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Tilting at Windmills

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July 10, 2009

TEXAS CONSERVATIVES WANT TO DOWNPLAY CIVIL RIGHTS LEADERS.... The Texas Board of Education has put together a six-member committee to help develop new curriculum standards for social studies classes and textbooks. It's not going well.

The board picked, among others, an evangelical minister named Peter Marshall to help shape the standards, as well as Republican activist David Barton, a pseudo-historian and religious right celebrity who gives speeches about the United States being founded as a "Christian nation."

One of their first tasks: downplaying the contributions of civil rights leaders.

Civil rights leaders Cesar Chavez and Thurgood Marshall -- whose names appear on schools, libraries, streets and parks across the U.S. -- are given too much attention in Texas social studies classes, conservatives advising the state on curriculum standards say.

"To have Cesar Chavez listed next to Ben Franklin" -- as in the current standards -- "is ludicrous," wrote evangelical minister Peter Marshall, one of six experts advising the state as it develops new curriculum standards for social studies classes and textbooks. David Barton, president of Aledo-based WallBuilders, said in his review that Chavez, a Hispanic labor leader, "lacks the stature, impact and overall contributions of so many others."

Marshall also questioned whether Thurgood Marshall, who argued the landmark case that resulted in school desegregation and was the first black U.S. Supreme Court justice, should be presented to Texas students as an important historical figure. He wrote that the late justice is "not a strong enough example" of such a figure.

This is bound to help Republicans with their outreach to minority communities, right? It's quite a message to voters in Texas -- Vote GOP: the party that thinks civil rights leaders get too much credit.

Barton went on to say the state curriculum should ignore the contributions of Anne Hutchinson, a New England pioneer and early advocate of women's rights and religious freedom, and argued that Texas social studies books should discuss "republican" values, not "democratic" ones.

It's unclear how successful the far-right activists will be in shaping the eventual policy, but remember, what happens in Texas doesn't necessarily stay in Texas. Textbook publishers are reluctant to create different materials for different states, and when one big customer makes specific demands, the frequent result is changes to textbooks nationwide.

Steve Benen 9:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (42)

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Well, if the Republicans get their way, Chavez and Marshall won't be significant historical figures, because Republican-controlled governments will reverse all the social progress that Chavez and Marshall helped to make.

Posted by: Seth Gordon on July 10, 2009 at 9:23 AM | PERMALINK

American grade-school history books are, as a general rule, absolutely pathetic. It would be funny how bad they are, except that they do real damage. It's inexcusable that American kids learn such blatantly false, nationalistic garbage, especially considering the fact that this country has so much good secondary material.

Posted by: Rabi on July 10, 2009 at 9:28 AM | PERMALINK

peter marshall, huh?

big name fer such acheesy, ignorant asshole, right, christy?

Posted by: neill on July 10, 2009 at 9:30 AM | PERMALINK

I loved the Hollywood Squares.

Just sayin'.

Posted by: howie on July 10, 2009 at 9:33 AM | PERMALINK

Textbook publishers are reluctant to create different materials for different states, and when one big customer makes specific demands, the frequent result is changes to textbooks nationwide.

Especially true now that we have about 3 textbook companies: Houghton Mifflin, which had already bought McDougal-Littel and many others, merged with Harcourt, which had already bought Holt, Rhinehart and many others. Prentice Hall bought Scott Foresman (or vice-versa; it's hard to keep up) and then there's McGraw-Hill, which is on the verge of either being bought or going under.

20 years ago there were something like 10 - 15 major educational publishers; now there's 3 and soon there will be only 2.

How's that for a "free market"?

Posted by: Jennifer on July 10, 2009 at 9:34 AM | PERMALINK

Interesting his comments within a days following the changing of 39th Street in Portland, OR, by a 5 Zip vote in the City Council, to Caesar Chavez Boulevard.

But, yes, a full, looooong chapter on Alan Keyes would be more typical of the thinking of his ilk. He did ever so much to end segregation in Texas schools,and Texas RepuGs, eh?

Posted by: berttheclock on July 10, 2009 at 9:36 AM | PERMALINK

There is and has been a particular strain of viewpoint in this country that is clearly against equality, rule of law, and which is willfully ignorant of history. This strain has been in power the past eight years, and now that it is not, those who have the strain are and have been becoming more vociferous, with blatant moves such as this deal in Texas.

But it seems like this has been getting more widespread, flamed on by the Becks and the Limbaughs, resulting in murders at a museum and an abortion clinic (sadly, I think we'll see more of this in the coming years). This divide between people who believe in the true ideals of this country and those who appear to value authoritarianism and seek its institution will continue to grow, I think, and may eventually boil over into something I care not to think about. Some people just cannot handle it when others do things or simply exist in a way that goes against their beliefs. What can be done about this?

