By: Rep. Eric Johnson (D-Dallas)
On April 19, an 8th grade American history assignment was shared with the public that required students at a public charter school in San Antonio to list the “positive aspects” of slavery. The assignment was an activity found in one of the history textbooks that is used in classrooms throughout the State of Texas. This means that young people across the state are being taught that the institution of slavery was something other than reprehensible.
Another outcry over the contents of public school textbooks occurred when a parent discovered that one of their children’s textbooks described the Transatlantic Slave Trade as a period during which “millions of workers” were brought to America. Texas schools bought nearly 140,000 copies of that textbook. Another textbook titled “Texas United States History” discusses how some slaves were treated “kindly” and provided “adequate food and clothing.”
These descriptions found in textbooks used by children all over Texas serve only to whitewash history by giving children a false idea that slavery wasn’t as horrific of an institution as it really was. Slaves were tortured, beaten, raped, and brutalized. They were stripped of all personal freedoms and forced to serve a system that branded them as property and nothing more. It is detrimental to the future of our state to teach children an incorrect version of history.
Curriculum standards and all instructional materials, including textbooks, for public and public charter school classrooms in Texas are vetted and approved by the Texas State Board of Education. Although a law passed in 2011 allows schools to use instructional materials that are not recommended by the Board, majority of schools still use textbooks on the Board’s endorsed list. There are no educational requirements a person has to meet in order to serve on the Board. This means that the individuals who are determining the contents of textbooks are not required to have a college degree.
In 2015, the Board rejected a proposal that would have required university experts to fact check public school textbooks. It is not surprising that the Board refused to put instructional materials in the hands of experts. A current member of the State Board of Education was once quoted saying that slavery was an “after issue” and “not the reason” for the Civil War. As a member of the Board, she has the power to determine the content studied in Texas’ U.S. History classrooms.
Politicians who want you to believe that slavery has “positive aspects” and was not the cause of the Civil War should not be writing or dictating the contents of textbooks. It is a disservice to Texas children to continue allowing counterfactual information to be placed in their instructional materials.
Texas’ American history curriculum should be in the hands of academics and subject matter experts who are distinguished in their fields. The 86th Texas Legislature needs to take a hard look at how the state determines what instructional content is acceptable in public school classrooms.