Texas Whitewashes U.S. History

“You can just hear the announcement on flights landing at the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport,” my friend John said to me. “‘Please return your trays and seats to the upright position, and set your watches back 100 years.'”

John was talking about the news out of Texas late Friday that a powerful group of Republican Christian conservatives on the state’s board of education have preliminarily approved new curriculum standards for teaching social studies, history and economics to K-12 public school students that are sanitized, reactionary and weighted heavily in favor of white, conservative Christian views.

Bear in mind, this is not just another wacky Texas-centric story. The curriculum standards adopted by this state will be incorporated into the nation’s textbooks in 2011 and remain for at least a decade, because Texas, with nearly 5 million students, is one of the publishing industry’s biggest clients. As this state’s textbooks go, so go the nation’s—which ought to be scaring the skirts off everyone who believes that our kids should be educated, not propagandized.

If these standards are adopted as written when they come up for a final vote in May, educators teaching about citizenship, for example, will have to bring up the Second Amendment’s “right to bear arms.” “American exceptionalism” (whatever that means) will be a whole new subject, along with discussions of “the dangers of over-regulation” of industry.

In economics, educators will have to teach about the decline in the dollar’s value and the abandonment of the gold standard. The influence of the Judeo-Christian religion on the founding fathers must be taught, but without the writings of Thomas Jefferson–because that founding father wrote too much about the Age of Enlightenment, with its emphasis on reason. And, of course, there was also his unshakable belief in the separation of church and state.

Don’t look for too many minority names to show up, because they have either been eliminated or their contributions downplayed. Native Americans are hardly mentioned, even though one member of a Texas tribe in his testimony before the board reminded them, “We were here a long time before you were.”

As for women, their historical roles have pretty much been relegated to the June Cleaver stay-at-home-mom model of the 1950s, according to board member Mary Helen Berlanga, a lawyer from Corpus Christi who opposed the new curriculum. When one working group drafted a section on how World War II created opportunities for women to be employed in all kinds of industries not open to them before, the section was taken out by the board majority. When that same working group wanted to include discussions on how sex and gender roles have changed over the decades, a conservative member said that would lead to teaching about “transvestites and all sorts of people with different sexual proclivities,” Berlanga says. As for pop music culture, hip-hop is out, country-western is in.

These are just a few of the more than 160 curriculum changes that have been adopted by a 15-member elected  board that is made up of only five educators or former educators. Others are a dentist, a newspaper publisher, a couple of lawyers and several real estate brokers. None are experts in the subjects for which they have been mandated by state law to establish curriculum standards.

The vote came over the objections of the five Democrats on the board–who were also the only five people of color–and who, for three days in Austin, argued passionately for a more inclusive curriculum that would recognize the rich diversity of American life and thought.

“This is frightening. … It is history as seen through the eyes of Anglos,” says Berlanga, who stormed out of the last hours of the meeting, calling her colleagues’ actions an attempt to “whitewash” history. Earlier, Berlanga had made an impassioned appeal for the inclusion of the names of just one or two of the dozens of Tejanos who died at the Alamo alongside Davy Crockett and William Travis. She lost.

“I grew up not knowing that Tejanos (Mexicans who lived in Texas at the time of the revolution) died there,” she says. “There was nothing about them in our history books. I would have been so proud [as a child] to know that my people were heroes of the Alamo.”

In a state with a majority Latino population, only 19 Hispanic figures met the majority’s approval for inclusion in the textbooks, Berlanga says. And the board majority certainly didn’t want to talk about anything “bad” in America–like discrimination.  “Emphasize the good,” they said, according to Berlanga. They didn’t want any mention of the Ku Klux Klan, the lynching of blacks or the killings of innocent Hispanics by the Texas Rangers in the early years of the 20th Century. But, Berlanga points out, “We can never heal as a nation if we’re not willing to talk about the things that are not perfect in America, and teach our children how we have become better.”

Ironically, Helen Keller is in the curriculum but iconic farmworker organizer Dolores Huerta is out. Those who opposed Huerta’s inclusion told Berlanga it is because “she is a socialist.” But so was Keller, Berlanga pointed out to them. She’s described in her biographies as not just a socialist, but a radical socialist.

