Texas Education Board’s ideological bullying: A reflection

Education — By Charlton Mcllwain on March 19, 2010 at 7:56 am

I waxed a bit nostalgic over the past few days as I continue to read story after story reflecting on the great Texas Textbook debate, and the criticisms over its Republican resolution. I attended , circa 1982 (at the time, it was in one of the poorest school district in the nation). Social Studies was my favorite class, and I don’t ever recall being maladjusted by the kinds of things some Texas conservatives and liberals say should or shouldn’t be or have and have not been included in Texas’ Social Studies textbooks.

Mrs. Merritt made sure I knew my Texas history, replete with all the stories of Mexican Generals, Native American warriors, and would-be White saviors like Davey Crockett, all of whom contributed to making the great state of Texas (and the nation, too). Ninety-nine percent of my classmates and friends were Mexican, but even they got a little taste of soul from Mrs. Crume. She schooled us about race and civil rights, mostly through stories about her husband, whom she never failed to mention. I think it had something to do with him being Arthur, point man of the famed Soul Stirrers.

There was as few White kids at the school as Black, which meant we were all minorities. Even still, I had no idea who was a Democrat or Republican, whose mother was a liberal or father a conservative. But I do remember that whenever he had something really important to say, our teachers yanked us out of class to go the library, where we watched and listened to the President (Ronald Reagan) address the nation (and our parents didn’t even ask what he was going to talk about before giving us permission to go).

It may have been much more of a practical than pedagogical decision, perhaps more unconscious than not – but at the end of the day, my middle school Social Studies teachers impressed one thing on us more than anything else: that some way, somehow, we had to figure out how to get along and live with each other, despite our difference. It was a lesson about citizenship. Now, we usually threw it completely out the window once the bell rang, setting us free to roam the hallways and cut loose on the playground (or I should say a big slab of pavement). But the lessons we received – about what it means to have to take each other into account when deciding how we were going to live together – more or less stuck.

So when my reminiscences waned, I realized there may have been a better way for Texas to solve its recent problems about whether to include the Republican Revolution in a Social Studies textbook, or why they should erase race from every paragraph and footnote of its pages. Rather than let parents and politicians duke it out in a partisan, ideological brawl, they should hire someone to develop, and then they should adopt a textbook that arms students with the necessary ammunition to confront these controversial issues themselves. Show them every side of each issue. Outline the pros and cons. Explain why some folks don’t what to include some, others do, and vice-versa. Then let the students decide what the final textbook will look like.

Of course, practically speaking this can’t be done. But the point is – this is what civics education is and should be about. The problem, however, is that over the past couple of decades we’ve seen a drastic decline in the number of schools – including in Texas – offering distinct civics classes many recent efforts to reinstate them have failed. (You can view legislative action on all civics-related legislation at the National Conference of State Legislatures website.) And for those schools that do emphasize civic knowledge, fewer still impart actual civic skills which take a distant back seat to the 4 Rs.

But perhaps students would be better off if teachers and schools provide students the knowledge they need to be productive workers, but the skills they need to be good citizens. After all, our country is full of people who have all the civic knowledge in the world, but still haven’t figured out a way to live in a country where working through differences – be they racial, cultural, or otherwise is preferable to simple ideological bullying. The Texas Textbook mess makes that perfectly clear.

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Author: Charlton Mcllwain (1 Articles)

Charlton Mcllwain

Charlton McIlwain (Ph.D.) is an Associate Professor of Media, Culture and Communication at New York University. His current research focuses on the use of racial appeals in political communication, including the semiotic construction of racial appeals in language and visual images; the effects of racial appeals on public opinion and voting behavior; framing and priming effects of race in various media; and media coverage of minority political candidates. He is the co-author of the fortcoming book Race Appeal: The Prevalence, Purposes & Political Implications of Racial Discourse in American Politics (Temple, 2010), and co-editor of the forthcoming, Routledge Companion to Race & Ethnicity (Routledge, 2010). His work has also been published in the International Journal of Press/Politics, Semiotica, Journal of Black Studies, TAMARA Journal of Critical Postmodern Organizational Science, American Behavioral Scientist, Communication Quarterly, and others. Prior to being at NYU, McIlwain worked as the Communications Director for congressional and gubernatorial campaigns in Oklahoma and spent one year as the Communications Director of the Oklahoma Democratic Party. He and Stephen Maynard Caliendo head the Project on Race in Political Communication .

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