A supplement to the Texas US history textbook
This Supplement is a productive response to the controversy surrounding the Texas Board of Education's US history and social studies textbooks.
A Response, Not A Reaction[edit | edit source]
The new standards for these textbooks will require that they reflect a decidedly conservative point of view. This conservative point of view will not be presented as one point of view among many, but as American history itself. At times this point of view might be persuasive, and at times it might be motivated by actual historical facts, but to present it as anything other than a conservative point of view is a distortion of history. In some cases the violence that these new standards do to our history goes even further. For example the standards strongly suggest that the founders intended for the United States to be a Christian nation. Indeed, in a prayer opening the debate on these standards Cynthia Dunbar prayed: "I believe no one can read the history of our country without realizing that the Good Book and the spirit of the savior have from the beginning been our guiding geniuses. Whether we look to the first charter of Virginia, or the charter of New England…the same objective is present — a Christian land governed by Christian principles." (see video of this prayer here). Such a reading of US history is more than just a conservative slant, it is an activist rewriting of our history.
The "culture wars" or "history wars" are a trap. On the one hand if we don't do anything these distortions will go unchallenged, so we must contest them. Yet on the other hand it is easy to fall into a kind of mimetic rivalry where we produce left-wing distortions that mirror the right-wing distortions of the Texas textbooks. Our goal is not to create an activist rewriting in the opposite direction. If we do this we become reactionary, whereas our goal is to be forcefully responsible.
We must be forceful. Make no mistake, this project is a protest in the fullest, truest sense of the term, a testimony that contests the version of history espoused by the Texas Board of Education. In this sense this textbook aims at fidelity to the rich history of democratic protest that makes up American history.
We must also be responsible so that the form of our Supplement is not defined through opposition to the distortions of the Texas textbook. Our response is made with a spirit of healthy indifference towards the Texas textbook, one which focuses on doing responsible history, one that keeps its eyes on the prize and is not to distracted history warriors like Lynn Cheney.
In short, if the Texas textbooks are like Conservapedia, then our supplement should be like Wikipedia. If the Texas textbooks are like Fox News then our supplement should be like the Daily Show.
Criticism[edit | edit source]
Rod Paige, President George W. Bush's secretary of education protested the new standards saying "What students are taught should not be the handmaiden of political ideology."
More than 1,200 historians and college faculty members from across the nation have signed a petition calling the standards academically shoddy.
There is a Facebook group 1,000,000 Against the Texas School Board's Version of History.
Some controversial elements of the Texas textbook[edit | edit source]
- The new standards removed Thomas Jefferson's views on the separation of church and state (He is replaced by the great medieval philosopher/theologian Thomas Aquinas and the 16th century theologian John Calvin)
- The new textbooks will claim that McCarthyism was not a witch hunt, it was vindicated by the Venona papers.
- Students will be forced to draw equivalences between Jefferson Davis's and Abraham Lincoln's inaugural addresses.
- The new standards will require that student are taught that the United States is not a democracy. This seems to be based in part on their preference for the word "republican" over the word "democratic." David Barton, the founder of Wallbuilders and one of the social studies 'experts' that the Texas Board of Education relied on, said in his review (PDF) of the old social studies standards that, "Because America is correctly identified as a republic and not as a democracy, the derivative of this is that 'republican' rather than 'democratic' is the proper adjective – that is, we have 'republican' values or 'republican' process rather than 'democratic' values or process."
- Place disproportionate emphasis on right wing figures while minimizing the contribution of left wing figures. Particular emphasis is placed on the conservative resurgence of the 1980s and 1990s. Students will be required to learn about Phyllis Schlafly, the Contract With America, the Heritage Foundation, the Moral Majority and the National Rifle Association.
- Students will be taught that the UN is a threat to US sovereignty.
- Students are asked to discuss "alternatives regarding long term entitlements such as Social Security and Medicare, given the decreasing worker to retiree ratio."
Some proposed changes included:
- Remove the word slavery and replace it with phrase "the Atlantic triangular trade." This proposal was eventually voted down, slavery will be referred to as the "trans-Atlantic slave trade."
- Remove Anne Hutchinson (Peter Marshall, an evangelical minister who advised members of the Texas Board of Education said of Hutchingson "[She] didn’t accomplish anything except getting herself exiled from the Massachusetts Bay Colony for making trouble. Anne Hutchinson does not belong in the company of these eminent gentlemen [William Penn, Roger Williams and others]".)
