Much was made in the media over the last week or so about the changes to social studies and history curriculum standards being debated by the Texas State Board of Education. The changes, which were passed Friday, will be in effect applicable to many other states’ education curriculums because of the prominent role in the school-textbook market Texas holds.
Liberals argued that the proposed changes, such as a requirement that students “identify reasons for limiting the power of government; and review the record of human rights abuses of unlimited governments such as the oppression of Christians in Sudan,” represented an attempt by the conservative members on the board to bias textbooks in favor of their ideology. Conservatives asserted that the changes would help correct the imbalance common in textbooks swayed in the past by liberal bias. You can judge for yourself by reading some of the proposed changes here.
Lost in the debate, however, is a critical examination of why such a matter is so controversial. State boards of education, particularly the one in Texas, control what issues, subjects and figures are covered and from what perspective they are presented in a host of public schools. For better or worse, the power to shape a generation of students’ knowledge of our past and perspectives on government institutions is placed in the hands of small, partisan boards. This essentially equates to government controlling the presentation of our history.
It’s the near monopoly public schools have on education that enables this control. Government schools are subsidized by taxpayers, making them cheaper to attend than their private-school competitors. If a freer market existed in education, parents would have more options as to where to send their children, and part of that decision might be based on each school’s treatment of history and social studies topics.
But that option is severely hindered by the prevalence of public schools and the control exerted over education by government. The result is controversial decisions on curriculum standards being made in a political environment with little recourse for parents to decide the best education for their children. It’s the political nature of these decisions that is the large reason for the controversy. What’s particularly disturbing is that these decisions equate to government controlling how our history is handed down to future generations — a process ripe for nefarious political influence.