The war over American and Texas history and how it should be taught is expanding – in the nation’s capital as well as in Texas and other states. On one side are political spin and lies. On the other side are education and facts.
In Austin, the House is advancing legislation, already approved by the Senate (HB3979 and SB2202), designed to restrict the lessons teachers can teach about the racist side of Texas as well as discourage political participation by students. Similar bills to ban the teaching of so-called critical race theory are being considered in other states. They are in sharp contrast to President Biden’s plans to promote teaching in the classroom that includes “racially, ethnically, culturally and linguistically diverse perspectives.”
Biden is fighting racism and inequality. The Texas legislative majority would let racism and inequality continue to fester unchallenged by deliberately prolonging the fear and ignorance that helps spawn both.
Racism and inequality have infected our history from Day One, but political sensitivities were aroused a few years ago when The New York Times published the “1619 Project,” a comprehensive examination of the origins of slavery in the United States and the systemic consequences of the evil institution that we still suffer from today, including its lingering impact on an economic system sharply divided between haves and have-nots.
Then-President Trump reacted by creating the 1776 Commission to sanitize the history curriculum by deemphasizing the nation’s sins, both past and present, and promoting Trump’s narrow white man’s view of a “patriotic” America.
Upon taking office, Biden promptly got rid of the 1776 Commission and has been promoting more diverse perspectives on our history, acknowledging the lasting impact of slavery on inequality and pointing out the significant contributions of Black Americans.
And Republican leaders across the country are pushing back. In Washington, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and about three dozen of his Republican Senate colleagues protested the new president’s focus in a recent letter to Education Secretary Miguel Cardona.
They contended that Biden was promoting a “politicized and divisive agenda” fixated on the country’s flaws, not its greatness, and would hurt Americans’ pride in their country.
Biden is promoting an agenda, but it is simply an agenda to teach history as it occurred and make sure our students understand the consequences of history, even those parts of our history some people would rather ignore. Our students deserve nothing less. The politicization and divisiveness are being stirred up by Biden’s opponents, including the supporters of the Texas legislation, who have put politics over education and what’s best for our state and country.
Texas students must be encouraged to fully explore and understand the racism, sexism and other injustices in our history and society if Texas is to provide all members of a rapidly diversifying population with a chance at an equitable future. And their teachers must be free to guide them.