- Remove César Chávez (Marshall: “Chavez is hardly the kind of role model that ought to be held up to our children as someone worthy of emulation...[Chávez] lacks the stature, impact and overall contributions of so many others.")
- Remove Thurgood Marshall.
Principles[edit | edit source]
As we create this supplement there are a number of history books that we take inspiration from. One such book is History Lessons: How Textbooks from Around the World Portray U.S. History edited by Dana Lindaman and Kyle Ward. This book is an experiment in comparative history. The editors took high school textbooks from other countries and translated the sections where these countries' histories involve the United States in some way. At least three important lessons can be learned from this book:
First, stark contrasts appear between responsible histories and the wild distortions that some of these history books present. The selections from North Korean textbooks, for example, are little more than bizarre fantasies (describing the Korean War: "The bastards who crossed the 38th parallel at dawn were stoking the flames of war, jumping around like mad men, yearning to invade the North under any pretext. And so our peaceful homeland was surrounded by the roar of cannons and the clouds of war"). Other selections, such as those by Canadian and British textbooks, show an admirable amount of critical analysis.
Second, we begin to question how distorted our own history textbooks might be. To what degree are they self-aggrandizing? To what degree do they whitewash or otherwise 'tidy up' our history? What do they leave out? What do they include that isn't really important to ordinary Americans? Whose interests do they serve and whose values do they promote? Looking at the changes that the Texas School Board has proposed, we worry that US history textbooks will become more like an American version of North Korean textbooks. Rather than being counter-propaganda, this supplement is meant to be an antidote to all such propaganda by motivating critical thinking and questioning on the part of the student.
Third, some of the selections, such as those from the Caribbean and the Philippines, fill in badly needed aspects of our story that are often neglected, allowing us to see ourselves through another's eyes. America is a diverse country, economically, religiously, culturally, linguistically, and racially. Together our stories make up the American story. It is important for students to be able to see the history of the United States as being in some real way their own story. But for most Americans, the history that will be taught in Texas will be someone else's story. As one Texas school board member Mary Helen Berlanga said in frustration as she left a meeting “They can just pretend this is a white America and Hispanics don’t exist.” Our supplement does not present a singular story. It is essentially plural. It cannot be just one protest but many testimonies bearing witness to our shared fabric of history. All Americans will be able to follow multiple threads of this story which combine and lead to their own story, to how they got here, why the world is the way it is, and part of why they are the way that they are. And all of us will have our story partially contested by other stories. We will be able to see our own story as something uncanny when looked at through the eyes of our fellow citizens. American history is a tangled mess and we aim to be faithful to this messiness.
Program or Be Programmed: On the Uniqueness of this Supplement[edit | edit source]
This resource isn't just a supplement to the Texas textbooks, it is an experiment in telling our own history. One problem with standard textbooks is that our story is told for us by someone else, usually a single historian or a small group of historians. To be blunt, the Texas School Board thinks that by controlling what is in the textbook they can brainwash Texas students. We aim to distribute the process of writing this history, to wrest back the power to tell our own story away from the privileged few who are trying to tell it for us. Our writers will be professional historians and amateur history buffs, plumbers and philosophers and police officers and poets. Even high school students themselves will have the opportunity to shape the very textbook their peers read (what better way to learn history!). Standard history textbooks tend to impose a top down structure to our history, dividing time into presidential administrations and wars. We aim at a bottom up history, and here we acknowledge a debt to another of our influences, the justly celebrated A People's History of the United States. The uniqueness of this supplement is that we get to decide what is important and what we value. What would we include that is normally overlooked as "unfit to print" by standard textbooks? Would we consider the invention of corporate personhood as more important to shaping the form of our actual lives than the moon landing? What about Stonewall, or the WTO protests, or the Triangle Factory Fire? What would we elevate and what would we minimize? Is the first episode of Star Trek an important cultural milestone? If not, then what should count as such?
There is already an excellent wikibook on US history, and although we may choose to reference it or borrow from it, that wikibook is too similar in structure, style and content to the standard textbooks that we wish to supplement. This supplement responds to a specific need that the 'standard' wikibook cannot adequately fill.
This supplement is similar in spirit to the Ohio Social Studies 7th Grade World History Textbook that is actually being produced by 7th graders at Beachwood Middle School. We applaud their efforts and see the ability to write one's own history as a way to avoid being written out of it.
