Monday, January 25, 2010

See What I'm Up Against?

Okay, you probably all know the stories of the Texas Education Board's attempts to change the state's social studies curriculum to "downplay the contributions of civil rights leaders, minimiz[e] an 'emphasis on multiculturalism,' and try to 'exonerate' Joe McCarthy." (Follow the links in that article for more details). The Texas Freedom Network has accused the board--comprised of 10 Republicans and 5 Democrats--of "blatant politicization of social studies curriculum."

Well, here comes a new highlight of their efforts:

What do the authors of the children's book Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? and a 2008 book called Ethical Marxism: The Categorical Imperative of Liberation have in common?

Both are named Bill Martin and, for now, neither is being added to Texas schoolbooks.

In its haste to sort out the state's social studies curriculum standards this month, the State Board of Education tossed children's author Martin, who died in 2004, from a proposal for the third-grade section. Board member Pat Hardy, R-Weatherford, who made the motion, cited books he had written for adults that contain "very strong critiques of capitalism and the American system."

Trouble is, the Bill Martin Jr. who wrote the Brown Bear series never wrote anything political, unless you count a book that taught kids how to say the Pledge of Allegiance, his friends said. The book on Marxism was written by Bill Martin, a philosophy professor at DePaul University in Chicago.

The Texas students subjected to years of what I call "only-white-men-and-war-battles-are-important" history are the ones I get in my surveys, fresh out of high school. A good portion of them will already question my ability, authority, teaching style, etc, because I am a woman of color. Combine that hostility with the fact that I teach the survey from a social and cultural history perspective and emphasize "shifting the lens"--viewing an event or era or concept from diverse perspectives--and you get a situation that makes me dread-until-I-am-sick walking into a classroom sometimes.

And this does not just affect elle, the historian. It affects elle, the mama, as well. Last week, I wrote on facebook and twitter about experiences my son was having in social studies classes. As one of a few black kids in fifth grade, he notices the other students look at him when black people come up during class (last week it was Harriet Tubman and Cinque of the Amistad). I'd point out that that is partially a result of teaching a history in which black people randomly pop up rather than being understood as an integral part of the story of this country. Of course, that is a reflection of a much larger scale erasure and othering--my son exists not as an individual, but as representative of a group in which one can easily stand in for another.

My son, big admirer of President Barack Obama, was also upset by the fact that his teacher talked negatively about "Obama Healthcare," telling the children that it was going to cost a trillion dollars and that even their grandchildren's children would still be paying for it. I already had an encounter with her when she sent out a short, snippity note about how our school district wouldn't be showing Obama's speech to school children a few months ago (ours was the only district here that didn't--probably speaks volumes).

From my position in the Lone Star State, I have to ask, that fear that conservatives had--that Obama was trying to indoctrinate their children--is that called irony or hypocrisy?

Because I'm really worried about what they're teaching--and not teaching--my son.


Maria said...

As one of a few black kids in fifth grade, he notices the other students look at him when black people come up during class (last week it was Harriet Tubman and Cinque of the Amistad).

My brother described the same phenomenon in his class - he was one of two or three Latin@ kids in his grade school classes, and whenever a Hispanic name or person came up (which happened a lot when studying the colonization of South America), he said everyone in the class would turn to look at him. (He would describe it with an accompanying "sshhhhOOOM" noise, like the whip-pan noise on sitcoms.) He used to hate the sections with a lot of Hispanic characters because he didn't like being the center of so much attention.

quarter-life-crisis said...

This is the very reason I will be developing a love of history/reading into my future children. I hate hearing things like this.

Revelations and ruminations from one southern sistorian...