People expect their children's education to be unbiased and factual, especially in regards to history. After all, history is supposed to be a study of the past and actual events. But as evidenced by controversies over Texas textbooks, it is incredibly easy to rewrite and simplify the truth.
In fact, in the early 2000s, people noticed the information in multiple Texas textbooks was skewed, sugar-coating pertinent issues like slavery to suit an ahistorical and offensive narrative. Some suggested the Texas Board of Education wanted to give America's racist and problematic past a more favorable slant. Because Texas purchases so many of the nation's textbooks, the issue received nationwide attention. Parents, instructors, and reporters across the United States began to question the material given to younger generations. The answers they found were less than encouraging.
Though the textbooks ultimately released were not as bad as initially feared, they raised important questions about continuing historical inaccuracy and bias in the Texas curriculum.
The Revised Texas Curriculum Attempted To Correct A "Liberal Bias" In Education
In May 2010, the Texas school board voted to change standards for social studies in the state's schools. These inaccurate changes were intended to correct a preexisting, perceived liberal bias, and some of the falsehoods actually made it into the textbooks. The problematic additions asserted McCarthyism (a large-scale blacklisting of suspected communists during the 1950s) was appropriate and suggested international organizations like the United Nations were dangerous to America.
The revised study materials also increased the amount of Confederate generals students had to learn about.
Some People On The Board Of Education Suggested American Slavery Was A Minor Issue
Certain members of the Texas Board of Education seemed to discredit the effect slavery had on America. In fact, in 2010, Republican Patricia Hardy said:
[Slavery was] a side issue to the Civil War... There would be those who would say the reason for the Civil War was over slavery. No. It was over states's rights.
Hardy's statement is fundamentally and factually flawed, though. On February 2, 1861, the state of Texas specifically cited slavery as a reason for withdrawing from the Union. And though many things contributed to the Civil War, historians largely agree that to avoid or downplay the role slavery played in some southern states' decision to secede is to ignore a critical component of the war.
A Texas Textbook Referred To Enslaved People As Workers, Implying Complicity
One of Texas's bigger textbook controversies occurred in 2015. Roni Dean-Burren noticed a caption in her son's geography textbook and found it highly problematic. The notation purported members of the African diaspora were "workers."
We conducted a close review of the content and agree that our language in that caption did not adequately convey that Africans were both forced into migration and to labor against their will as slaves... We believe we can do better.
The Textbooks Seemingly Only Acknowledged When White People Were Exploited
People were frustrated by McGraw-Hill's textbooks for referring to enslaved Africans as workers while suggesting English and other European indentured servants worked for "little or no pay." The language framed African peoples as voluntary workers, while primarily white indentured servants were clearly shown to be exploited.
Roni Dean-Burren, the mother who helped make the teaching material discrepancies go viral, also noted:
It talked about the USA being a country of immigration, but mentioning the slave trade in terms of immigration was just off... It’s that nuance of language. This is what erasure looks like.