The Texas State Board of Education has been ridiculed in recent weeks for its efforts to rewrite the curriculum standards of the state’s K-12 textbooks. Starting today, the conservative majority on the 15-member board is expected to approve a rightward lurch in those standards. According to MSNBC:
“Among the recommendations facing a final vote: adding language saying the country's Founding Fathers were guided by Christian principles and including positive references to the Moral Majority, the National Rifle Association, and the GOP’s Contract with America.
“Other amendments to the state's curriculum standards for kindergarten through 12th grade would minimize Thomas Jefferson's role in world and U.S. history because he advocated the separation of church and state; require that students learn about ‘the unintended consequences’ of affirmative action; assert that "the right to keep and bear arms" is an important element of a democratic society; and rename the slave trade to the ‘Atlantic triangular trade.’”
In the past, Texas has had an outsized influence over textbooks nationwide. The Lone Star State’s textbook buy was so large that publishers often used its standards as a national template. Thanks to the uproar over the new standards, publishing executives have tried to reassure people that this Texas-sized rewrite won’t spread to other states.
"It's an urban myth, especially in this digital age we live in, when content can be tailored and customized for individual states and school districts," Jay Diskey, executive director of the schools division of the Association of American Publishers, told the Associated Press. Education Week has a great story about how Texas’ influence may be shifting thanks to technology.
But even if Diskey is right, what’s happening in Texas has national implications. The board’s decisions affect 4.7 million Texas school kids—4.7 million potential future voters who will be acting on biased information.
And Texas is not the only state with conservative activists bent on hijacking education policy. They are doing it in Arizona by banning ethnic studies. They are doing it in Wake County, North Carolina, by dismantling a model diversity program. They are doing it in New Jersey by banning an LGBT-friendly book from a school library. And they are doing it in Florida by creating a religious-oriented charter school. The attack on Texas school curriculum is simply a more ambitious effort than most.
Texas should be a wake-up call. Progressives must be activists in return. Voting and campaigning are vital. But they are only a start. Progressives must show up at boring school board meetings. They must be armed with data, write letters to the editor and push back against efforts to water down evolution or attack immigrants. This week’s State Board of Education votes will be a dismal influence on Texas school kids. But this is not happening just because conservatives are so organized or politically clever. It’s happening because we let it happen.