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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

What Is So, So Wrong in Texas

Have You All Been Following the Texas Social Studies Curriculum Debacle?

Here’s a short introduction and a profile of David Barton, one extremist advocate 

What disturbs me most here is that the loud screaming of these wild radicals drowns out the most basic truth of Social Studies — none of the content we teach — not one single name, date, concept, event, principle that we pass on to our kids matters. Rather the entire purpose of Social Studies is to inculcate an approach to knowledge, an approach to researching, evaluating, assimilating, and passing on information and ideas. It could be that every single thing I thought and have written about is wrong. If someone can find those errors of fact or judgment in my work, great — we will have learned in the exchange of ideas. Nothing is absolutely settled — except that there is an approach to knowledge that is as important for students in how they pick what they eat, what they play, what they buy as it is in their understanding of the past, of citizenship, of laws, and of rights. We need to teach them an open minded effort to explore, test, verify, assert, challenge, defend, and — in short — to think.
    Betty Carter sent me an email about a recent TV discussion about the supposed link between vaccines and autism. In fact there is no evidence of a connection — but people insist, against all studies and data, that there is. Sure there have been times when the scientific community covered up or ignorned real threats to our health — a healthy skepticism is in order. But skepticism must face two ways — question authority, but also, question yourself — you need to be as ready to doubt your certainties as those passed on to you. That is the Social Studies mindset — and that is what the extreme radicals on the Texas school board are attempting to silence. I call them radicals because they are the opposite of conservatives — they are not attempting to preserve the basic mindset of rational inquiry, but rather to wipe it out and replace it with blind allegience to preset ideas — that is, to impose ideology in the place of thought. In that effort they resemble nothing so much as the Communists in Russia who insisted that acquired characteristics could be inherited — because Stalin said so. 
     I find the Texas situation so upsetting because these adult radicals are abusing the children of their state. They are stunting the intellectual growth of young people — and that is not a matter of political debate, it is a fundamental violation of what we owe to our children.


  1. ruth pennebaker says:

    You know me, Marc. I’ll defend Texas to my dying breath when it’s appropriate. Here, I won’t make a peep, though. It’s humiliating to those of us who live (and think) there.

  2. Susan Denney says:

    This is not about social studies education in Texas. This is about social studies textbooks and the gazillion dollars of profit they represent. The result is always a watered-down version of history that is acceptable to everyone, not just Texans.

    The teaching of social studies in Texas is a different matter altogether. As a former high school teacher in Texas, I can tell you that I did not teach exclusively from the textbook and couldn’t name a colleague who did. If you read the social studies TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) carefully, you will find that children in Texas are expected to have a body of knowledge about social studies, yes. But, more importantly, they are supposed to be using original sources and doing their own research as early as kindergarten. Comparing and contrasting differing views comes in early as a skill elementary children should master. By the time a child is in fifth grade, the emphasis is on problem solving and decision making. All those thinking skills you mentioned are not only encouraged but explicitly required by the Texas TEKS.

  3. Susan:
    That is wonderful news — but that suggests there is a kind of insane excercise going on here where the board is setting this ridiculous standards which teachers are happily ignoring — a dance which once again reminds me of the Soviet Unoin — where precisely because the Party said something was so, many people disbelieved it.

  4. Linda Zajac says:

    I think the small, vigorous man with a shiny pate and bristling mustache has too much power.

  5. Marianne Follis says:

    I agree with Susan…this is about money, power and politics, all at the expense of our children’s education.

    I am not sure whether I should laugh or cry…but I am embarrassed.