It is often said that the winners of wars write the history books. Throughout the history of the United States, schools have reproduced the cultural norms – often with the attendant range of social inequities and dominant group privileges found within the larger society.
This truism came to light again recently in Michigan’s new proposed social studies standards, the building block of the state’s curriculum and guide for K-12 teachers. It fabricates a clearly conservative political perspective.
Much of the past curricular standards from 2007, plus several of the newly proposed standards written by veteran teachers and other educational leaders, were severely pared down or entirely eliminated by a group of political conservative reviewers.
Let by state Senator and gubernatorial candidate Patrick Colbeck, within sections where teachers are to discuss with students the accomplishments and setbacks of minority groups, the panel deleted references to the LGBTQ community, Native Americans, Latinos, immigrants, and people with disabilities.
Instead, they added new wording emphasizing generic ways teachers should discuss how expanding rights of some groups can also serve to infringe the rights and freedoms of others.
In addition, gone now are issues related to climate change from a section enumerating the expectations for a 6th grade geography component. And showing their partisan political colors, they struck the term small “d” “democratic” from “core democratic values” changing it simply to “core values.”
Also now deleted are entire sections addressed to aid students in critical thinking skills development.
The Michigan Department of Education invited Colbeck to join a focus group to review the state’s proposed curriculum after he and 17 other conservative state legislators wrote a letter complaining how the proposals were not politically neutral as claimed.
Michigan follows the Texas model of curricular standards handed down in 2010. Then the Texas School Board, composed largely by non-educators, clearly took a retrenchment position from the very modest gains made in curricular development of providing multiple perspectives, which could stimulate students’ critical thinking skills, to a default monocultural position from a conservative Christian European-heritage perspective.
The Board confused education with indoctrination.
Following closely on the heels of a bill passed by the Arizona legislature and signed into law by Governor Jan Brewer severely restricting ethnic studies courses and multicultural curricular inclusion in that state’s schools, the Texas School Board voted in sweeping changing to its social studies curriculum.
Considering 213 amendments for changes in the state’s social studies standards, known as the Texas Standards for Knowledge and Skills for grades kindergarten through 12, social conservatives, who comprised most of the Board, voted strictly along party lines: 9 Republicans, 5 Democrats.
Board member, Cynthia Dunbar, R-Richmond, then a high school anatomy and physiology teacher made her position and the position of the other Christian social conservatives very clear in her opening prayer at the hearing, in which she asserted that U.S. laws and the government itself should be founded on the Christian Bible:
I believe no one can read the history of our country without realizing that the Good Book and the spirit of the savior have from the beginning been our guiding geniuses. Whether we look to the first charter of Virginia, or the charter of New England…the same objective is present — a Christian land governed by Christian principles….I like to believe we are living today in the spirit of the Christian religion. I like also to believe that as long as we do so, no great harm can come to our country. All this I say in the spirit of my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen”
Dunbar authored the 2008 book, One Nation Under God: How the Left Is Trying to Erase What Made Us Great, arguing that the Founders created “an emphatically Christian government” and that government should be guided by a “biblical litmus test.”
Among the extensive list of changes to the Texas social studies curriculum includes information that presents Confederate President Jefferson Davis on par with Abraham Lincoln; deletion of Dr. Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”; addressing the Civil War as an issue of states’ rights; giving more attention to conservative organizations like the Moral Majority, National Rifle Association, and the Heritage Foundation; replacing the term “Capitalism” with “free-enterprise system”; referring to the United States as a “constitutional republic” rather than as a “democracy.”
It also questions whether the United Nations imperils U.S. sovereignty; vindicates McCarthyism of the 1950s; teaches about the Christian influences on the Founders (though many did not, in fact, define as “Christian”); gives expanded information of a list of Confederate officials and conservative political leaders like Phyllis Schaffley; eliminates references to John Madison; refuses to update B.C. and A. D. to B.C.E. and C.E.; waters down and sometimes deletes sections of U.S. civil rights history.
It diffuses and questions the legal doctrine and rationale for the separation of religion (“church”) and state. An amendment proposed but eventually voted down was a change in the term “Atlantic Slave Trade” to “Atlantic Triangular Trade.”
On a micro level, the Michigan Review Panel, the Texas School Board, and earlier, the Arizona legislature show us some of the ways in which those who hold power determine and define “knowledge” and how “knowledge” is consciously and very deliberately produced and disseminated.
This dominant-group-controlled production of “knowledge” maintains the marginality of other groups, and it denies all students options in understanding multiple perspectives from which to construct meaning.
Though Texas grade-school students comprise only approximately 8.5% (4.7 million) of the estimated 55.2 million students in the United States, Texas is the second largest textbook market for book publishers. The curricular changes in Texas, therefore, have implications for the content in textbooks nationwide.