Wednesday, July 8, 2015

American Mind: The Day the Schools Died

Here is a song I adapted for this post, American Mind, sung to the tune of Don McLean's American Pie.

  • Bye, bye my American mind
  • Learned my lessons at the high school but the high school was fried
  • By them good ole boys who're spitting falsehoods and lies
  • Singin' this'll be the day that truth dies
  • This'll be the day my mind dies

Bear with me while I establish some background linkages.

The conservative revolution began on August 23rd, 1971 when the "Powell manifesto" was sent to the Chairman of the Education Committee of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Following are quotes from the Powell memo via reclaimdemocracy.org.

Action programs, tailored to the high schools and similar to those mentioned, should be considered.

The staff of scholars (or preferably a panel of independent scholars) should evaluate social science textbooks, especially in economics, political science and sociology. This should be a continuing program.

We have seen the civil rights movement insist on re-writing many of the textbooks in our universities and schools. The labor unions likewise insist that textbooks be fair to the viewpoints of organized labor. Other interested citizens groups have not hesitated to review, analyze and criticize textbooks and teaching materials. In a democratic society, this can be a constructive process and should be regarded as an aid to genuine academic freedom and not as an intrusion upon it.

If the authors, publishers and users of textbooks know that they will be subjected — honestly, fairly and thoroughly — to review and critique by eminent scholars who believe in the American system, a return to a more rational balance can be expected.

So it was clear that Powell wanted the Chamber of Commerce to intervene in higher education, but also in secondary education.

Here is analysis from reclaimdemocracy.org..

Though Powell’s memo was not the sole influence, the Chamber and corporate activists took his advice to heart and began building a powerful array of institutions designed to shift public attitudes and beliefs over the course of years and decades. The memo influenced or inspired the creation of the Heritage Foundation, the Manhattan Institute, the Cato Institute, Citizens for a Sound Economy, Accuracy in Academe, and other powerful organizations. Their long-term focus began paying off handsomely in the 1980s, in coordination with the Reagan Administration’s "hands-off business" philosophy.

But it wasn't just "hands off business." The organizations have taken a much more active role in education of American children.

Most notable about these institutions was their focus on education ...

You probably knew all that. Here is the new development that inspired this post. Steve Benen writes for MSNBC/Rachel Maddow Show:

We’ve known for some time that Texas’ new social-studies textbooks would likely represent a step backwards. MSNBC’s Zack Roth reported last fall on proposals to place books in public-school classrooms that blurred the line between history and "tea party manifestos."

"Don’t blame the textbook writers – including several major publishing houses – for the right-wing political slant," Roth explained. "They were written to conform to standards approved in 2010 by the state Board of Education, after an organized conservative campaign to take over the board."

As a conservative Christian minister who helped push the standards through said in 2010, "We’re in an all-out moral and spiritual civil war for the soul of America, and the record of American history is right at the heart of it."

With this backstory in mind, I suppose no one should have been too surprised by this discouraging Washington Post report yesterday.

Five million public school students in Texas will begin using new social studies textbooks this fall based on state academic standards that barely address racial segregation. The state’s guidelines for teaching American history also do not mention the Ku Klux Klan or Jim Crow laws.

And when it comes to the Civil War, children are supposed to learn that the conflict was caused by "sectionalism, states’ rights and slavery" – written deliberately in that order to telegraph slavery’s secondary role in driving the conflict, according to some members of the state board of education.

To be sure, these are not the only areas of concern in Texas’ textbooks.

But with much of the country thinking anew about official support for the Confederate battle flag, the changes in Texas classrooms hardly represent an academic improvement.

From the Post’s report:

Students in Texas are required to read the speech Jefferson Davis gave when he was inaugurated president of the Confederate States of America, an address that does not mention slavery. But students are not required to read a famous speech by Alexander Stephens, Davis’s vice president, in which he explained that the South’s desire to preserve slavery was the cornerstone of its new government and "the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution." […]

Texas’s social studies standards are more politicized than any other state, said Jeremy A. Stern, a historian who reviewed state standards for the conservative-leaning Thomas B. Fordham Institute in 2011. He gave Texas’s standards a D and wrote that the board was "molding the telling of the past to justify its current views."

Remember, we’re talking about 5 million students who’ll use, reference, and rely on these books. Here’s hoping they’re led by social-studies teachers who’ll supplement the texts with more complete information.

Are you kidding? Job security will prevail. Wait for the first parental complaint about the teacher who supplies this balance.

Maybe I should adapt another song honoring the Texas State Board of Education: "The Ayes of Texas Weigh Upon Us."

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