I joked yesterday about allowing these types of people to secede into their own authoritarian wonderland, but how else do we deal with people like this? Sorry for the long rant...

Posted by: terraformer on July 10, 2009 at 9:38 AM | PERMALINK

Ben Franklin would have been proud to stand next to Cesar Chavez and Thurgood Marshall. And he would have had some pithy words for Peter Marshall and the rest.

Posted by: ericfree on July 10, 2009 at 9:40 AM | PERMALINK

I joked yesterday about allowing these types of people to secede into their own authoritarian wonderland, but how else do we deal with people like this?

The corporatist oligarchy in this country controls "these types" via pseudo religious leaders and pseudo news outlets. Deal with those assholes and the rest goes away.

Posted by: hopeful on July 10, 2009 at 9:44 AM | PERMALINK

Kind of reminds me of a comment from a former school board member in Virginia from the '60s. In the texts at the time, supposedly there was no mention that the South had lost the Civil War (as us Yankees liked to call it).

Posted by: artsmith on July 10, 2009 at 9:45 AM | PERMALINK

What do you expect from a state where the leading candidate for School Board Chair is raving fundie antievolutionist Cynthia Dunbar, who home-schooled her own children(!) and considers public education to be dangerous?

Posted by: azportsider on July 10, 2009 at 9:45 AM | PERMALINK

I've heard multiple times that Texas has a disproportionate influence on text book content. I suppose it is only reasonable that the Amerikan Taliban would focus on this soft spot. Why is there no push back from California's school system? Or New York's? Guess there is only one crowd who is hell-bent on fcuking up everything this country has acomplished. Not surprising considering the majority of their church textbook is written by some dude named Paul - a self-described zealot.

Posted by: Chopin on July 10, 2009 at 9:46 AM | PERMALINK

"To have Cesar Chavez listed next to Ben Franklin" -- as in the current standards -- "is ludicrous," wrote evangelical minister Peter Marshall

I'm curious in what textbook (considering most SocStu/His books are written in more or less chronological order) does a 18th century in inventor/President get "listed next to" a 20th century labor leader/civil rights activist?

Because if Texas textbooks are talking about Revolutionary figures and 1960's movements at the same time, Peter is right, the textbooks would be ludicrous.

Perhaps dear Peter is practicing the republican art of bullshitting. Or as they say in the Bible, deceiving.

Posted by: oh my on July 10, 2009 at 9:57 AM | PERMALINK
20 years ago there were something like 10 - 15 major educational publishers; now there's 3 and soon there will be only 2.

How's that for a "free market"?

Both the Texas action and the comment above are just more reasons why education should move away from "textbooks" and toward original sources, as quickly as possible. And this here Internet thing, assuming it's not just a fad, could be the vehicle for doing that. Posted by: Bernard HP Gilroy on July 10, 2009 at 10:02 AM | PERMALINK

Unfortunately, it's really hard to evaluate this report without seeing context. Can one be a conservative--even a rightwing nutbag--and still make a valid criticism of the weight given to Chavez and Marshall in the textbook? Of course. To say that Cesar Chavez shouldn't be listed next to Ben Franklin sounds totally reasonable, but is that really the context? And, of course, as significant a figure as Thurgood Marshall is, it would undoubtedly be inappropriate to devote 5 pages to him in a U.S. History textbook. So how much space is given to him and which parts of his story does Peter Marshall argue should be edited out?

My point is that, much as I suspect that Peter Marshall and his allies are pushing for a version of our history which would offend me, there's a lot of nuance, balancing and value judgments that have to go into creating an appropriate history. Articles like the one cited in this piece aren't really very helpful

Posted by: drf on July 10, 2009 at 10:02 AM | PERMALINK

Regardless of where things fall in the immediate dispute, David Barton has a demonstrated career of the lowest, falsest demagoguery around. He and his ilk want to destroy our country's history in order to "save" it. When I first heard of his appointment by the board, I knew there was trouble brewing.

Posted by: 1st Paradox on July 10, 2009 at 10:08 AM | PERMALINK

And how much space is given to that great civil rights leader Jeff Davis?

Posted by: ignorant crackpot on July 10, 2009 at 10:10 AM | PERMALINK

For quite some time I have heard about the outsize impact of Texas on the content of text books across the country. How about taking a page from the Republicans and create a "co-op" of like minded states, (e.g. north eastern states, and the west coast states) to demand a change in content to science and social studies text books. Surely with their populations they can easily sway the manufacturers to edit the materials differently than what is being demanded by Texas.

Posted by: KJ on July 10, 2009 at 10:17 AM | PERMALINK

Yeah, Ben Franklin could have tied a kite to Peter M's big right toe.

