President Obama’s recent call to revamp the highly contested No Child Left Behind Act could not have arrived at a more ironic time. As Obama promised more progressive goals for public schools, the Texas State Board of Education approved new social studies curriculum rooted in conservative ideology, the superiority of capitalism and limited discussions on the implications of social constructs.
Talk about “progress.”
Most notably, the board rejected an amendment that would increase information on Latino/a historical figures and their integral participation in our nation’s past, avoiding further reference to about 40 percent of the state’s residents who are of Hispanic descent. Hip-hop was also ignored as a cultural development. Economic curriculum was saturated with more proponents of market-based ideologies, while the term capitalism was replaced with the much less stigmatized “free-enterprise system.” Last but not least, the board implemented curriculum emphasizing “personal responsibility for life choices,” such as sexuality, eating disorders and suicide.
Combined, these modifications stem from anywhere but an actual concern for advancing education. Though many who voted for the curriculum claimed they were eradicating liberal bias and replacing it with more factually sound information, they couldn’t be more misleading. Most public school curricula don’t include segments on intersecting identities or the realities of economic and social privileges. If anything, there is certainly some form of a conservative bias saturating and controlling educational standards.
According to Martha Casas, associate professor of teacher education at the University of Texas at El Paso, NCLB has shown that American students are infrequently exposed to a diverse curriculum based on racial, gender and class structures. Texas’ new curriculum will continue to confuse students by communicating isolated components of education that only represent a portion of Americans’ experiences. The American education system suffers from issues like high dropout rates and underfunded schools. None of these issues will be remedied with imbalanced teachings centered on explicit agendas. Most of these concerns derive from oppressive barriers dictating paths to education today. For instance, it is still usually the wealthiest areas that yield the most graduates, highest test scores and overall success in education. Because school funding is based on local taxes and fails to recognize socioeconomic and racial issues, the most disadvantaged families are typically left with the fewest opportunities.
Can such an elitist system authentically improve by deleting discussions on economic and racial favoritism from textbooks? If students with particular backgrounds are already alienated from their curriculum’s parochial structure, how can they be expected to succeed under a new curriculum that underscores their alienation by refusing to incorporate other perspectives?
It’s regrettable that Texas, one of the largest purchasers of textbooks in the U.S., will be taking several steps backward as our country is trying to move forward. If its board of education wanted to combat the wounds that plague and discredit the American education system today, perhaps in the same kind of spirit as Obama, it should have advocated for actual changes that will allow students to learn about a variety of narratives and formulate personal opinions and interpretations. This way, students will receive an education that is both holistically representative and less deceiving in its presentation.
Chris Zivalich is a sophomore journalism major. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.