Students in Texas may soon be learning some messed-up history thanks to a new set of textbooks, including how segregation was "sometimes" unfair to African-Americans.
That's according to liberal watchdog group Texas Freedom Network, which had scholars read through the new books and note passages "that were unsupported by historical facts and based mostly on the ideological demands" of the Board of Education. Their findings are part of a larger debate playing out in school board meetings and legislatures across the country about how accurate — and politically motivated — students' curriculums are.
Texas Freedom Network says its panel found dozens of inaccurate claims, ranging from eye-roll-inducing to just plain crazy. For starters, one book lists Moses first in a list of thinkers who influenced the Constitution. "A nation needs a written code of behavior" was a supporting statement, as was "During their years of wandering in the desert of the Sinai, Moses handed down God's Ten Commandments to the Hebrews." Readers are then told, "The full account of Moses' life can be found in the Bible's Book of Exodus."
Some materials run into other religious problems, such as the assertion that "much of the violence you read or hear about in the Middle East is related to a jihad," and referring to the region as "occupied" by Muslims or "in Muslim hands." One text says, "In the centuries after Muhammad's death, Muslims spread their religion by conquest." Compare that to treatment of American conquest: "When Europeans arrived, they brought Christianity with them and spread it among the indigenous people."
Moving on to economics, there's this selection, which reads like it was copied and pasted from a Tea Party fundraising email: "In the words of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., taxes are 'what we pay for civilized society.' Society does not appear to be much more civilized today than it was when Justice Holmes made that observation in 1927. However, 'what we pay' has certainly gone up." (You can probably think of a few ways society has become more civilized since 1927.)
There are plenty of educational failures when it comes to social issues, too, with one passage actually using the term "the Negro race" and another showing political cartoons of excited aliens arriving on Earth to reap the benefits of affirmative action. Perhaps most egregious is one textbook's explanation of segregation: "Under segregation, all-white and all-African-American schools sometimes had similar buildings, buses and teachers. Sometimes, however, the buildings, buses and teachers for the all-black schools were lower in quality." Sometimes!
How did this all come about? In 2010, the Texas Board of Education approved new educational standards governing the content of textbooks across the state. Some of these standards were specifically added to focus more on Christianity, the free market and important conservative figures in history.
"In all fairness, it's clear that the publishers struggled with these flawed standards and still managed to do a good job in some areas," Texas Freedom Network Education Fund president Kathy Miller said in a statement. "On the other hand, a number of textbook passages essentially reflect the ideological beliefs of politicians on the state board, rather than sound scholarship and factual history."
Textbook manufacturers told Politico that they're taking the criticism into consideration but have to adhere to Texas standards. In the meantime, many of the state's 4.8 million students are going to learn the above at school.