Ah, but, those mighty Civil Rights Activists, er Slave Owners and Slavery Supporters at the Alamo fighting for the "Freedom" to own slaves.

Posted by: berttheclock on July 10, 2009 at 10:20 AM | PERMALINK

The Texas SBOE has a really bad habit of picking "experts" from a pool of raving morons with rightwing-approved ideology. This happens when determining science curricula and now social studies. It is a constant battle to get the 7 religious nuts on the board to recognize true experts and they routinely refuse. The Tx legislature recently narrowly rejected the continued appointment of Don McLeroy as SBOE chair. I considered this a victory as McLeroy was a nightmare as chair - always fighting to insert religion into science and siding with the fundies. Unfortunately, as azportsider mentions above, Guv Perry is poised to give the finger to Tx education once again by appointing Cynthia Dunbar as chair. She is a real horror show, far worse than McLeroy (google her for some laughs). Somehow, Tx really needs to get Dems or at least sane Repubs on the Board.

Posted by: ckelly on July 10, 2009 at 10:27 AM | PERMALINK

Being a Texas I can tell you this, we are running off a cliff with this non-sense. I suspect Hispanics are going to out number whites after the next census is compiled. The GOP is dying here as well, the problem, like the country, is the remaining GOP are hell bent on forcing their will upon the rest of us.

The 2010 election is going to be interesting, Dems are one person away from majority in the Texas House. The Sotomayer non-sense is doing to cost the GOP dearly here. IMO Hispanics are starting to realize they don't have to sit there quietly and take it. If they get out to vote, the GOP strangle hold is going to be a thing of the past.

The issue is the Hispanic population that has bought into the GOP non-sense. I swear, legal Hispanics disparage and use new immigrants as much, if not more then the white population. But this sort of non-sense really helps, the stronger and more offensive, the better. So I say to the GOP, "Bring it on and bring it hard, let your true colors shine."

Texas 2007 estimate
Hispanics 36%
Non Hispanic Whites 48%
Blacks 12%
Asian 3%
Other 1%

Posted by: ScottW on July 10, 2009 at 10:38 AM | PERMALINK

They really *are* determined to cement their status as the party of rich white men? Disparaing women, African-Americans, Hispanics, and labor in one fell swoop - hats off for that achievement!

Posted by: Candia on July 10, 2009 at 11:26 AM | PERMALINK

"To have Cesar Chavez listed next to Ben Franklin" -- as in the current standards -- "is ludicrous,"

I'm assuming they wouldn't have a problem with Texans Coke Stevenson, Pappy Lee O'Daniel, Tom Delay or (faux Texan) Dubya Bush listed next to Franklin, though.

All white boys.

Posted by: Screamin' Demon on July 10, 2009 at 11:29 AM | PERMALINK

I believe that the great American born labor leader, Caesar Chavez, would rather have more citizens involved in aiding the working conditions of field labor than in having streets named after him or placing his name in history books.

Refuse, at the least, to purchase any crops grown by the Agri-business giants with cheap non-union workers.

Posted by: berttheclock on July 10, 2009 at 11:31 AM | PERMALINK

Jennifer, interesting point about the lack of textbook publishers. Now might be an excellent time for some historians to try the self-publication route: conventional publication may be dying, but self-publication, with the aid of on-line services like blurb.com, is getting easier and more affordable all the time. It's come a long, long way from the old fashioned vanity-press scams; they simply print the books on demand, which keeps them very affordable. Several of my friends have organized their classes to put together self-published books of their research papers, art, etc., and the results look great. If only the students and their parents buy copies so what? There are enough for the people who want to read it, and no money lost on an unnecessarily large print-run.

A number of college professors have also tried self-published textbooks, with successful results. Now, I know that in high school, teachers are obliged to use the approved texts, but can't they assign any supplementary material they like? I see a subversive possibility here.

Posted by: T-Rex on July 10, 2009 at 11:38 AM | PERMALINK

Correct me if I'm wrong, but couldn't you also say that the Founding Fathers were basically Civil Rights Leaders?

And I don't think Ben Franklin is a strong enough example of a Founding Father. He was just a womanizing stormchaser, like that guy in the movie Twister. Where do I send my petition to get him stricken from the text books?

Posted by: chrenson on July 10, 2009 at 11:45 AM | PERMALINK

Texas public school history books should ONLY contain chapters on Reagan, Bush I & II, Cheney, the Weapons found in Iraq, Iraq's involvement in 911, Secessionist Movements, Chuck Norris, the Dallas Cowboys, and Obama's missing birth cert.

