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Friday, March 19, 2010

A textbook education in ignorance

A few days ago my friend and fellow blogger Matthew Federico addressed the situation with history education in the state of Texas. In case you missed that bit of news, last week the Texas State Board of Education voted 10 to 5 to make drastic changes to the history, social studies and economics curricula being taught in that state's schools.

The vote occurred along split partisan lines. The ten Republicans on the board voted for the curriculum changes and the five Democrats opposed it. The results have been both hailed and condemned as giving the teaching materials a "conservative" and "right-leaning" slant, as opposed to what some construe is a "liberal" one.

The reason this is going to be a big deal for the rest of the country is because Texas is one of the biggest consumers in the highly lucrative business of school textbooks. So if textbook publishers have to produce for the Texas market, those same learning materials will likely be adopted in other states.

Matthew wrote on his blog about how this smacks too much of political propaganda. And, he would be correct.

But what troubles me especially about this - and it's taken me a few days to really feel ready to articulate my thoughts on it - is that the Texas State Board of Education is perpetuating a terrible ignorance... and it has nothing to do with the ideological flavor of the textbooks that they will be using. I would be just as bothered by the board's actions if it had purposefully chosen an admittedly left-leaning curriculum.

The ten members of the board who voted for these changes demonstrated no wisdom or foresight by wielding their power in order to literally ensconce Newt Gingrich and the Moral Majority in the history books, or to remove entirely any mention of Thomas Jefferson as a leading intellectual guiding light of early America (huh?!). And it's even troubling that the board deliberately chose to remove Ross Perot's 1992 run for President from historical discussion (the 1994 "Contract with America" however did make it in).

Is it Republican/"conservative" propaganda? Hell yes it is. And it would be just as wrong if it were Democrat/"liberal" propaganda. The examination and deliberation of history should never be defined by and along partisan lines. History is a broad tapestry, and to selectively pull this thread or that one out of it is to cheapen and make worthless the work entire.

But that still isn't what is particularly frustrating me about what the Texas State Board of Education has chosen to do. No, what irks me the most is that in spite of its sworn duty and very title, the board has chosen not to educate young minds, but to rather instill unquestioning obedience to the status quo and a paradigm fast approaching obsolescence.

Education is supposed to be a thing that transforms a person into an enlightened individual. The intended result of education should be a person capable of wise choice, rational mind, and liberty to pursue the exercise of personal conscience. In short: education is that which most empowers one to be free... including the freedom to question The Way Things Are.

The Texas State Board of Education, however, has chosen to compel the millions of children in its charge to accept The Way Things Are without question. And I would say that regardless of which ideology the curricula was being slanted toward. The Texas State Board of Education however has taken an education of ignorance to an entire new level of brazenness. The board - along with all other school boards in the United States - should be doing its damndest to encourage its students to not think in terms of "conservative and liberal". That is a dichotomy as false as anything could possibly be. It is also one that I am increasingly seeing is being challenged and questioned by a growing number of people.

But it's not freedom of mind that the Republicans of Texas' state school board have shown they are interested in by this course of action. Rather, they have demonstrated that they want, in their own way, to continue propping up the two-party puppet show that is destroying America.

Well, America isn't going to be saved for our children by the party faithful of either the Democrats or the Republicans. If America is going to have any future at all, it's going to come by the hard work, tireless efforts and even sacrifice of those who refused to abide by The Way Things Are.

The Texas State Board of Education had an opportunity to lead the way in this country by an infusion of fresh blood. Instead it chose to continue a condition of terminal anemia.

Perhaps there is a country in history that has thrived on a determined education in ignorance and apathy. But if there is one, it's not coming to the mind of this writer. And I doubt that Texas, as a state, is going to prove to be any different.


Parson's Daughter Studio said...

The problem with pendulums is that they swing wide from one direction to another. With so many textbooks in the past few years re-writing history by leaving out important aspects our country's history and founding documents to include "social" ones or issues of the day (with State Curriculum Coordinators telling teachers what they must spend time on and these same people in the schools overseeing the execution of these guidelines), it's not hard to see that when people get fed up, they'll tend to swing it the other way.

I don't agree that Newt was so instrumental in anything that he gets in a history book and more time should be spent on how our country was set up to run, and why, so they know the tyranny that these settlers came from that made them want a government by the people and for the people. But with many (our President included), treating the US Constitution as a hinderance to their governing (well, DUH!...that's was it's intent!), you also have educators and textbook writers that agree with that and lessen its importance in the curriculum2.

When I heard a high school theatre student get absolutely giddy that she shared a birthday with Joseph Stalin (when her friends were thrilled to share theirs with Leonardo Decaprio and such) I knew our schools had failed to teach proper history.