CA legislators rebuke Texas textbooks

JUNE 2, 2010


César Chavez can rest safe in the knowledge that his place among the pantheon of American giants in history books will be preserved in California. The state Senate last week approved by a 25-5 margin Sen. Leland Yee’s bill to ensure that California textbooks are not infected with the conservative curriculum requirements recently approved by the Texas Board of Education.

“This is a pretty straightforward issue,” said Yee when introducing SB1451 to the Senate Appropriations Committee on May 17. “Texas with their Board of Education decided to change some of the framework within their Department of Education. Of note are what I believe are a rewriting of history, particularly looking at reducing the scope of Latino history by downplaying the role of César Chavez, by looking at the importance of the relationship between church and state on different matters of law and education. A number of these kinds of issues raise concerns for me, and I’m sure for many other individuals. What this bill does basically is ask that our state Board of Education look at the impact of those changes onto our framework as we move forward in adopting new textbooks. The cost will be minimum.”

Chavez actually does get a mention in the Texas high school social studies requirements: “The student is expected to identify the roles of significant leaders who supported or opposed the various civil rights movements, including Martin Luther King Jr., César Chavez, Rosa Parks, Betty Friedan, George Wallace, and others.” Of course, placing King, Chavez, Parks and Friedan in the same study list as George Wallace sends liberals into a lather. The Texas requirements include contrasting the Black Panthers’ “approach” to “the philosophically persuasive tone of Martin Luther King Jr.’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech and letter from Birmingham Jail.” Students also must study the role of “George Wallace, Orval Faubus and Lester Maddox and groups, including the congressional bloc of southern Democrats, that sought to maintain the status quo.”

The Texas civil rights requirements take up no more room than a bullet-pointed three-quarters of a page. California’s requirements require two full pages of text. The Chavez requirement is more substantial and reverential: “Students should study how César Chavez and the United Farm Workers’ movement used nonviolent tactics, educated the general public about the working conditions in agriculture, and worked to improve the improve the lives of farm workers.” It could not have been written better by the UFW marketing department or the LA Times.

The Black Panthers are not specifically mentioned in the California civil rights requirements. The closest they get is this: “The peak of legislative activity in 1964-65 was accompanied by a dramatic increase in civil unrest and protest among urban blacks, and 1966 saw the emergence of the Black Power movement.” There is no mention of governors and southern Democrats seeking to maintain the status quo. But California students are required to learn about “the commitment of white people in the South to ‘massive resistance’ against desegregation.”

Comparing the two states’ educational requirements is almost like looking at two different countries. The Texas education system includes an event – Celebrate Freedom Week – that would be considered either quaint or potentially dangerous in much of California. As part of the festivities, students in grades 3-12 have to recite the following text: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness – that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” Attempting to require California students to spout such subversive Tea Partyspeak would likely lead to decades of litigation.

To keep Golden State students safe from such patriotic, religious, right-wing infestation, Yee is seeking to ensure that state educrats maintain the Great Educational Firewall of California. SB1451 reads: “This bill would require the state board, upon completion of the social content review, to inform the Chair of the Assembly Committee on Education, the Chair of the Senate Committee on Education, and the Secretary of Education of content that it interprets to be as a result of a specified action by the Texas Board of Education.”

The bill slams the Texas curriculum revisions as “a sharp departure from widely accepted historical teachings that are driven by an inappropriate ideological desire to influence academic content standards for children in public schools.” That’s in contrast, of course, to the inappropriate ideological desire to influence academic content by California liberals.

Despite the headlines that the Texas textbook revisions generated across the country, there was little discussion when Yee’s bill was brought to the California Senate floor. Yee introduced it, saying, “Within the changes they are talking about in Texas is that slavery never existed. Rather than talking about the slave trade, they want to reword it as the Atlantic triangular trade. They want to say that the Japanese internment had nothing to do with race. And they want to reduce the scope of Latino history by downplaying important Latino heroes such as César Chavez because they felt that César Chavez in fact lacked the stature and impact and overall contributions of so many other individuals, and de-emphasizing the civil rights movement. So again and again I think that those kinds of sensibilities and those kinds of understanding and those kinds of history are not the ones shared by all of us here in California.”

The opposition was brief and sarcastic. “I think this is a fine bill,” said Sen. Dennis Hollingsworth, who voted against it. “We are doing such a great job managing our own affairs in California, particularly in the area of test scores education-wise all throughout that system, that we ought to tell Texas how to do their business as well.”

But fellow Republican Sen. Bob Huff voted for it, saying, “To my esteemed Republican colleagues, it doesn’t change the standards. California has its own standards. We are the largest textbook market in the nation. If we want to change the standards, that’s one thing. But the rest of this is really non-significant.”

Sen. Gloria Romero spoke in favor: “I do think the message also is to the textbook publishers: Do not take California for granted. I think that it sends a very strong signal that what happens in Texas does not necessarily happen or get adopted in California. I’m very concerned  about what did seem to transpire in Texas. But the message is that California will not be, should not be simply a carbon copy of what is adopted in other states.”

Republican Sen. Mark Wyland also voted for the bill. “I think the only appropriate comment on this is that California has its own standards,” he said. “And on a regular basis in each subject those standards are reviewed and the actual content for how the teaching is done is reviewed. It’s already essentially done. At no cost. So it really is moot. But I think by the same token it’s OK to support this. I want to make certain that I’m not saying what Texas has done is wrong. Texas has to make its own decisions, the same that we do. And the decisions they make will not affect what happens with textbooks in California, which will follow our own guidelines.”

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