In a move of which Josef Stalin and his henchmen would have been proud, the Texas Board of 'Education' has now allowed itself to become a laughing stock in the realms of Western democratic academe. Indeed, future pupils who, on their résumés and curricula vitae, cite Texas as their alma mater have just been handed an additional hurdle in making progress in the world.
So what's the big deal?
Rather than reinvent the wheel, allow me to present the words of Luisita Lopez Torregrosa's article, History Revised, Teachers Sacked: The Book Wars in Texas and Beyond:
It's been a brawl for years, this education culture war that seems to take on a particularly vicious turn in the heart of Texas. The latest and most important round, a drastic revision of the social studies curriculum standards to put a conservative spin on history and economics textbooks, was given preliminary approval after a series of heated meetings of the Texas Board of Education that didn't do much to improve the image of the nation's second largest state as a sometimes small-minded political and educational backwater.
In a matter of days last week in Austin, the majority of the 15-member board, insisting they were only trying to offset liberal bias in textbooks, questioned Darwin's theory of evolution and the constitutional principle of separation of church and state; debated hip-hop and genocide in Darfur; deleted Albert Einstein and Thomas Alva Edison from textbooks; emphasized Christian teachings and fundamentalist values; adopted conservative articles of faith like American exceptionalism; promoted right-wing leaders and organizations like Phyllis Schlafly and the National Rifle Association; and refused to give adequate attention to Hispanic and African American contributions to U.S. and Texas history. To no one's surprise, on the final round on Friday, the conservatives pulled a decisive victory, 10-5 -- a tally that broke along predictable party lines, Republicans to the right, Democrats to the left. Ethnic minority members stood on the losing side. According to published reports, no experts on the social sciences were consulted. Given the conservative cast of the board, whose members are elected, the changes it has proposed will stand when the final vote is taken in May.
So, not content with airbrushing that little known scribe, Thomas Jefferson, out of its History textbooks (due to him being "too liberal"); bringing into question Darwin's Theory of Evolution; erasing Einstein and Edison from the record of historical fact, Texas now appears hell-bent on making a hick-haven Aunt Sally of itself. After all, Jefferson was only the guy largely responsible for writing the US's Declaration of Independence, so no biggy...
In Texas, you could be forgiven for thinking The Enlightenment never happened: which, again, is ironic, as the Texas Board of Education want references to it dropped too - and that, at least for the kids seeking an 'education' (that word will now have to come with caveats where Texas is concerned), this presents potentially huge and far-reaching problems.
Picture the scene: Texan kid wanders in to apply for a job outside of his/her own state's level of backwards cultural morality (certainly when compared to the wider English-speaking world, and all other Western plural democracies); gets the job; gets into a discussion over a coffee or lunch break with colleagues about where he/she stands on 'Creationism vs. Darwin', and opts to promote the nonsense which is Creationism; gets laughed out of town, considered a 'joke', and then ostracised for promoting what he/she understands to be 'the truth'; and all because, "that's what I learned at school...". How is that fair on the kid? To say nothing of the psychological problems squadrons of them might then face, in later life, as a result of the subsequent rejection of their views by the wider world.
And that's if they secured the job in the first place, assuming that the interviewing panel didn't immediately toss his/her résumé/CV in the bin when they saw that the applicant is from Texas, and will, in all likelihood, come with a whole array of cultural, historical and fundamentalist inexactitudes and confusions which they, as an employer, are neither inclined to correct, nor, understandably, don't feel that it's their job to do so. Would they feel obliged, knowingly, to employ a racist, or someone applying for a job who had never been given even the basics in mathematics? I'd like to see anyone advance an argument which suggested that it's industry's place to re-educate those who turn up for work with (thanks to their state's education system) an irredeemably conflicted view of the world - and the employer's otherwise get-along-workforce wouldn't thank them for trying.
The irony here, and going back to the Stalin analogy, is that these overtly politicised moves, made by a small (15 people) unrepresentative clique, seeking to promote only that version of events which they deem to be ideologically 'sound', is worthy of Stalin and the Soviet Union - although you can't help but feel that this wasn't a parallel which these Texan conservatives sought when seeking a model for their educational system. Who said irony was dead?
But, as professor Lopez Torregrosa points out in her piece, this is not merely a localised issue for the beleaguered kids of Texas (and their subsequent employment prospects). Far from it. With Texas having by far the largest print-run of schools' textbooks in the US, other states tend to dovetail on the back of their publishing habits in order to get volume discounts through bulk buying. This would be risible if it weren't so tragic.
Texas textbook standards are usually adopted by publishers because the state will buy 48 million of them every year, and many other states -- 47 by some counts -- will follow that model. In light of those figures, publishers will happily take their cue from the Lone Star State.
What this says, essentially, is that the rest of US academia is willing to follow Texas off an educational cliff based on nothing more than the size of a discount-garnering print run of textbooks, with no apparent consideration or concern for the veracity or credibility of the content of the textbooks in question. That's also a damning indictment of the state of US public school finances where the acquisition of textbooks is concerned. Feeling obliged to piggyback on a bad decision, just so you can stay within budget, is a scholastic travesty.
The other thing it illustrates is that there is no common approach to US public schools in terms of learning (why?); neither, so it appears, is there anything like a common national curriculum in the US (again, why?) - as the ability to chop and change the content of its public school textbooks, based on nothing more than the political whims and sensitivities of (in this case) a 15 person politburo, indicates.
I'm trying to look for an upside here: but, sadly, I can't even be sure that those who make up The Texas Board of Education are, themselves, all teachers or educators in any way at all.
So, as Texas, and perhaps the wider US (given its apparent follow-my-leader spending habits on school textbooks), sets itself up for being understandably lampooned, I'll leave the final thoughts, here, to one of its Board of Education members, Mavis Knight, when she opines:
It was not a pretty sight. The board will surely become, or has already become, the butt of jokes on late-night shows and "Saturday Night Live."
Next time you meet someone who's insistent that humans shared the planet with Dinosaurs, or that the world is only six thousand years old, or that the Fossil Record and actual science have no value, chances are, they'll hail from Texas...
Anyone who has the power to make you believe absurdities has the power to make you commit injustices. -- Voltaire.Post Script: 25th Jan 2013... Revising The Revisionaries: The Texas Board of Ed Loses Power over Textbooks