Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Attempt to Alter School Textbooks at Center of Republican Frenzy over Obama Speech

While President Obama’s address to students was a consoling speech on education, staying in school and students’ taking personal responsibility for their learning, David Bradley, a Republican member of the Texas State Board of Education and loudest critic of President Obama, and other Republicans were whipping themselves into a frenzy over Obama’s address before the speech even took place. Constantly employing scare tactics to reinforce the idea that it was an effort to “indoctrinate” the youth of the country, they now appear themselves to be responsible for an attempt to indoctrinate the nation’s school children and to revise substantial content of the nation’s school history books.

As part of the hysteria generated by the Republicans in general, several school districts in Texas did not show President Obama’s harmless and quite normal eighteen-minute address asking students to dream big and work hard, but replaced it with a six minute snippet from his speech on retirement savings made the previous Saturday, September 5th, instead and broadcast over the Internet that afternoon.

Yet the GOP-controlled Texas State Board of Education, which is composed of ten Republicans and five Democrats, is now working feverishly on a new set of statewide textbook standards in the Gingrich-inspired mold for, among other subjects, U.S. History Studies since the Reconstruction Era. And it turns out what the board decides may end up having implications far beyond the Lone Star State itself.
The first draft of the standards, released at the end of July lays out a simplistic, human events version of U.S. history.
What makes this a national story is that what happens in Texas doesn't stay in Texas, according to TPM Media’s Muckracker newsletter which quoted Diane Ravitch, professor of education at NYU. Since Texas is one of the two states with the largest student enrollments, along with California, "publishers vie to get their books adopted for them, and the changes that are inserted to please Texas and California are then part of the textbooks made available to every other state," says Ravitch, who has written a book entitled “The Language Police: How Pressure Groups Restrict What Students Learn,” about the politics of textbooks.
In one infamous episode in the late 1990s, Bradley physically ripped apart an Algebra textbook because he was unhappy with pictures, recipes, references to women's suffrage, and other subjects incorporated into the text.
In 2003, he voted with a minority of board members against new biology textbooks because they didn't address "weaknesses" in evolution, according to a Texas Freedom Network, which describes itself as an organization dedicated to fighting the religious right.

--Mike Towsen

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