because Texas is among the nation’s largest buyer of textbooks. So, this decision threatens to disrupt the way textbooks are written and printed in other parts of the country.

The new textbook legislation goes further to downplay the importance of Latinos and Hispanics in the country, an atrocity especially for a state like Texas. Far too often, we pretend that we are solely entitled to this country, and that immigrants from Europe didn’t inhabit this country before. In 2000, Hispanics composed 12.5 percent of the U.S. population, or 35.3 million people, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. To ignore and downplay a tenth of the American population is overtly racist and morally wrong.

The public is allowed 30 days to comment on the textbook revisions. It’s now up to the people of Texas, and other concerned citizens, to expose this political abomination.