Tex-books Part 1: Texas control of text book industry keeping slavery out of schools?

HERB BOYD Special to the AmNews | 12/6/2012, 2:19 p.m.
Texas at the forefront of secession push

"The eyes of Texas are upon you" is the most memorable line from the state's fight song, but recently, at least over the last two years, the eyes of the nation have been on Texas, particularly its State Board of Education (SBOE) and the controversies swirling around a number of changes it proposed, most notably the erasure of the topic of slavery from textbooks.

Among a bevy of changes debated by the 15-member SBOE--11 Republicans and four Democrats--and of significance to African-Americans concerned about the abrogation of their civil and human rights, was the issue of slavery.

Were the SBOE standards of social studies being determined along ideological lines, with the conservative majority "watering down" slavery and the impact of the Civil Rights Movement?

This is a critical question, because school systems all over the nation take their lead from the Lone Star State in purchasing textbooks. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the American Civil Liberties Union both were aroused by the SBOE's final vote on the social studies and history curriculum.

"This has become a real spectacle," said Benjamin Todd Jealous, president and CEO of the NAACP, at the time of the vote two years ago. "It's on national news; it's on national comedy shows. Texas is a state that leads this country, and they need to accept that responsibility, slow down, back up and move in a new direction towards the truth."

Terri Burke, executive director of the state ACLU, was in agreement with Jealous. "The State Board of Education has amended, re-amended and approved curriculum standards that are more ideological than ever, despite pleas to not politicize what is taught to Texas schoolchildren."

That was two years ago. What's the current situation?

A cursory examination of the SBOE standards and guidelines for the eighth grade in social studies shows several mentions of slavery, including an explanation of "the development of the plantation system and the change of Atlantic triangular growth of the slave trade to the transatlantic slave trade," which appears to be a modification without any real difference.

"I wouldn't say I was satisfied with the changes that were made to the standards," SBOE member Lawrence Allen Jr. told the Amsterdam News in a recent interview, "but I am confident with 95 percent of the document we produced. The other 5 percent was the result of personal ideology, and the standards we vote on should never be about personal ideology."

Allen, a Democrat from the Houston area and one of two African-American board members, said the guidelines decided by the SBOE are just one factor in the process of determining what is taught in the Texas classrooms.

"Our decisions are about guidelines and not about curriculum or lesson plans," he emphasized. "That's left to the individual teacher. What I would like to see take place for our students is critical thinking and testable standards, and a holistic approach to the acquisition of the core knowledge each student should possess."

As for the textbook controversy, Allen, who at one time was a vice chair of the board and who is up for re-election on Nov. 6, says the standards in Texas once played a decisive role, but that's been minimized by national standards. "Texas used to lead the way in this area, but the national standards are now in place," he said, "and that will be the case in Texas, unless we find them all-inclusive."