Sunday, September 04, 2011

Please Mess With Texas

Texas has made my teaching a lot easier lately for a variety of reasons.

When trying to talk about Guam's political status, it's experience of the colonial difference, or to use the imagery of Du Bois, its own personal veil, the story of a Chamorro woman who recently attempted to apply for a Federal childcare program for her children, but was rejected on the basis being born on Guam made them not U.S. Citizens. When she confronted the agency about this "mistake," this was the conversation she had with a supervisor.

"He laughed about it and said the letter is true and he actually had gone to college and he has never been taught or never had heard anything about Guam existing or even being a territory of the U.S."
She later received an apology. Where did this most recent example of the everyday manifestations of Guam's unequal political status in the lives of those who call it home take place? Texas.

The rhetoric of Texas Governor Rick Perry in the first year of Obama's presidency was very interesting. At a time when every conservative and Republican was making any insane claim as to Obama and his policies, and making all sorts of threats or comments on behalf of the "real" people of the United States, Perry's comment went the furthest away from the norm of American political rhetoric. Whereas most people talked about being furious at losing their country or Obama and Democrats mutilating the coutnry with their socialism, Perry stood out as the person who claimed that if the US moved too far in one direction, Texas might simply, leave.

One of his comments:

"There's a lot of different scenarios...We've got a great union. There's absolutely no reason to dissolve it. But if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what might come out of that. But Texas is a very unique place, and we're a pretty independent lot to boot."

As I've written about before on this blog, for those indigenous voices which reject the United States and its claims to their lives, their lands and their rights, often times your rhetoric appears to have more in common with the most conversative, rather than the most liberal sectors of the US. When you get to the extremes, to those ideas which lay at the very edges of the United States, even to the point of rejecting the nation, that's where the "unlikely allainces" seem to lie. I've written about this before on my blog, how sometimes the most support for Guam's indpendence can be found amongst conversative ideological sectors rather than liberal ones. There is no clear formula for this, but while Chamorro activists may seem themselves more in line with progressive movements in the US on most issues, this is rarely the case in terms of decolonization and the possibiltiy of Guam becoming independent. So much of it depends on how much a person's ideological position rests on the current existence of the US, or the current way it is. If so much of what you think and feel relies on that, then you will resist any change to it, especially in terms of the US, the greatest country in the world, losing something, losing a piece of it.

Finally, what makes Texas a great place to use in my classes is the two year long scandal over the whitewashing and re-writing of their public school history curriculum. For each history class that I teach at UOG, I begin the semester with a discussion of the various aspects of "history." I talk about the importance of history, but also its limits. History can do some things for us, but not everything. For every argument you can make that history is important, you can make an equally valid one that it doesn't do anything.

I use the Texas textbook example in order to discuss what the effects of history are, and what the importance is in fighting over how history is told. The article below highlights some of what students in coming years will be and won't be learning, and you can just imagine what impact that might have on how students thus navigate the world and their own lives.


Published on Thursday, August 25, 2011
by the Austin American Statesman
What Did You Learn in School Today? (The Texas Version)

by Craig Studer

Millions of Texas students head back to school this week confronted by a dramatically altered, state-mandated social studies curriculum.
The contentious hearings of the Texas State Board of Education received considerable attention in the spring of 2010, but seem to have fallen out of the public consciousness as the new school year begins. The new curriculum, officially called the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, deserves renewed attention, as it will undoubtedly surprise most Texans.
The fiercest battle during the board's hearings was fought over the 11th-grade history curriculum, which in Texas is "United States History since 1877." The exception to that timeline is the new state-mandated "Celebrate Freedom Week," during which students will learn about our founding fathers. That sounds simple enough, except that the only founding fathers included in the curriculum are Benjamin Rush, John Hancock, John Jay, John Witherspoon, John Peter Muhlenberg, Charles Carroll and Jonathan Trumbull Sr. What about George Washington, Thomas Jefferson or John Adams? They are nowhere to be found in the new high school TEKS. Students apparently learned everything they need to know about them in eighth grade.
As part of the board's effort to emphasize the positives in American history, students will no longer learn about "American imperialism." Instead students will discuss "American expansionism" and come to understand how "missionaries moved the United States into the position of a world power." The board eliminated mention of our government's use of propaganda during World War I, and instead of analyzing Truman's decision to use the atomic bomb at the end of World War II, students will now analyze the development of the bomb. Additionally, students will now "evaluate efforts by international organizations to undermine U.S. sovereignty."
Perhaps you have heard something about a labor movement in the 20th century? No longer will your children. The only reference to a 20th-century labor movement will come when learning about Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta. No mention of the Fair Labor Standards Act or the National Labor Relations Act. No mention of strikes or any labor dispute. The words "labor movement" were taken out of the TEKS. Perhaps there is not enough time because students must now "understand how the free enterprise system drives technological innovation ... such as cell phones, inexpensive personal computers and global positioning products."
Students will learn about the contributions of Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority. Maybe the students will read Falwell's claim that feminists and homosexuals were partially responsible for the 9/11 attacks. Phyllis Schlafly, the Heritage Foundation and the NRA are all included. Students will also be required to "discuss the meaning of ‘In God We Trust.' "
History in Texas classrooms will be decidedly different from when we were students. I never learned "both the positive and negative impacts of ... country and western music" in my high school history class. Where would you rate Estée Lauder in terms of historical importance to our country? If you think she is one of the 68 most important historical figures, you agree with the board. Yes, the board included her in the state curriculum, but not George Washington.
I also never learned that the findings of the House Committee on Un-American Activities were confirmed, perhaps because it is not true. It puts teachers in an awkward position by asking them to teach something that is historically inaccurate. I will not have to deal with that issue in some of my classes because my Advanced Placement U.S. History classes are not required to follow the state curriculum. I am guessing that the Texas Education Agency realizes that students could never pass national exams while learning the state-mandated curriculum.
During the next decade, we should not be surprised when university professors lament that Texas students are not prepared for college. Malcolm X once said, "Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today." You might remember a historical figure named Malcolm X, but your children won't. Malcolm X is not in the social studies curriculum in Texas. Now if you will excuse me, I have to do some research on Estée Lauder. She was not mentioned in any of my graduate history courses, either.
© 2011

Craig Studer is a public school teacher in Austin, TX. He has a master's degree in curriculum and instruction and a master's degree in U.S. history.

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