Posted by: Foobar on July 10, 2009 at 12:00 PM | PERMALINK

I live in Dallas and if you'd like to know how f**ked up Texas is just tune into a local Christian Radio station here. Last week the big issue was whether or not you should answer any questions at all if a U.S. Census worker shows up at your door. Of course, it was soon explained that it was your Christian duty to take the fifth and refuse to answer any questions so that you could then be arrested and fined $5,000 dollars. You could then be the envy of Christians nationwide for standing up for your faith by becoming a soldier fighting against one world government....

Posted by: Paul on July 10, 2009 at 12:09 PM | PERMALINK

My local paper, The Houston Chronicle, carried this story this morning - and as usual the comments section waited below like the radioactive lump of shit that it is, a wasteland of bigotry, xenophobia, and simmering bile. I encounter these people every day and do not know it.

Posted by: AM in Houston on July 10, 2009 at 12:10 PM | PERMALINK

As a native-born Texan, all I can say is it is news like this that makes me so damn glad that i haven't seen that insane asylum since I last visited in 1986.

Posted by: TCinLA on July 10, 2009 at 12:15 PM | PERMALINK

I don't remember Peter John Marshall's father being like this, although it wouldn't surprise me if his mother was. Too bad.

Posted by: VaLiberal on July 10, 2009 at 12:43 PM | PERMALINK

The comment about textbook publishers being reluctant to publish different books in different states needs a bit of elaboration IMO. The four major publishers (Jennifer, there are still four, but just as if there were three, it's an oligopoly) tailor their books to the prevailing standards in the largest states, with California and Texas being their largest clients. Basically, they come up with a template that they modify for both California (more "social content", more leftish) and Texas (inclusion of text in deference to the right-wing evangelicals referred to in the blogger's post). They then add the educational standards for each state to the tailored template for that state.

For a really good discussion about how the textbook industry works in the US today, go to the Thomas B. Fordham Institute website (http://www.edexcellence.net/template/index.cfm) and do a search for a paper called "The Mad, Mad World of Textbook Adoption". You can download it free in pdf format (it's about 80 pages). An excellent primer on the whole process.

Posted by: Bluecrab on July 10, 2009 at 12:44 PM | PERMALINK

I saw Chavez speak about a year before his death and while I disagree with his style, one could not deny his facts about how poorly migrant farm workers were treated. It takes real guts to stand up before the world and pound away year after year to help solve a situation which was (and is) cruel treatment of a few to give cheap food to the many and high profits to the owners of the land.

Comparing Chavez to Franklin is like comparing an aardwolf to a siamese cat.

Posted by: Kurt on July 10, 2009 at 12:51 PM | PERMALINK

It's not enough that we Texans have been suffering with triple digit temps for most of the summer. We have to be saddled with these oxymorons (aka The Texas Board of Education)too. Yes, and our beloved Guvner Perry has plans to install this bright bulb to chair the State Board of Education-see link below). Education in Texas is one big, bad joke. Maybe it was a blessing in disguise that my better half and I decided not to have children.

Here is the link to an excellent article about Miss Holy Dunbar:

Posted by: whichwitch on July 10, 2009 at 2:47 PM | PERMALINK

does a 18th century in inventor/President get "listed next to" a 20th century labor leader/civil rights activist?

Uh....it's ironic that you're blasting history books, being that you just identified Franklin as a President.

Uh, nope.

Posted by: Face on July 10, 2009 at 3:14 PM | PERMALINK

Taking their cue from Stalin, erasing history they don't like.

Why is it these folks always wind up adopting the means of totalitarian dictators?

Posted by: Doug Bostrom on July 10, 2009 at 5:07 PM | PERMALINK

Texas has always been known for it's intellectual base so it is only appropriate that the nation's text books come from this area, a cornerstone of civil rights history. The land where money trumps...er...a... history... sometimes, because God knows what's best and they know God best.

I always wondered why social studies' texts were so bad...look where they come from. Filling the kids' heads with garbage that will eventually stink to high heaven.

Posted by: bjobotts on July 10, 2009 at 5:31 PM | PERMALINK

Paul: "Last week the big issue was whether or not you should answer any questions at all if a U.S. Census worker shows up at your door..."

I kind of like the idea of empty seats where the U.S. House reps from Texas are supposed to sit. Anything we can do to help?

Posted by: Doug Bostrom on July 10, 2009 at 5:39 PM | PERMALINK

Although, I personally am so far to the left that even the democrats appear to me to be "right-wing," I consider myself to be a strict constitutionalist. It is my opinion that since its inception there has been an organized and systematic assault by the conservatives in the United States on the civil liberties written into the US Constitution. The War on Drugs; War on Terror; War on Communism and a host of other wars waged by the right wing are really nothing more than a War on People--an excuse to erode civil rights to the point of non-existence. I invite you to my website devoted to raising awareness on this puritan attack on freedom: http://pltcldscsn.blogspot.com/

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