Texas Social Studies Textbooks: Welcome To The Errordome

The latest Texas textbook controversy came this past week, when a Houston-area parent objected to a passage in a McGraw-Hill geography textbook that has unique spin on the trans-Atlantic slave trade:

On Wednesday, Roni Dean-Burren of Pearland posted a screen shot on Facebook of a text message exchange with her son who sent her a photo of an infographic in his McGraw-Hill Word Geography textbook.

“The Atlantic Slave Trade between the 1500s and 1800s brought millions of workers from Africa to the southern United States to work on agricultural plantations,” a caption on the infographic read.

“We was real hard workers wasn’t we,” Dean-Burren replied, including an irked emoji. The next day, she posted a video showing more of the textbook. It has since garnered more than 1.7 million views.

The context is even worse; a naive reader (you know, like a child) might conclude that Africans immigrated voluntarily to the Americas. The book also neglects to mention the horrors of slavery while noting the sub-par working conditions of white indentured servants (a particularly problematic omission given the frequently-repeated myth of Irish slavery).

McGraw-Hill immediately issued an apology, stating that “we can do better.”

It should be noted that McGraw-Hill, like other textbook publishers, is very sensitive to political pressure. As the Texas Tribune notes:

The State Board of Education approved the textbook in question, along with a slew of other materials, last fall after a series of heated public meetings where academic reviewers and others detailed what they described as crucial flaws — or omissions — in the texts, including inaccurate descriptions of world religions and out-of-date racial terminology. Publishers made dozens of changes in response to the input, including dropping content that questions climate change being caused by human activity.

But advocacy groups have said the changes can’t possibly go far enough because the textbooks are based on flawed social studies curriculum standards the 15-member board set in 2010.

“We are encouraged that the publisher is correcting this passage downplaying the history of slavery in the United States. But it’s no accident that this happened in Texas,” said Kathy Miller, the president of one of those groups, the Texas Freedom Network. “We have a textbook adoption process that’s so politicized and so flawed that it’s become almost a punch line for comedians. The truth is that too many elected officials who oversee that process are less interested in accurate, fact-based textbooks than they are in promoting their own political views in our kids’ classrooms.”

It should be noted that the 2010 standards (19 T.A.C. ch. 113) omit references to the Ku Klux Klan and Jim Crow, and mention slavery third in a list of causes for the Civil War. This is not an accident — these standards were written in part by State Board of Education members who are, apparently, historical ignoramuses:

The State Board of Education adopted the standards in May 2010 on a 9-5 vote after a bitter debate, with Republican board members voting for them, saying they would rectify liberal bias in the way Texas taught history. Democrats voted against the standards.

“There would be those who would say, you know, automatically say the reason for the Civil War was over slavery,” board member Patricia Hardy, R-Fort Worth, said during one meeting. “No. It was states’ rights.”

No, Ms. Hardy, it was slavery. I know this because I looked up something called a primary source, to wit, the Texas Ordinance of Secession, which mentions “slave” or “slavery” 21 times, and in fact goes out of its way to make it extremely clear why Texas was committing itself to treason:

In view of these and many other facts, it is meet that our own views should be distinctly proclaimed.

We hold as undeniable truths that the governments of the various States, and of the confederacy itself, were established exclusively by the white race, for themselves and their posterity; that the African race had no agency in their establishment; that they were rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race, and in that condition only could their existence in this country be rendered beneficial or tolerable.

That in this free government all white men are and of right ought to be entitled to equal civil and political rights; that the servitude of the African race, as existing in these States, is mutually beneficial to both bond and free, and is abundantly authorized and justified by the experience of mankind, and the revealed will of the Almighty Creator, as recognized by all Christian nations; while the destruction of the existing relations between the two races, as advocated by our sectional enemies, would bring inevitable calamities upon both and desolation upon the fifteen slave-holding States. By the secession of six of the slave-holding States, and the certainty that others will speedily do likewise, Texas has no alternative but to remain in an isolated connection with the North, or unite her destinies with the South.

For these and other reasons, solemnly asserting that the federal constitution has been violated and virtually abrogated by the several States named, seeing that the federal government is now passing under the control of our enemies to be diverted from the exalted objects of its creation to those of oppression and wrong, and realizing that our own State can no longer look for protection, but to God and her own sons – We the delegates of the people of Texas, in Convention assembled, have passed an ordinance dissolving all political connection with the government of the United States of America and the people thereof and confidently appeal to the intelligence and patriotism of the freeman of Texas to ratify the same at the ballot box, on the 23rd day of the present month.

Can we blame McGraw-Hill for erasing slavery, when a majority of the State Board of Education is intent on erasing America’s history of white supremacy, either explicitly or implicitly? If McGraw-Hill has sinned, it seems to be because they are simply paying too much attention to what regulators are thinking, and saying the quiet part out-loud.

Incidentally, at the same May 2010 meeting of the SBOE, they approved an amendment that reads as follows:

MOTION AND VOTE: It was moved by Mr. Allen and seconded by Mrs. Berlanga to recommend that the State Board of Education amend §113.12(b)(12)(C) to read as follows: “(C) identify and describe the role of a good citizen in maintaining a constitutional republic and in keeping elected officials responsive to the wishes of the people.” The motion carried.

Wonder why they might not want to teach the kids about holding elected official accountable?

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