New social studies textbooks planned for use in Texas public schools this year are under fire for the way they depict slavery, the Civil War and racial segregation. According to a report in the Washington Post, the books downplay slavery as a cause of the Civil War and “barely address” segregation in the Jim Crow-era South.
The new textbooks are in line with statewide standards adopted in 2010 by the Texas State Board of Education, a 15-member elected panel dominated by Republicans. The board called for students to be taught that the Civil War was caused by “sectionalism, states’ rights and slavery,” which, the Post reports, was “written deliberately in that order to telegraph slavery’s secondary role in driving the conflict.”
Texas public schools are not obligated to use the state-approved textbooks, but many schools choose to do so rather than research and buy their own books.
The state standards also have been criticized for downplaying segregation and not requiring that Jim Crow laws or the existence of the Ku Klux Klan be mentioned. The Klan was a major presence in early 20th century Texas; at one point in the 1920s, more than 13,000 Texans were members of the group in Dallas alone.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, a legal advocacy group that tracks hate groups, there are at least five active Klan chapters in Texas.
Much of the controversy about the Texas standards has focused on comments made in 2010 by Patricia Hardy, a Republican member of the education board, who said, “There would be those who would say the reason for the Civil War was over slavery. No. It was over states’ rights.”
Dan Quinn, communications director for the liberal Texas Freedom Network, criticized the textbooks, saying, "[T]he books muddy things by presenting sectionalism and states’ rights ideas throughout. ... A lot of white Southerners have grown up believing that the Confederacy’s struggle was somehow a noble cause rather than a war in the defense of a horrific institution that enslaved millions of human beings.”
This isn’t the first time the Texas standards have caused controversy. After the state adopted the guidelines in 2010, an editorial in the Los Angeles Times blasted the Texas education board for casting Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis as “moral equivalents.”
The editorial suggested that Texas “consider including each of the Confederate states’ secession statements” in the social studies curriculum, noting that Texas’ statement read, in part, "[Texas] was received as a commonwealth holding, maintaining and protecting the institution known as negro slavery — the servitude of the African to the white race within her limits — a relation that had existed from the first settlement of her wilderness by the white race, and which her people intended should exist in all future time.”
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