Just over a year ago I highlighted the plight of accepted scholarly fact in Texas. The state, through its infamous School Board of Education (SBOE), had just completed a lengthy effort to revise many textbooks for middle- and high-school curricula. The SBOE and its ideological supporters throughout the Texas political machine managed to insert numerous dubious claims, fictitious statements in place of agreed upon facts and handfuls of slanted opinion in all manner of historical and social science texts. Many academics and experts in their respective fields raised alarms over the process. But the SBOE derided these “liberal elitists”, and openly flaunted its distaste for fact, preferring to distort historical record with undertones of conservative Christianity.
Many non-Texan progressives and believers-in-fact laughingly shook their heads knowing that Texas could and should be left its own devices. Unfortunately, for the rest of the country, Texas has so much buying power that textbook publishers will often publish with Texas in mind, but distribute their books throughout the entire nation.
So now it comes as no surprise to find that many newly, or soon to be, published Texas textbooks for grades 6-12 are riddled with errors. An academic review of 43 textbooks highlights the disaster waiting to happen to young minds in Texas, and across many other states. The Texas SBOE will take a vote on which books to approve in November.
Some choice examples of the errors and half-truths below.
All of the world geography textbooks inaccurately downplay the role that conquest played in the spread of Christianity.
Discovery Education — Social Studies Techbook World Geography and Cultures
The text states: “When Europeans arrived, they brought Christianity with them and spread it among the indigenous people. Over time, Christianity became the main religion in Latin America.”
Pearson Education – Contemporary World Cultures
The text states: “Priests came to Mexico to convert Native Americans to the Roman Catholic religion. The Church became an important part of life in the new colony. Churches were built in the centers of towns and cities, and church officials became leaders in the colony.”
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt – World Geography
The text states: “The Spanish brought their language and Catholic religion, both of which dominate modern Mexico.”
All but two of the world geography textbooks fail to mention the Spaniards’ forced conversions of the indigenous peoples to Christianity (e.g., the Spanish Requerimiento of 1513) and their often-systematic destruction of indigenous religious institutions. The two exceptions (Cengage Learning, Inc. – World Cultures and Geography and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt – World Geography) delay this grim news until a chapter on South America, and even there do not give it the prominence it deserves.
The Christianization of the indigenous peoples of the Americas was most decidedly not benign. These descriptions provide a distorted picture of the spread of Christianity. An accurate account must include information about the forced conversion of native peoples and the often-systematic destruction of indigenous religious institutions and practices. (This error of omission is especially problematic when contrasted with the emphasis on conquest – often violent – to describe the spread of Islam in some textbooks.)
One world history textbook (by Worldview Software, Inc.) includes outdated – and possibly offensive – anthropological categories and racial terminology in describing African civilization.
WorldView Software – World History A: Early Civilizations to the Mid-1800s
The text states: “South of the Sahara Desert most of the people before the Age of Explorations were black Africans of the Negro race.”
Elsewhere, the text states: “The first known inhabitants of Africa north of the Sahara in prehistory were Caucasoid Hamitic people of uncertain origin.”
First, the term “Negro” is archaic and fraught with ulterior meaning. It should categorically not be used in a modern textbook. Further, the first passage is unforgivably misleading because it suggests that all black native Africans belong to a single “racial” group. This is typological thinking, which disappeared largely from texts after the 1940s. It harkens back to the racialization theory that all people could be classified as one of three “races”: Caucasoid, Mongoloid, or Negroid. Better to say: “…were natives of African origin.” Similarly, in the second passage, it is more accurate to simply omit reference to “Caucasoid.”
From the Washington Post:
When it comes to controversies about curriculum, textbook content and academic standards, Texas is the state that keeps on giving.
Back in 2010, we had an uproar over proposed changes to social studies standards by religious conservatives on the State Board of Education, which included a bid to calling the United States’ hideous slave trade history as the “Atlantic triangular trade.” There were other doozies, too, such as one proposal to remove Thomas Jefferson from the Enlightenment curriculum and replace him with John Calvin. Some were changed but the board’s approved standards were roundly criticized as distorted history.
There’s a new fuss about proposed social studies textbooks for Texas public schools that are based on what are called the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills. Scholarly reviews of 43 proposed history, geography and government textbooks for Grades 6-12 — undertaken by the Education Fund of the Texas Freedom Network, a watchdog and activist group that monitors far-right issues and organizations — found extensive problems in American Government textbooks, U.S. and World History textbooks,Religion in World History textbooks, and Religion in World Geography textbooks. The state board will vote on which books to approve in November.
Ideas promoted in various proposed textbooks include the notion that Moses and Solomon inspired American democracy, that in the era of segregation only “sometimes” were schools for black children “lower in quality” and that Jews view Jesus Christ as an important prophet.
Here are the broad findings of 10 scholars, who wrote four separate reports, taken from an executive summary, followed by the names of the scholars and a list of publishers who submitted textbooks.
- A number of government and world history textbooks exaggerate Judeo-Christian influence on the nation’s founding and Western political tradition.
- Two government textbooks include misleading information that undermines the Constitutional concept of the separation of church and state.
- Several world history and world geography textbooks include biased statements that inappropriately portray Islam and Muslims negatively.
- All of the world geography textbooks inaccurately downplay the role that conquest played in the spread of Christianity.
- Several world geography and history textbooks suffer from an incomplete – and often inaccurate – account of religions other than Christianity.
- Coverage of key Christian concepts and historical events are lacking in a few textbooks, often due to the assumption that all students are Christians and already familiar with Christian events and doctrine.
- A few government and U.S. history textbooks suffer from an uncritical celebration of the free enterprise system, both by ignoring legitimate problems that exist in capitalism and failing to include coverage of government’s role in the U.S. economic system.
- One government textbook flirts with contemporary Tea Party ideology, particularly regarding the inclusion of anti-taxation and anti-regulation arguments.
- One world history textbook includes outdated – and possibly offensive – anthropological categories and racial terminology in describing African civilization.