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Texas Bans Thinking - Again

by Michael I. Niman, ArtVoice 9/25/14

Though they’re thousands of miles away, it’s getting embarrassing sharing a country with these folks. Last week, the Texas Board of Education announced it is moving to ban a nationally recognized advance placement (AP) college history course from being taught in the Lone Star State. The curriculum in question, developed and administered across the United States by the College Board, was recently revamped to minimize rote memorization of factoids, focusing instead on the development of historical thinking skills.More specifically, the new standard emphasizes “chronological reasoning, comparing and contextualizing, crafting historical arguments using historical evidence, and interpreting and synthesizing historical narrative.” This brings the AP course more in line with a real college course. Too bad that dog won’t hunt in Texas.

The new curriculum, according to the College Board, brings the course “in line with college and university U.S. history survey courses,” increasing its focus “on the history of the Americas from 1491 to 1607 and from 1980 to the present.” The new plan guarantees that the course will continue to be accepted for college credit at over 3,300 colleges and universities globally. But it also means out with the Washington Cherry Tree Chopping incident and other Texas favorites, and in with some gnarly periods of European conquest, and some always awkward to talk about recent history, which unfortunately includes about a dozen difficult to explain wars.

The Texans seem inspired by last month’s attack on the same advanced placement curriculum by the Republican National Committee (RNC), who, in a resolution adopted at their annual meeting, condemned it for representing the founding fathers as the “oppressors and exploiters” that their journals and other pieces of historical evidence indicate they were. The preferred descriptor for these slave masters and colonizers, according to the RNC, should be “the dreamers and innovators who built our country.”

Following the RNC’s lead, the Texas Board of Education is moving to essentially hold that state’s highest performing high school students hostage, not allowing them to earn AP credits until, well, I’m not really quite sure. The period the new course covers will likely examine Columbus (Colon), who, upon landing in the Caribbean in 1492, ordered his men to capture up “seven head of women, young ones and adults, and three small children,” this quote coming from the original logs of the voyage of discovery, now in the Spanish archives. Writing to the King and Queen of Spain on March 4, 1493, Columbus promised to deliver up “so many slaves that they are innumerable.” Unfortunately for the entrepreneurial explorer, however, the initial specimens he attempted to deliver to Spain mostly failed to survive, thus derailing his innovative dream. And unfortunately for the RNC, the evidence does seem to paint a clear picture of “oppressors and exploiters.” That’s the history. I’m sorry it sucks. But if Germans can face up to theirs, and be a better society for doing so, why can’t we follow suit in this hemisphere? Isn’t this why we teach history?

Of course, even if the early colonizers in the 1491—1607 period the course plans to cover are the “dreamers and innovators,” the Republican National Committee envisions, they weren’t quite the “dreamers and innovators who built our country,” since this all went down in the Caribbean and later in Central and South America. A lasting British colony in North America wasn’t settled until 1607, after the period of the AP course’s focus, making the RNC’s point erroneous, though still rather offensive to non-genocidalists.

It’s important to point out that while the RNC is prone to embarrassing policy proclamations, they don’t actually make any real policy, specializing instead in blocking any policy from being made by others. The Texas Republicans, by contrast, do get to make policy. Their attack on evidence-based history is only their latest salvo against uncomfortable truths and realities. Back in 2012, the Republican Party of Texas, in its platform, actually declared, “We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills.” Really, I don’t make this stuff up. I’m just not that creative. The platform goes on to specifically oppose the teaching of “critical thinking skills and similar programs that . . . have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.” This pretty much cuts the social studies curriculum down to teaching the “Pledge of Allegiance,” that being its repetition, not its gestation. And they intend to start not teaching early, voicing their opposition to early childhood education (Head Start) programs. You gotta love Texas, unless, of course, you love truth, reality or children.

Dr. Michael I. Niman is a professor of journalism and media studies at SUNY Buffalo State. His previous columns are at, archived at, and available globally through syndication.

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