Texas Legislators Exert Influence over Social Science Teaching

Conservative legislators in Texas are waging a new fight in the so-called “culture wars” over historical memory and public education in the State of Texas.

Jim Grossman, Executive Director of the American Historical Association, writes: “The Texas legislature is scheduled to vote today on ‘An Act relating to the social studies curriculum in public schools.’ AHA members will no doubt be pleased to see a state legislature taking an interest in social studies education; we are well aware that in part because history is tested less regularly than some other subjects it often receives fewer resources and less classroom time.”

Politicians and educators have repeatedly battled over the Texas state standards for history and social science education in public schools for decades. Recently, some Texas Republicans have been pushing for an “1836 project” to promote a patriotic (and conservative) vision of Texas history. The Texas legislative initiative is part of a broader movement by conservatives against curricula that incorporate multicultural perspectives, critical race theories, and anti-racist stances.

University of Texas at Austin

The Texas debate thus fits into a broader national debate over historical memory and public education. Jim Grossman explains that “unfortunately this legislation is part of a national agenda to diminish the quality of history instruction in the United States. Legislators in Idaho, Iowa, Louisiana, Missouri, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, and West Virginia have introduced bills that generally purport to protect academic freedom and eliminate discrimination but actually make it difficult for teachers to discuss racism and other structures of inequality important to our nation’s history. A careful reading of much of this legislation indicates that teachers would be taking a serious risk if their class took a deep dive into the AHA’s Statement on the History of Racist Violence in the United States, endorsed by 97 scholarly organizations.”

Conservatives across the United States have been vocal in their opposition to the inclusion of anti-racist perspectives on American history, especially through the 1619 Project, published by The New York Times.

The American Historical Association (AHA) has expressed concerns about conservative legislation that seeks to impose curricula on history teachers nationwide. Conservative legislators are seeking to constrict the ability of trained high school and middle school history and social science teachers to do their jobs professionally.

Grossman emphasizes that “nearly all of these bills seek to eliminate ‘divisive concepts’ from classrooms, drawing directly on a tendentious 2020 executive order that the AHA declared‘ neither necessary nor useful.’ The goal clearly is to heal division by denying its history, to inculcate patriotism by celebrating the nation’s past rather than understanding it. We stand by our vigorous insistence on teaching the complex textures of that history, rather than whitewashing it.”

The AHA Statement on the History of Racist Violence in the United States asserts that: “Division has a history, both in the United States and across the world. Denying this history cannot erase it. Rather than banning the ‘divisive concepts’ from any educational venue—whether a classroom, a museum, a national park, or a workplace training session—historians seek to draw public attention to these concepts so that they can be discussed, debated, and ultimately challenged. Unity is not achieved by pushing division under the rug; it can be won even in the face of difference.”

The Dallas Morning News reports on the debates over history and social science teaching in Texas. The AHA Statement on the History of Racist Violence in the United States is available on the website of the American Historical Association.

This entry was posted in Education Policy, History in the Media, History of Race and Racism, Human Rights, Humanities Education, Political Culture, The Past Alive: Teaching History, United States History and Society. Bookmark the permalink.

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