'Texas schoolbook massacre' rewrites American history

Country music and the speeches of Jefferson Davis could soon be taught in the nation's classrooms

Country music is an important modern cultural movement; hip-hop isn't. Thomas Jefferson deserves to be erased from a list of "great Americans", but Ronald Reagan doesn't. And we should re-evaluate Senator Joe McCarthy: he was almost certainly a national hero.

If you think that sounds like a quirky rewriting of American history with a right-wing twist, then you're not alone. But if the state of Texas gets its way, it'll be what teachers across the rest of the nation are required to tell their students.

In a move that has sparked controversy from coast to coast, together with a slew of headlines about the "Texas schoolbook massacre", the Lone Star state has just narrowly approved a series of conservative-minded alterations to its social studies curriculum.

The school board's decrees range from the surreal to the faintly sinister. One dictates that the Republican former House speaker Newt Gingrich should be studied. Another says that the speeches of Jefferson Davis, the slave-owning president of the Confederacy, should be taught alongside those of Abraham Lincoln. And the National Rifle Association should be praised for upholding the Constitution.

These and many other changes were approved by the board earlier this month, following three days of rancorous debate in Austin, the state capital. The vote of 15-5 in favour of the move was made entirely along party lines: every Republican on the committee approved them.

To the rest of America, the board's colourful right-wingery ought to be nothing more than a colourful sideshow. But the economics of the education industry mean otherwise: Texas is the biggest market for new teaching materials in the country, with 4.7 million schoolchildren, meaning that its curriculum influences the contents of textbooks nationwide.

Historians this week voiced concerns about the proposed revisions, many of which they have described as inaccurate. They are particularly angry that Jefferson's importance to the nation's founding fathers will in future be played down. That change to the curriculum was supported by evangelical Christians, who dislike Jefferson's support for the separation of church and state.

"The books that are altered to fit the [new] standards become the bestselling books, and therefore within the next two years they'll end up in other classrooms," Fritz Fischer, chairman of the National Council for History Education and a vociferous opponent of the changes, told The Washington Post. "It's not a partisan issue; it's a good history issue."

Elsewhere, the new curriculum allows teachers to treat country and western music as a significant cultural movement. But a move to add hip-hop to the same list was voted down by conservatives.

Students of Cold War history looking at McCarthyism must in future be told that the Verona papers, which documented communications between the Soviet Union and its spies, "confirmed suspicions of Communist infiltration in US government". In fact, historians are divided on whether this is really the case.

Controversy over the changes has shone a spotlight on the powers and make-up of the 15-strong Texas board. One of them, a dentist called Roy McElroy, failed by a whisker last year to get the board to force the teaching of Creationism alongside evolution in science lessons. This year he supported a successful move to have the term "capitalism" replaced with "free market enterprise" in classes.

Texas has a long and storied tradition of political interference in the educational process. Since the 1970s, evangelicals have repeatedly tried to have books seen as anti-Christian removed from its syllabus. Conservatives have also attempted to prevent children being taught about gay rights and global warming.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
American singer, acclaimed actor of stage and screen, political activist and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson (1898 - 1976), rehearses in relaxed mood at the piano.
filmSinger, actor, activist, athlete: Paul Robeson was a cultural giant. But prejudice and intolerance drove him to a miserable death. Now his story is to be told in film...
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Babysitter Katie and Paul have terse words in the park
tvReview: The strength of the writing keeps viewers glued to their seats even when they are confronted with the hard-hitting scenes
Life and Style
Make-up artists prepare contestants for last year’s Miss World, held in Budapest
fashion
Sport
England’s opening goalscorer Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain battles with Scotland’s Charlie Mulgrew
FootballEngland must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil
Life and Style
life
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Argyll Scott International: FP&A Manager Supply Chain

Benefits: Argyll Scott International: Argyll Scott is recruiting for a Permane...

Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property NQ+

£30000 - £50000 per annum + EXCELLENT: Austen Lloyd: COMMERCIAL PROPERTY SOLI...

Argyll Scott International: Retail Commercial Finance Analyst

Benefits: Argyll Scott International: Due to further expansion, a leading inte...

Langley James : Senior Technician; Promotion & Training Opp; Borough; upto £32k

£27000 - £32000 per annum + training: Langley James : Senior Technician; Promo...

Day In a Page

US immigration: President Obama ready to press ahead with long-promised plan to overhaul 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?

Immigration: Obama's final frontier

The President is ready to press ahead with the long-promised plan to overhaul America's 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?
Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?

Scoot commute

Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?
Paul Robeson: The story of how an American icon was driven to death to be told in film

The Paul Robeson story

How an American icon was driven to death to be told in film
10 best satellite navigation systems

Never get lost again: 10 best satellite navigation systems

Keep your vehicle going in the right direction with a clever device
Paul Scholes column: England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil

Paul Scholes column

England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil
Synagogue attack: Fear unites both sides of Jerusalem as minister warns restoring quiet could take 'months'

Terror unites Jerusalem after synagogue attack

Rising violence and increased police patrols have left residents of all faiths looking over their shoulders
Medecins sans Frontieres: The Ebola crisis has them in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa

'How do you carry on? You have to...'

The Ebola crisis has Medecins sans Frontieres in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa
Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Residents in what was Iraq’s safest city fear an increase in jihadist attacks, reports Patrick Cockburn
Underwater photography competition winners 2014 - in pictures

'Mysterious and inviting' shot of diver wins photography competition

Stunning image of cenote in Mexico takes top prize
Sir John Major: Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting

Sir John Major hits out at theatres

Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting
Kicking Barbie's butt: How the growth of 3D printing enabled me to make an army of custom-made figurines

Kicking Barbie's butt

How the growth of 3D printing enabled toy-designer to make an army of custom-made figurines
Will Smith's children have made waves with a gloriously over-the-top interview, but will their music match their musings?

What are Jaden and Willow on about?

Will Smith's children have made waves with a gloriously over-the-top interview, but will their music match their musings?
Fridge gate: How George Osborne keeping his fridge padlocked shows a frosty side to shared spaces

Cold war

How George Osborne keeping his fridge padlocked shows a frosty side to shared spaces
Stocking fillers: 10 best loo books

Stocking fillers: 10 best loo books

From dogs in cars to online etiquette, while away a few minutes in peace with one of these humorous, original and occasionally educational tomes
Malky Mackay appointed Wigan manager: Three texts keep Scot’s rehabilitation on a knife-edge

Three texts keep Mackay’s rehabilitation on a knife-edge

New Wigan manager said all the right things - but until the FA’s verdict is delivered he is still on probation, says Ian Herbert