Texas Poised to Whitewash History for Kids

NAACP president hopes his testimony will sway board of education members on proposed changes to textbooks.

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Updated May 20, 2010 at 9:10 a.m.

Could an NAACP boycott of Texas be in the offing? NAACP President Ben Jealous said Tuesday that "all options are on the table" if sweeping conservative changes to the state's educational curriculum are enacted this week.

Jealous testified before the Texas State Board of Education on Wednesday in the hopes of persuading a majority of the 15-member board to block several right-leaning--and in some cases, right-wing--amendments to the state's grade-wide history and economic curricula. 

On Tuesday he said this about the changes of a boycott: "We'll take it one step at a time. Right now, we're focused on trying to switch as many votes as possible."

Calling the proposed changes "very, very serious," Jealous cited the fact that, by virtue of the state's size and purchasing power, Texas' textbooks have a huge influence over what educational publishers produce. "Children will learn the telling of history that does not comport with the facts and will therefore be disadvantaged on everything from national tests to college," he said. "State board of education members are entitled to their own opinions, but they're not entitled to their own facts."

The board has already passed more than 100 amendments since January in votes that have divided it 10 to five along party lines; Friday's vote will finalize the changes.

At the center of the furor is that many of the amendments exclude or revise various pieces of accepted history in favor of versions provided by conservative groups or leaders. One amendment, for instance, requires that students learn about the "communist infiltration in U.S. government" in the 1950s, with board head Don McElroy saying Sen. Joseph McCarthy's controversial hunt for American communists at the time had been "vindicated" in the ensuing decades. Another would require teachers and textbooks to refer to the capitalist system as the "free enterprise" system. Capitalism, the board's Republican bloc agreed, is a pejorative term used by "liberal professors in academia."

Of special interest to Jealous and the NAACP are several amendments whitewashing Civil War history and attacking black culture. In addition to voting to remove hip-hop from a high school history study of musical genres, the board also voted to require students to learn the ideas expressed in Confederate President Jefferson Davis' inaugural address.

One proposal that ultimately proved unsuccessful would have had students learning that the civil rights movement created in African Americans "unreasonable expectations for equal outcomes."

Gary Bledsoe, president of the Texas state conference of the NAACP, said upwards of 25 NAACP leaders were to speak to the board of education in Austin. Those testifying were joined by former Secretary of Education Rod Paige, who worked under President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2005. Outside the board's chambers was a rally organized by the Texas Freedom Network, a progressive nonprofit. "We're hoping to intensify pressure and peel off three votes," Bledsoe said in advance of the rally.

Along with a boycott of Texas, which comes on the heels of a multiorganizational boycott of Arizona and its anti-immigrant laws, Jealous said he has not ruled out a lawsuit if his organization's efforts prove unsuccessful. "[The board] is hiding behind a shield of patriotism," he said. "When really what they're wielding is a spear of ignorance."

 

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