Texas social science curriculum

A lot of my allegiances and interests converge in this Washington Post article by a former classmate of mine, Michael Birnbaum. The article is about how Texas’ new curriculum rules emphasize certain (perhaps conservative) values over others.

Birnbaum has first rate journalistic talent and I’m inclined to trust his attempt to objectively report this story (is it possible to be objective when writing a story about bias?). Nonetheless, his article has been criticized for exaggerating the partisanship or unreasonability of these new  curriculum changes.

So, I dug into this controversy a little bit by reading the curriculum proposals that are referred to in the article directly above (the criticism of Birnbaum’s article). The truth is that this issue is complex.

On the one hand, one can see how the animating spirit behind these changes was conservative, and perhaps conservative in a biased way. Still, the fact that a bunch of conservatives wanted these changes in itself doesn’t seal the case against these revisions. Just reading through some of the curriculum, things seemed pretty boilerplate. I think there is a bias to the curriculum, but its subtle and not nearly as disturbing as I might have thought. For example, I think some of the sections on economics are actually the most biased, in that they basically celebrate the greatest successes of capitalism (especially the section about the importance and successes of small business owners). Still, I wonder how damaging this type of bias is given that I think any history of complex political issues will necessarily miss opportunities for debate and rely on examples of one type at the expense of others. Also, at some point, I think its counterproductive to think that kids are going to absorb these nuances in either direction. The goal of these types of education is very rudimentary, and the question, I think, is, does this curriculum, taken as a whole, constitute a fair attempt to relate important historical information to students? It seems hard to deny that it is a fair attempt given specific sections relating to minorities, class divisions, and other problems. It deals with communism in a fairly self-congratulatory way, but there are also sections about Vietnamization and the domino theory.

All told, the curriculum is vague and not historically ambitious, and I’m suspicious of any kind of curriculum specification, but perhaps they are necessary in an era when poor school policies make complete curriculum autonomy a scary option. As far as government regulation of thought goes, this seems to be pretty tame, and in fact, pretty fair-minded in many places.

I would really be interested to hear more about this though.


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