Revisiting the Hullabaloo about the Civil War, Slavery, and Racism in Textbooks and Standards

There has been allot of hullabaloo about the Civl War recently. Just yesterday, South Carolina voted to take down the confederate flag. However, there are still a variety of folks in the South that are romanticizing Civil War and want to teach children that it was not about slavery. Back in 2010, there was an adoption of the new social studies standards in Texas. Jenn Gidman, at Newser sums up the reoccurrence of the standards and textbook issue in her piece New Texas Texts: Slavery Was ‘Side Issue’ of Civil War:

About 5 million Texas school children will get their hands on brand-new social studies textbooks when school starts up again, the Houston Chronicle reports—textbooks that USA Today says are “misleading, racially prejudiced, and, at times, flat-out false.” The beef with the new primers: They’re in keeping with state education standards adopted in 2010 that gloss over slavery as the main impetus for the Civil War, instead placing it as a peripheral factor behind “sectionalism” and “states’ rights,” reports the Washington Post. Slavery was merely a “side issue to the Civil War,” one member of the state’s board of education said when the standards—which include Moses and Solomon as prime influencers in the founding of our country—were greenlit in 2010. Per the Post, the new standards “barely address racial segregation,” and the state’s guidelines for history instruction have zip on the Jim Crow laws or the Ku Klux Klan.

Many critics aren’t on board with the new standards, revamped to correct what the board thought was a too-liberal stance on American history. Ex-Education Secretary Rod Paige tried to sway the board in 2010, saying, per the Texas Tribune, “I’m of the view that the history of slavery and civil rights are dominant elements of our history and have shaped who we are today. We may not like our history, but it’s history, and it’s important to us today.” But his pleas seemed to have fallen on deaf ears, because the standards were pushed through with the states’ rights angle. The Washington Post editorial board published its take on the matter Monday, writing that “by distorting history, Texas tells its students a dishonest and damaging story about the United States that prevents children from understanding the country today.”

Well the revisionist textbooks are about to hit classroom in Texas and ELSEWHERE. I discussed in the post Texas: The butt of many jokes that the Lone Star State is the second-largest purchaser of textbooks in the country followed by California. Thus public school districts in many other states follow Texas lead because texts are often mass-produced by the publisher.

Have you studied the representation of racism in standards? The cycle of peer reviewed work is quite long. It can take a year or two or more to originate an idea, conduct the research, write the article, submit to a journal for peer review, wait for a decision (if your article is rejected you must resubmit and wait several months for another review), once accepted then you go through revisions, edit proofs and then finally wait for the article to be released. So, by the time our analysis of the 2010 standards was published in the Harvard Educational Review— one of the most widely read education journals in the world— it was 2012. In the very early days of Cloaking Inequity I wrote a post about the release of our article about the Texas social studies standards: “Illusion of Inclusion,” Article about Race and Standards in Harvard Educational Review. The original post is embarrassingly brief because it was written in the first month of this blog. Because of the recent flare up with the confederate flag and the social studies textbooks finally hitting the classroom, I want give that peer-reviewed article, one of my favorites, a proper post today. Here is what we found when we took a very careful look at the social studies standards:

The research. Our textual analysis illustrated the limited knowledge about race, racism, and communities of color found in the revised social studies history standards in Texas. We noted how specific narratives of U.S. national history were embodied in and reflected by the standards that addressed individuals/groups of color, race, and racism. We paid particular attention to how these standards positioned the contributions of individuals and groups of color and the role of race and racism as nonexistent, peripheral, or tangential to U.S. national history. The Texas social studies standards case also demonstrates how curricular knowledge is subtly recrafted by distorting the inclusion of race, racism, and groups of color in U.S. history.

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Table 1 from The illusion of inclusion: Race and standards published by the Harvard Educational Review

Many systemic reformers in the standards, testing, and accountability movements have acted as though government could create standards without making allowances for the historic divisions in American opinions about education and our appetite for “mortal combat” on these issues (Cohen, 1996, p. 124). Early on, Apple (1992) argued that there was little discussion of standards’ ideological and social grounding and effects. He predicted that standards would be used in ways that “would largely lend support only to the conservative agenda for school reform” (p. 412). Cohen and Apple are confirmed prognosticators two decades later as the Texas case exemplifies how recent standards policy in Texas and elsewhere have subtly obfuscated race and racism in the canon of required knowledge. However, as critical educational scholars note, where there is power, there also is resistance. In the context of Texas, this has meant the pursuit of an ongoing and persistent challenge to the state’s definition of what constitutes legitimate historical knowledge about communities of color. Numerous activists have coalesced around this issue of curriculum and standards, helping to thwart some of the most egregious revsions of these standards. In addition to analyzing the standards across various stages of the process (Noboa, 2012), their community agency also helped make the discussion of standards a public national debate.

