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Every morning in Texas school children recite an oath to their state that contains the words, “I promise you allegiance, Texas, a state under God.”
Now, a flurry of proposed measures that could soon become law would encourage even greater loyalty to Texas in the classrooms and public spaces of the state as Republican lawmakers seek to reshape history teaching in Texas and add references to slavery and anti-slavery – Downplaying Mexican discrimination that is part of the establishment of the state.
The proposals in Texas, a state that is influencing curricula across the country with its huge textbook market, are some of the most aggressive efforts to control teaching in American history. And they come because nearly a dozen other Republican-led states are trying to prohibit or limit the role of slavery and the ubiquitous effects of racism.
Idaho was the first state to sign a measure holding back funding for schools teaching such lessons. And lawmakers in Louisiana, New Hampshire, and Tennessee have introduced bills that prohibit teaching about the enduring legacy of slavery and segregationist laws, or that say any state or country is inherently racist or sexist.
“The idea that history is a project decided in politics is a recipe for disaster,” said Raul Ramos, a University of Houston historian who specializes in the American West.
Part of the positioning is politics, as is common in Texas, where activists have long organized themselves to give textbooks conservative leanings. A particularly active, Republican-controlled legislature has pushed tough action from a host of new voting restrictions to a ban on abortions after six weeks of gestation.
But Texas history-taking has alarmed educators, historians, and activists who said they largely ignore the role of slavery and campaigns against Mexican violence and fail to educate a generation of students growing up in a state that is a huge one subject to demographic change.
A move that the Texas House recently passed largely partisan would limit teacher-led discussions of current events. Prohibition of course credits for political activism or lobbying, including students who volunteer for civil rights groups; and banning teaching The 1619 Project, an initiative by the New York Times aimed at reshaping US history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the center of national narrative.
The bill would also restrict how teachers in classrooms in Texas can discuss how racism has affected the legal system in the state, long a segregationist bastion, and in the rest of the country. Another bill that sailed through Texas House would create a “Promotion of Patriotic Education” committee on the secession of the state from Mexico in 1836, mainly of men who fought for the expansion of slavery. And a third bill would prevent exhibits at the San Antonio Alamo complex from declaring that key figures in the Texas Revolution were slaveholders.
Mr. Ramos questioned how the Texas Revolution, a six-month rebellion that ended in the spring of 1836, could be linked to patriotism and freedom when the state’s new constitution explicitly legalized slavery seven years after Mexico was abolished.
“How do you have freedom when you have slavery?” Mr. Ramos asked. “Eighteen thirty-six values would have permanently enslaved African Americans.”
The dispute over the proposed legislation tests the boundaries of the Texas State of Emergency, with some questioning whether a broad sense of pride among residents should mean glossing over some of the state’s most painful chapters.
The proposed laws have also sparked ideological battles on everything from the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, in which the Republicans of Texas rejected a proposal requiring schools to educate about the insurrection, to the immigration status of whites American slave traders who settled illegally in what was then northern Mexico before he was one of the founders of the state.
“Do you want our Texan children to be taught that the system of government in the US and Texas is nothing more than a cover-up of white supremacy?” Steve Toth, a Republican lawmaker from the Houston suburbs, asked when he was introducing the bill banning the doctrine that the United States is racist.
Texas requires students to take state history courses in fourth and seventh grades, and some teachers have urged lawmakers to take a nuanced look at the complex history of the state. Juan Carmona, director of the social studies department at Donna High School in the Rio Grande Valley, said he was concerned about the chilling effect the proposed legislation could have on classroom discussions.
“It’s like you don’t want us to teach critical thinking because you want, ‘OK that’s the causes, the effects, that’s it,” said Mr Carmona, who was part of a 2018 effort that led to The long result led to the sought implementation of a curriculum for Mexican-American studies by the Texas State Board of Education.
Others have questioned the intent of a chauvinist approach to civics and history in a state undergoing profound demographic change. Latinos are on the verge of dwarfing Anglos as the largest ethnic group in Texas, and nearly half of the state’s children are Hispanic.
“This kind of mythologizing can be really exclusive for students who are not part of the curriculum,” said Maggie Stern, organizer of the Texas bureau of the Children’s Defense Fund.
Over the past year, some aspects of Texas history have come under pressure when multiple police killings sparked national consciousness.
Authorities removed a statue of a Texas ranger from Dallas Love Field Airport last year when they criticized the rangers for lynching of people of Mexican origin. The University of Texas recently changed the names of campus buildings in Austin and Arlington that honor avowed segregationists.
While debates over some of the bills have erupted into typical partisan arguments, including a Texas Heroes Act now before the Senate that initially attempted to downplay how slavery was a driving force in the Texas Revolution, the proposed laws should be put in place An 1836 project received support from both Republicans and Democrats.
The bill was inspired by Donald J. Trump’s commission of 1776, which also called for “patriotic education” about the history of the United States. It was ridiculed by scholars and canceled by President Biden on his first day in office.
The Texas 1836 Project Bill, now before the Senate, would empower the governor, lieutenant governor, and House Speaker – all Republicans – to appoint a committee of nine to “raise awareness of Texas values, which continue to limitlessly stimulate prosperity in this state. “
The committee would ensure that the public received “patriotic education” in state parks, monuments, and museums. It would also produce a booklet that would be distributed to anyone who obtains a Texas driver’s license extolling facets of state history that “promote freedom and freedom for businesses and families.”
Republicans added changes to the bill requiring the project to also raise awareness of the state’s Christian heritage and gun ownership traditions while recognizing the Texan origins of the annual Juneteenth holiday, which commemorates the emancipation of slaves.
Democrats were also allowed to amend the law, adding requirements to include the contributions of Hispanic people to the state and the role Texans have played in strengthening voting rights since the 1960s. The House legislature passed the bill by a margin of 124 to 19.
State Representative Chris Turner, a Democrat who tabled the voting amendments, said he supported the legislation despite fears that the Texas 1836 project might “over-romanticize” Texas history.
Donald Frazier, a historian who is the director of the Texas Center at Schreiner University in Kerrville, said he supported the law and viewed it as “a response to the absolute lack of historical expertise of any kind.”
“There is much to be admired in the history of Texas and there is much to be terrified,” said Mr. Frazier, who added that any honest narration of the state’s history should address issues such as slavery. The key to the Texas 1836 project would be the selection of the committee members.
“If you choose historians who are worth their salt, who are honest about their profession,” he said, “nobody will have to worry.”