As you’ve probably heard, the Texas school board recently gave preliminary approval to a new social studies curriculum — changes that will potentially impact social studies and history curricula nationwide because Texas is one of the largest textbook markets in the nation.
Since January, Republicans on the board have passed more than 100 amendments to the 120-page curriculum standards affecting history, sociology and economics courses from elementary to high school. The standards were proposed by a panel of teachers.
“We are adding balance,” said Dr. Don McLeroy, the leader of the conservative faction on the board, after the vote. “History has already been skewed. Academia is skewed too far to the left.”
In short, the changes were made because the conservative majority on the board believes the curriculum proposed by high school and social studies teachers reflects their left-wing bias. And the list of proposed changes is indeed radical — see here and here.
Here’s my take:
I have no trouble whatsoever believing that the current curriculum has a left-wing bias. History professors are most certainly biased — they vote at least 7-to-1 Democrat, just one statistic in a mountain of evidence — and high school social studies teachers learned how to teach by taking lots of classes from history professors.
That said, McLeroy and his friends clearly have little interest in teaching an “unbiased” version of history. There’s a big difference between tempering the unwavering enthusiasm for LBJ’s Great Society, or ensuring the gold standard is explained properly, and specifically mandating a Judeo-Christian chronicling of the nation’s founding. There’s a big difference between reducing errors of omission and rewriting history to favor your own ideological persuasions.
Okay, so at least we can all agree on the problem — that both the teachers and the school board are biased — right? Not exactly. The Times, for one, reliably sticks its head in the sand on this point:
It was a disturbing intervention by the board’s Republican majority into educational decisions best left to the teachers and scholars who have toiled for almost a year to produce the new curriculum standards…. [Students] deserve to have a curriculum chosen for its educational value, not politics or ideology.
I do sympathize with the teachers, but my sympathy is more in line with Art Carden’s insights:
I would suppose that being a public school teacher in the face of such controversies is demoralizing because control of your classroom is in the hands of some far-off board or bureaucrat indulging the pretense of knowledge. Theirs is a fatal conceit for everyone involved: teachers’ hands are tied, students’ options are limited, and everybody loses. I know I would be demoralized if my syllabi were handed down from a College Board in Nashville or Washington, and I’m pretty sure our students would be demoralized if they couldn’t take their business elsewhere.
Maybe there simply isn’t any solution to the problem of bias in educating future generations of leaders, but Art alludes to a more practical solution: getting out of the business of mandated statewide curricula. As Russ Roberts explains:
Of course it’s going to a political decision instead of the one that’s best for the students. But maybe just as importantly, it imposes a one-size-fits-all solution. So while I happen to like more Hayek, I’m sure there are many things I wouldn’t like about the Texas state schoool decision. But all parents are stuck with the state-wide decisions…. [I]nstead of competition among schools over what children should learn, it’s a top-down decision. Bad idea.
Although some people will be more than a little upset at the thought that someone, somewhere, might be learning social studies in a manner they feel to be harmful, it sure beats having a small and politicized group of people decide for students all across Texas (and the nation?) decide what’s in the best interests of all concerned.