I’ve always had an interesting relationship with school textbooks. Their “facts” sometimes seemed slanted, or peppered with bias. In high school they got a little better, but I was still appalled to witness the importance of the Underground Railroad reduced to four sentences about a “network of slaves” in a section that was supposed to detail Antebellum America and the instances of resistance within it. From elementary through high school, I wrestled with their take on history and politics, and drew from outside reading, family, and life experiences, to refute what I knew was sometimes erroneous and manufactured.
That said, the news that Texas’ conservatism (courtesy of the Texas State Board of Education) could greatly influence the content of public school textbooks, was of much interest and dismay to me. Texas operates one of the biggest markets for school textbooks. They facilitate a major, comprehensive print run that then determines the same course materials for other states. With textbook manufacturers largely catering to Texas’ requests, many other states, from Oregon to Massachusetts, could be following suit as well.
So what will these imposed changes mean? Put simply, they’d lessen the importance and scope of Latino history and culture (in schools and classes with significant Latino populations), they’d institute a greater emphasis on the “conservative resurgences of the 1980s and 1990s,” (a resurgence that increased the international drug trade/cartel, and also perpetuated the stereotype of the black “welfare mother”), they’d evoke a more positive portrayal of Cold War Anticommunism (a movement that held many freedom fighters such as Paul Robeson in exile and contempt), and finally- include country and western music as one of the country’s most “important” social movements, while hip hop is dropped entirely from that same list. The latter addition is both amusing and alarming considering the impact and importance of hip hop culture in the lives of many students in these schools, and the lack of importance of country and western music in most urban areas of the country. If instituted, these changes would unjustly impose Texas’ backward relationship with culture/diversity, immigration, and freedom of speech, on students and educators across the country, who are unfamiliar with this particular brand of conservatism.
Though the Texas State Board of Education has not yet ratified these changes and additions (the vote takes place in May), they are already celebrating an early victory due to the finalization of their initial textbook draft. The potential changes are cause for alarm and concern, especially in underfunded schools where a variety of reading materials are sometimes scarce, and teachers depend more and more on the content and direction of their textbooks to supplement classroom curriculum. It is also a cause for protest when one considers the importance of textbooks in social studies/ history classrooms, and their role in shaping the perception of what’s important and credible in history. Without the support and inclusion of outside reading materials, community, and family encouragement, some students are being dealt an incredibly unfair blow.