Five million public school students in Texas will begin using new social studies textbooks this fall based on state academic standards that barely address racial segregation. The state’s guidelines for teaching American history also do not mention the Ku Klux Klan or Jim Crow laws.
And when it comes to the Civil War, children are supposed to learn that the conflict was caused by “sectionalism, states’ rights and slavery” — written deliberately in that order to telegraph slavery’s secondary role in driving the conflict, according to some members of the state board of education.
Slavery was a “side issue to the Civil War,” said Pat Hardy, a Republican board member, when the board adopted the standards in 2010. “There would be those who would say the reason for the Civil War was over slavery. No. It was over states’ rights.”
The killings of nine black parishioners in a South Carolina church last month sparked a broad backlash against the Confederate battle flag, to some a symbol of Southern heritage but to others a divisive sign of slavery and racism.
There is also a call to reexamine a quieter but just as contentious aspect of the Civil War in American society — how the history of the war, so central to our nation’s understanding of itself, is presented in public school classrooms and textbooks.
“It’s the obvious question, it seems to me. Not only are we worried about the flags and statues and all that, but what the hell are kids learning?” said Dan Quinn of the Texas Freedom Network, a left-leaning advocacy organization that has been critical of the state’s academic standards in social studies.
If teaching history is how society shows younger generations who they are and where they came from, the Civil War presents unique challenges, especially because of the fundamental differences in the way the cause of the war is perceived 150 years after its last battle.
Nowhere is the rejection of slavery’s central role more apparent than in Texas, where elected members of the state board of education revised state social studies standards in 2010 to correct for what they said was a liberal slant.
Students in Texas are required to read the speech Jefferson Davis gave when he was inaugurated president of the Confederate States of America, an address that does not mention slavery. But students are not required to read a famous speech by Alexander Stephens, Davis’s vice president, in which he explained that the South’s desire to preserve slavery was the cornerstone of its new government and “the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution.”
Rod Paige, a Republican who served as education secretary under President George W. Bush, was among those who criticized the Texas board for minimizing difficult parts of the nation’s past.
“I’m of the view that the history of slavery and civil rights are dominant elements of our history and have shaped who we are today,” Paige told the board at the time, according to the Texas Tribune . “We may not like our history, but it’s history.”
SOURCE: Emma Brown