What will students learn about segregation if the State Board of Education approves new social studies textbooks publishers have submitted this year for use in Texas public schools? Bowing to the desires of right-wing politicians on the State Board of Education, some of the textbooks give legitimacy to neo-Confederate arguments about “states’ rights” causing the Civil War and the legacy of slavery after that war.
As Edward Countryman, distinguished professor of history at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, points out in his report on the proposed history textbooks for the TFN Education Fund, rejects the textbook suggestions that “states’ rights” was a major cause of secession and the war that followed:
“The concept of ‘states’ rights’ in an abstract sense as a defense of secession did not appear until after the conclusion of the Civil War. Contemporaneous documents and statements by southerners make it plain that slavery was the underlying reason for their action.”
But the failure of some textbooks to teach students about the severity of the discrimination and oppression suffered by African Americans in the decades after the war is also problematic. McGraw-Hill’s United States Government textbook, for example, understates the tremendous and widespread disadvantages of segregated African-American schools compared to white schools during the Jim Crow era:
“Under segregation, all-white and all-African American schools sometimes had similar buildings, buses, and teachers. Sometimes, however, the buildings, buses, and teachers for the all-black schools were lower in quality. Often, African American children had to travel far to get to their school.”
Dr. Emile Lester, an associate professor of political science at the University of Mary Washington who reviewed the government textbooks for the TFN Education Fund, was critical of this passage:
“The case study severely understates the tremendous and widespread disadvantages of African-American schools compared to white schools and the limitations placed on educational opportunities for blacks in general during the Jim Crow period.”
You can read more about the problems in proposed new social studies textbooks for Texas public schools here: tfn.org/history. While you’re there, sign the petition calling for textbooks based on honest, accurate history, not the ideological beliefs of politicians on the State Board of Education. The state board is set to vote in November on which textbooks to approve.