While the rest of the nation was distracted by mid-term primaries, the Gulf oil spill, or where LeBron James will play next season, a handful of conservatives in Texas quietly plotted to rewrite history and reshape the education -- and the minds -- of nearly five million young Texans. And perhaps your child, too.
How? By pushing to erase the mention of the word "slavery" in parts of their textbooks and trying to pretend Barack Obama was never elected president.
Seriously, I'm not making this up.
After two years of heated political debate, the Texas State Board of Education spent the past week incorporating their own conservative values into final guidelines for history and social studies classes taught in the state's public schools for the next 10 years. They voted late Friday to adopt a host of sweeping changes. In the process, their decisions may force the entire nation to also adopt their radical right-wing re-write of history.
Among the proposed changes were plans to "teach" children to challenge the "solvency" of "long-term entitlements such as Social Security and Medicare" and other euphemistic views of history that, for example, would refer to the slave trade as simply the "Atlantic triangular trade." Oh, the conservative members of the board also hoped that no one noticed that they omitted from textbooks the name of the 44th President of The United States: Barack Obama.
The last two proposals were eventually amended. The "Atlantic triangular trade" language was finally changed to the "trans-Atlantic slave trade." And one Republican board member ultimately relented in his demand to refer to the first black president only by his full name: Barack Hussein Obama.
They even tried to remove Thomas Jefferson from a list of American history's key thinkers. He was one of the founding architects of the modern philosophy of church/state separation, as well as the author of that obscure document called the Declaration of Independence. So naturally he had to go. That move failed.
Still in the document, however, were other proposals that would water down Sen. Joseph McCarthy's generally repudiated anti-communist hearings in the 1950s and restrict inclusion of some modern Latino leaders in textbooks.
So, why should you care what a group of right-wing administrators are doing to shape the minds of 4.8 million children in the third largest state in the union? Well, beyond the obvious -- these are 4.8 million black, brown, yellow AND white kids whose education is at stake -- the state of Texas also has tremendous power over shaping the content of textbooks for the rest of the nation. Ultimately the have a say in what our kids learn no matter where we live.
The Lone Star State has historically wielded potent, although waning, buying power with the nation's leading K-through-12 textbook publishers. This year, Texas is expected to spend as much as $1 billion buying books. Book orders that large tend to influence, if not dictate, what goes onto the pages in those textbooks not just in Texas, but nationwide. It's often been cheaper for publishers to print one social studies textbook for 50 million 7th graders in several states, rather than customize 50 different textbooks for each. Even as other states are having similar debates, publishers may now have to see if that practice still makes sense.
You'd think that conservatives who advocate smaller government would shudder at the thought of allowing state government bureaucrats to use their power to brainwash the minds of young students. But I guess they missed that part of their neo-con class.
Not only is it dangerous to deliberately manipulate what goes on in classrooms in order to commandeer the pliable minds of our children, it is antithetical to the basic values most educators expect of themselves and their colleagues. These changes legislate ignorance, plain and simple. And, it is just plain wrong. Our schools should be a place where children learn truth, curiosity, critical thought and discovery, not political dogma and early-stage indoctrination for the ultra-liberal left or arch-conservative right.
Our politicians should know better, our educators surely want better and our students really deserve better.