Bad standards: Not just in Texas
Texas isn’t the only place with lousy social studies standards, though you might be forgiven for thinking so considering all the attention that the Texas Board of Education has received in recent months as it adopted a new set of standards.
The majority of the members voted Friday on the new standards, which were originally written by a team of educators and then revised by a majority of the board who chose to insinuate their own religious and political views into the curriculum of nearly 5 million schoolchildren.
The standards, among other things, now portray the United States as a country founded by men who were guided by religious principles and were not really keen on creating a secular state. Additionally, they promote the benefits of low taxes, little regulation and free enterprise.
There are so many dates and names and events for students to memorize that some educators say that the standards leave no room for higher-order thinking, which is supposed to be the point of education.
Fears have been expressed by some educators that these decisions will affect other states, because the major textbook companies will use much of the material from the textbooks they create for Texas, the second biggest U.S. market (after California), in books used in states that don’t have their own editions.
It is probably time, then, to remember that history/social studies textbooks and standards are problems well beyond the borders of Texas and have been for a long time.
In Indiana, for example, the state Board of Education last year warned local school districts in an open letter not to use many of the social studies texts that were actually adopted by the state because, it said, they are lousy. The letter explains that the state education board is required by statute to adopt textbooks for use if they meet very minimal criteria. But that doesn’t mean board members have to like the books. The letter said in part:
“...As a board we have expressed our concern that the now standardized form of social studies textbooks -- jammed full of facts without interesting prose, racing through data without telling the story (good and bad) of our country -- may jeopardize both student interest in history as a subject and the effective learning of the country’s principles and values as a predicate to participating as a citizen of our nation. You should feel no obligation to utilize the standard form of social studies textbooks.
"To the contrary, we urge schools to move cautiously and not adopt social studies textbooks without giving thought to what book or other instructional materials can best help bring social studies to life. We continue to encourage local districts and educators to make content decisions that are premised on presenting material that both aligns to the state’s subject matter standards and engages students’ interests, that detail the complexity of the human experience and elicit richer student consideration of the history, values and principles important to the meaning of America, its past and developing place in the world and the fabric of its culture. This is critically important in United States history as a foundation element of educating students toward good citizenship.”
“This is no bastion of conservatism. We have a Democratic governor and a Democratic legislature; both U.S. senators are Democrats, as are four of our five U.S. representatives. But our social studies standards are profoundly conservative -- in big and little ways. There is no recognition of the social emergency that we confront: a deeply unequal and unsustainable world, hurtling toward an ecological crisis without parallel in human history. The standards portray U.S. society as fundamentally harmonious, with laws designed to promote fairness and progress. Today’s wars don’t exist. Nor does hunger or poverty....
“Oregon’s high school World History standards require students to learn about: how the agricultural revolution contributed to and accompanied the Industrial Revolution; concepts of imperialism and nationalism; ‘how European colonizers interacted with indigenous populations of Africa, India, and Southeast Asia and how the native populations responded’; Japanese expansion and the consequences for Japan and Asia during the 20th century; the impact of the Chinese revolution of 1911 and the cause of China’s Communist Revolution of 1949; causes and consequences of the Russian Revolution of 1917; causes and consequences of the Mexican Revolution of 1911-1917; causes of World War I and why the U.S. entered; World War II; the Holocaust; the Cold War; the causes and impact of the Korean and Vietnam wars.
“I’m not joking. In one year. And that’s only a sampling of what students are expected to learn.”
Now we know two states have bad social studies standards. Tell us about the standards in your state.
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| May 24, 2010; 6:30 AM ET
Categories: History, National Standards | Tags: Indiana textbooks, Oregon standards, Texas board of education, Texas social studies standards, Texas standards, history, social studies standards, standards, textbooks
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