The latest proposed textbooks for Texas’ public schools have been released and reviewed, and the results of that academic review are, to put it mildly, disheartening. This is not the beginning of the war to control our children’s minds, but merely the latest, and possibly the most aggressive, attempt from the conservative ideologues in America who truly believe that the only truth is their own. This is a tale as old as time.
Here are just a few examples of the sort of content that we can expect from Pearson’s selection of history textbooks:
- Some textbooks downplay the role that conquest and other forms of violence had in the spreading of the Christian faith.
- Islam is negatively, and inaccurately, portrayed in a number of textbooks.
- One textbook uses antiquated, and potentially offensive, racial terminology in its discussions of African culture.
And that’s just three for starters. The Washington Post article linked above provides a comprehensive review of the types of inaccuracies and veiled agenda found in the proposed textbooks, so I need not spend any more space delving into examples. That work has already been done. Let’s talk instead about what’s really going on here.
The Real Problem
At its core, what we have here is an attempt to tell the version of the story that best supports the legitimacy of the ruling party’s place on top. After all, history is written by the victors. We tweak the information we give to our children so it can permeate the collective cultural consciousness in future generations in a way that we are comfortable with. Painting the Indians as a scourge that needs to be eliminated from the white man’s land. Undermining the gods of a culture you hope to conquer. We learn these lessons in advanced history courses either in high school or in college, and we believe that somehow our modern-day society is different.
Europeans tracing back to Rome have attempted to understand the world around them by dominating it, by any means necessary. And once they have dominated, the historical narrative is theirs to control.
That all might sound overly dramatic – until you realize that it’s still going on. You’d have thought that we enlightened Americans would have overcome this primitive urge and learned to foster reason and equality in our society.
Clearly we have quite a way to go; while the degrees and methods may have changed over time, at the end of the day we’re still dealing with human nature. By now most of us are perfectly aware of the many ways that written content can be used to influence us – whether it’s a political agenda or we’re just being encouraged to buy something. But to have our very educational institutions leveraged for somebody’s agenda is definitely beyond the pale.
We may not be subjugating entire races anymore, but our leaders are still using the same tried-and-true propaganda tactics to increase their power and influence.
The Truth About Truth
Now for the tricky part. Let’s take a moment to acknowledge that truth is relative.
Every person has their own version of the truth. Whenever our truths happen to align, we say that we’ve stumbled onto a “universal” truth. Grass is green. But to the colorblind, grass is not green. Science gives us empirical evidence to believe that grass is green, but for the colorblind, that evidence is not verifiable and so their version of the truth remains.
Point being, I do not argue that the truth presented in these textbooks is not true, but merely that it is a less complete and balanced position than could possibly be presented in an ostensibly objective resource. The worst part is that this should come as no surprise; American textbooks have been biased on certain subjects for centuries. Public school is for education, but college is for enlightenment, right?
Our children deserve the tools and resources to learn reason, logic, and perspective. In other words, they deserve accurate and unbiased textbooks. Let’s recognize the Great Texas Textbook Controversy of 2014 for what it is – the most recent, but far from the first, attempt to inject agenda in an arena that strives for objectivity. So while we shouldn’t necessarily be surprised, we should be concerned.
Image Credit: Flickr (via Creative Commons)
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