Huerta’s compadre Cesar Chavez was initially dropped, but later reinstated after protests from Latino groups.  Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall, who argued successfully as a young lawyer in 1954 that “separate but equal” schools were unconstitutional, also barely made the cut. The board’s conservatives argued that he hadn’t “contributed” anything to American life. When that word got out, the outcry was so great that Marshall is now in.

“[The vote] was a great defeat,” Berlanga says. “But they didn’t defeat me–they defeated the kids in our communities who need positive role models and the tools to live and compete in the real world, not some fantasy world.” If these standards become the norm, she adds, we will see “more dropouts, more kids lost” because the educational system will have failed them again.

Dolores Huerta Celebrate People’s History Poster by B. Cortez & B. Riley; available for purchase from Justseeds.org.


  1. Thank you Texas. I now have all the reason in the world to homeschool my daughter and avoid your disgusting influence on her innocent mind. I feel sorry for you that you are so ashamed of your country’s history that you can’t tell it truthfully. Guilt maybe?

  2. I am a Social Studies teacher. I strongly emphasize minorities and women in my classes, and that will not change. I rarely use the textbook because they often give a very one-sided point of view with little detail. I want my students to think about history from differing points of view, and this isn’t going to change in my classes. Shame on Texas, and these narrow-minded people that don’t want our children getting a more complete story that allows them to draw their own conclusions.

  3. Laura Estey says:

    How can the state of Texas adopt a curriculum of lies? If moronic white conservatives are going to enact laws in order to lie to children, it’s time for Washington to get involved. This is exactly why the states shouldn’t have too much autonomy. This country cannot and will not survive if the states are allowed to create their own little insular countries which don’t have to answer to anybody. We are supposed to be the Unites States after all. A national education standard where the whole truth and all sides of issues are taught is extremely important for everyone’s future, the future of this country and it’s place in the world. Lies like what the Texas Board of Education is promoting is tyrannical and cowardly behaviour as it’s designed to divide and exclude whites from minorities, men from women, christians from non-christians, and to control freedom of thought. Texas cannot be allowed to go against the Constitution which states unequivocally that ALL men (humans) are created equal. It’s ironic that “patriotic Texas” is pursuing the very tyrannical evils which the founders of this country fought so hard to escape from.

  4. I am again embarrassed to say I am a Texan. There are a few conservative, ignorant people who think they can turn back time by erasing history. It is sad that they will get away with this, again. But, the ones who think it is only Texas, think again. Think about what your states say is required to know in any subject. Math, English, Science, especially science. So many people argue over evolution versus intelligent design. Texas is not the only state “changing” history. By the way, we’re not the only country that does this. It is called “his-story” for a reason.

  5. How can the state of Texas adopt a curriculum of lies? If moronic white conservatives are going to enact laws in order to lie to children, it’s time for Washington to get involved.

  6. Laurie Gardner says:

    It is sad that there are people deciding what is important in history. The importance of history is discused in our home to our children. Just because they are children does not mean that they cannot think logically. The questions they ask helps them see the difference between right and wrong. I give honest answers to my children and open the discusion for there oppinions. That is how childern should be taught. Treating them like robots and feeding them half or misrepresented history will guarantee that the darker side of history will repeat. They will not have learned from previous mistakes.

  7. OMG!

    "educators teaching about citizenship, for example, will have to bring up the Second Amendment", instead of just ignoring it because it doesn't fit their world view? That's clearly FASCISM!

    I find it pretty telling that of all the problems introduced by the Texas revisionism the first thing the author mentions is teaching about what is actually in the Constitution. Agenda much?

  8. i teach in texas. composition and rhetoric at the college level. we read essays and texts from a wide range of subjects in my class, because there are no such regulations and constrictions on my curriculum (yet). i used to be shocked that my 18 year old freshmen often had never heard of the term "lynching." or that many confuse the civil rights movement for the civil war and vice versa, despite the hundred years or so between the two events. but i've now been here for over 6 years and i'm not shocked at all. this is all too sadly common.

  9. So, how do those people get onto such a committee? Do they pay their way on…or…how?


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