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Table 2 from The illusion of inclusion: Race and standards published by the Harvard Educational Review

The Texas case may just be the tip of the iceberg, as the concentration of curricular power in the hands of a few political appointees and their “experts” has gained momentum in other states. For example, Arizona’s House Bill 2281 has banned ethnic studies in K–12 education. The legislation is rooted in the belief that histories of minority groups are adequately represented in the state standards for students because they are “all individuals and not of the race they were born into” (Gordon & Reinhart, 2011). On its face, the Texas and Arizona cases appear different, but, in fact, they are both subtractive in nature. Valenzuela (1999) identified subtractive schooling as the detrimental effects of policies and practices that minimize culture and language. In these state-level cases of standards gone awry, policy makers have usurped knowledge about race and racism and forced their narrow paradigm on districts, schools, and classrooms. For example, Arizona has disallowed local school districts such as Tucson Unified, a district that serves large numbers of poor and minority students, to teach a broader, richer, and representative culturally relevant curriculum. Arizona is yet another recent case where hegemonic political power has been wielded in a state capital to define educational standards according to particular viewpoints that may or may not resonate with local districts, schools, and their communities. (This issue is currently being litigated and Arizona lost the most recent round)

This study also highlights the need for future research at the classroom level to understand how racism embedded in standards shapes school curriculum and teaching and affects the day-to-day lives of Asian American, Black, Native American, Latino, and White students taking social studies and history courses in Texas and elsewhere. If standards and the exit tests aligned to them are the primary curricular focus of teachers, we suspect that secondary students will have diminished opportunities to acquire both a critical cultural memory of race in the United States and an understanding of how this history continues to manifest in the present…

photo1In the post Absent?: Native Americans and Standards I focused on the representation of Native Americans in the Texas social studies standards. I wrote that Native American leaders are completely excluded from the U.S. history social studies standards in Texas. We found:

Overall, fifty-one of the historical figures in the U.S. history TEKS are White. Of the twenty-four historical figures that comprise content knowledge recognized in the TEKS as mandatory for students to learn, only three are African American and two are Latina/o. None of the individuals are Native American or Asian. This stands in stark contrast to the nineteen White historical figures that made the “including” list. We identify a similar pattern among the list of historical individuals that fall into the “such as” category. While thirty-two White individuals are in the list, seven African Americans and four Latinos receive this designation. Neither Native American nor Asian historical figures are represented in the optional group.

Including=Required and Such As=Optional

Our comprehensive textual analysis that went beyond leaders to all TEKS addressing groups of color found:

Our findings illustrate that although there are a modest number of TEKS specifically addressing the history of African Americans and Latinos—Native American and Asian American history remains largely invisible.

These silences (e.g. Asian American and Native American history) enabled by standardization leave open to fiat whose history gets included and how.

Our Harvard Educational Review article demonstrates that social studies standards need to be analyzed meticulously using the lens of race. Despite the equity discourse enveloping NCLB, our textual analysis of the TEKS is a cautionary tale for systemic reformers, as it highlights how race, culture, and difference can be centralized and obscured in very nuanced ways—an illusion of inclusion. We argue that the analysis of standards and curriculum must be contextualized by the ideological and racial politics embedded within the equity discourse of standards and aligned testing. The original intent of many systemic reformers was to create standards and align high-stakes tests to foment equity and excellence in schools. How- ever, considering the Texas case, whether subsequent policy makers elsewhere across the United States will be able to resist co-opting state and national standards to instead detach knowledge from epistemological debates and standardize knowledge for their own political purposes remains to be seen.

Citation: Vasquez Heilig, J., Brown, K. & Brown, A. (2012). The illusion of inclusion: Race and standardsHarvard Educational Review, 83(3), 403-424.HER

For all of Cloaking Inequity’s posts on Standards click here.

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Please blame Robert E. Lee for any typos.

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p.s. For my very personal take on education reform, slavery and the film Django see the post Ed Policy Unchained: Django, House Negros, and School Reformers

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