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The Erasure of US History Starts in Texas

When Texas state legislators scrapped the national history curriculum of the Advanced Placement program, it was part of a broader campaign of historical revisionism.

(Image: Class textbooks via Shutterstock; Edited: JR/TO)

Combating racist tendencies starts in the classroom. Already an uphill battle, the struggle against xenophobia and discrimination is rendered impossible without a progressive curriculum and historically accurate textbooks.

Famous for the Alamo, the Dallas Cowboys, cold beer and oil, the Lone Star State is considered by many to be a hub of southern hospitality. The second most populous state in the US, Texas has also long been the frontline of a right-wing offensive against historical accuracy in the United States.

Since the 1990s, the conservative establishment, which exerts significant control in the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE), has labored to instill a markedly jingoistic understanding of history in state curriculum.

Because Texas is one of the largest purchasers of textbooks in the country, the effects ripple throughout the US: Publishers are obliged to produce textbooks that meet the SBOE’s standards because of the state’s sheer size and purchasing power.

The latest development in this decades-long struggle is the state’s move to veto the national advanced placement (AP) history curriculum. Deeming the course material “anti-American,” the SBOE recently decided that Texan students are only required to learn state-mandated curriculum.

Responding to the controversy, right-wing commentator and senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center Stanley Kurtz decried the College Board’s new AP guidelines as “an attempt to hijack the teaching of US history on behalf of a leftist political and ideological perspective.”

Irony Not Lost

Kurtz is outraged by the guidelines’ alleged origins in a movement of liberal historians, whom he accuses of “an abiding hostility to American exceptionalism.”

Others have used more creative arguments: SBOE board member Ken Mercer, a Republican from San Antonio, attempted to frame the opposition to the new AP guidelines by claiming they ignore civil rights figures such as Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Texas Democrats have failed to push back, with many, such as San Antonio Democrat Marisa Perez, even endorsing the SBOE’s decision to abandon the national guidelines.

The irony is rendered more acute by the fact that – of all places – this intense campaign of historical revision is sprouting from Texas. The result is a watered-down and inaccurate take on history that discounts historical crimes and the significance of science.

As the Texas Freedom Network notes, right-wing elements within the SBOE push for a curriculum that drastically differs from reality on issues of “sex education, the theory of evolution, pollution and climate change, and even slavery and civil rights.”

Whitewashing Colonialism

Uncomfortable with the colonial history of Texas and the United States at large, Texas conservatives are in effect attempting to whitewash oppression and racism in its historical and present contexts.

The establishment of the United States was made possible only through one of the most comprehensive campaigns of ethnic cleansing that history has ever seen. And Texas was the frontline of removing indigenous peoples from their lands, often by employing lethal means.

As historian Gary Clayton Anderson observes in The Conquest of Texas: Ethnic Cleansing in the Promised Land, 1820-1875, Western expansionism in the United States brought colonial settlers to present-day Texas, where they employed racially motivated violence to drive Native American tribes off their ancestral lands.

With the indigenous inhabitants mostly gone or encaged in reservations, Texas has consistently remained a hotbed of racism since the 19th century. Xenophobic vitriol has taken many forms: from early 20thcentury lynchings to inflated incarceration rates for communities of color and incitement against undocumented families.

Practical Implications

The practical implication of erasing colonialism, segregation and racism can only be their perpetuation in modern forms – which has been on full display in Texas.

And academic institutions have been no exception. At a high school basketball game in North Texas last week, students held up signs that read “White Power.”

In January, a stadium of fans at a girls’ basketball game in San Antonio erupted into “USA!” chants when the predominantly white team beat a team consisting of players of Latin American origin – a clear promulgation of the absurd notion that American and white are synonymous.

At the University of Texas at Austin earlier this month, frat members hosted a “border patrol” party laden with racist themes. “Attendees wore construction gear, ponchos and sombreros,” the university’s newspaper reported, adding that others wore military attire.

It’s no surprise that, on the same campus, students organized “Catch an Illegal Immigrant Day,” an event in which participants were meant to mock kidnapping undocumented workers in exchange for a $25 prize.

Combating these racist tendencies, in part, starts in the classroom. Already an uphill battle, the struggle against xenophobia and discrimination is rendered impossible without a progressive curriculum and historically accurate textbooks.

Without these basic tools at our disposal, Texas will raise another generation incapable of righting an array of historical wrongs. And because of Texas’s far-reaching influence on education, the damage will be felt across an already-polarized country.

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