We are especially hoping to get Texas school students involved in the creation of their own textbook. If you teach a class where it might be appropriate, please consider having your students conduct research to write articles for this supplement instead of writing term papers. This article describes a similar assignment. The spirit of such an assignment would be to ask your students to learn a subject so well that they could fascinate their peers by explaining the subject to them.
Structure[edit | edit source]
The structure of this resource is inspired by the structure of "Art Since 1900" by Hal Foster, Rosalind Krauss, Yve-Alain Bois, and Benjamin Buchloh. Art Since 1900 is organized around a series of emblematic events, each of which advanced art history in a significant way. Examples of article titles include:
"1949 Life magazine asks its readers 'Is he the greatest living painter in the United States?': the work of Jackson Pollock emerges as the symbol of advanced art"
"1988 Gerhard Richter paints October 18, 1977: German artists contemplate the possibility of the renewal of history painting."
What is nice about this structure is that it allows for multiple storylines to develop simultaneously and intertwine, the monumental can be juxtaposed to the mundane. Each article will have a series of tags associated with it so that students can easily follow a single storyline as it develops through time, or they can choose a particular moment and read a cross-section of history. Each article should be able to be placed on an interactive timeline, with beginning and end dates, punctuated by one emblematic date. So, for example, one article in our supplement might cover the emergence of television and all that it entailed for our society through a study of the Beatles appearance on Ed Sullivan on February 9th, 1964. The advent of internet piracy and its effects on economics and law could discuss the invention of Napster in June 1999.
Another advantage of this structure is that it democratizes significance. Anyone could create an article on any topic that they think has played an important role in shaping our history. Wars get equal billing with the Great American Street Car Scandal, and presidential elections are juxtaposed with the invention of corporate "personhood".
Style[edit | edit source]
"A camel is a horse designed by a committee."
The main limit of wiki-generated content is that it tends to result in a rather muddled, uninspired style. We aim to create a resource that is not only historically accurate, but that animates history, that can intoxicate young readers and show them why history is a fascinating subject worthy of their energy and intelligence. In order to do this we need the articles of this resource to be written with a forceful, unified style. To achieve this while still maintaining the benefits of wiki-generated texts, each article should have one principle author who generates a first draft and nurses it along as it gets improved collectively. If you see an article on a topic that you think could be dramatically improved we recommend starting from scratch and creating a totally new article on the same subject. We can then improve that article as well and compare it to the first one and choose which one is better.
We also would like to make a specific call to poets. To these poets we would like to ask you to use your poetic ear to rewrite the text, treating it as if it were being translated into a new language. That is, be faithful to the underlying meaning, but give it life and energy and action. Make history breathe fire.
Languages[edit | edit source]
“If English was good enough for Jesus Christ, it ought to be good enough for the children of Texas.” -attributed to Texas Governor Miriam A. Ferguson
Much to the chagrin of this lady, the United States has no "offical" [sic] language. We intend this supplement to be written and read in multiple languages. Not just English and Spanish, but also Navajo, Hindi, Arabic, Norwegian, Latin, Esperanto, Klingon and any other language anyone might want to read/write it in. Traduwiki and similar sites can be utilized to facilitate composition and translation in multiple languages.
Reading Level[edit | edit source]
This resource's target audience is high school students. We aim for accessibility but refuse to dumb down ideas. We don't think that history needs to be made exciting, we believe that history already is exciting and that if we present our history as complex, and not always easy to make sense of, we can trust the intelligence and imagination of our students. Although we will be dealing with 'big ideas,' these ideas are the type of things that almost everyone can be initiated into and engage creatively if they are presented in an appropriate way. One thing that we should pay attention to--and this perhaps should be one of the first debates that we have--is what reading level(s) we should be writing for. Since many high schoolers are not reading at their grade level, should we write at their grade level in order to give them practice reading as well as learning history? Or should our guiding ethic be to convey history as clearly as possible, in which case maybe writing at a lower level is required? How do we make sure we are writing for and challenging every student?
Distribution[edit | edit source]
This supplement is intended to be used by teachers in Texas high school classrooms, by parents who care about what their children are learning, and by students who take the initiative to teach themselves as any student worthy of the name must do. We intend to distribute this resource to classrooms on request free of charge, raising money for the printing costs through sites such as Donors Choose and Kickstarter. We also intend to model how we can build a better textbook and a cheaper textbook so that public schools don't need to pay for overpriced textbooks that enrich publishers more than they enrich minds.
Democracy is a Participation Sport[edit | edit source]
If you are new to Wikiversity, go here to learn how to add a new page. It is your story, you might as well write it down.