Heroes or slavers? Texas observes laws to protect its founders from contempt
Every morning, Texas schoolchildren recite an oath to their state that includes the words, “I promise you allegiance, Texas, a state under God.”
Now, a wave of proposed measures that may soon become law would foster even greater loyalty to Texas in classrooms and public spaces across the state, as Republican lawmakers attempt to reframe Texas history lessons and to minimize the references to slavery and the anti-Mexican discrimination that form part of it. of the founding of the state.
The proposals in Texas, a state that influences school curricula across the country through its huge textbook market, represent some of the most aggressive efforts to control teaching in American history. And they come as nearly a dozen other Republican-led states seek to prohibit or limit how the role of slavery and the pervasive effects of racism can be taught.
Idaho was the first state to sign into law a measure that would withhold funding for schools that teach such lessons. And lawmakers in Louisiana, New Hampshire, and Tennessee have introduced bills that would ban teaching about the enduring legacy of slavery and segregationist laws, or whether any state or country is inherently racist. or sexist.
“The idea that history is a decided project in the political arena is a recipe for disaster,” said Raul Ramos, a University of Houston historian specializing in the American West.
Some of the positioning is political as usual in Texas, where activists have long organized themselves to imbue textbooks with conservative leanings. A particularly active Republican-controlled legislative session has advanced sweeping measures from a slew of new voting restrictions to a ban on abortions after six weeks of pregnancy.
But the measures of Texas history have alarmed educators, historians and activists who have said they largely ignore the role of slavery and anti-Mexican violence campaigns and will fail to educate a generation of students growing up in a state undergoing huge demographic changes.
A measure that was recently passed by Texas House, largely along party lines, would limit teacher-led discussions of current events; ban course credits for political activism or lobbying, which could include students who volunteer for civil rights groups; and ban the teaching of Project 1619, a New York Times initiative that claims it aims to reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative.
Another bill that passed through Texas House would create a committee to “promote patriotic education” on the secession of the state of Mexico in 1836, largely by men fighting to extend slavery. Another measure would limit how teachers in Texas classrooms can discuss how racism has influenced the legal system in the state, long a segregationist stronghold, and the rest of the country. And a third bill would prevent exhibits at the Alamo complex in San Antonio from explaining that major figures in the Texas revolution were slave owners.
Mr. Ramos asked how the Texas Revolution, a six-month rebellion that ended in the spring of 1836, could be associated with patriotism and freedom when the state’s new constitution explicitly legalized seven-year slavery. after Mexico abolished it.
“How do you have freedom when you are a slave?” Asked Mr. Ramos. “Eighteen thirty-six securities would have enslaved African Americans in perpetuity.”
The feud over the bill is testing the limits of Texas exceptionalism, with some questioning whether a broad sense of pride among residents should mean ignoring some of the state’s most painful chapters.
The proposed laws also sparked ideological battles over everything from the Jan.6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, with Republicans in Texas voting against a proposal that would have required schools to teach insurgency to immigration status of slaves. white Americans who settled down. illegally in what was then northern Mexico before being among the founders of the state.
“Do you want our children in Texas to learn that the system of government in the United States and Texas is nothing but a cover-up of white supremacy?” Steve Toth, a Republican lawmaker from suburban Houston, asked when he introduced the bill banning education that America is defined by racism.
Texas requires students to take state history classes in fourth and seventh grades, and some teachers have urged lawmakers to take a more nuanced look at the state’s complex history. Juan Carmona, head of the social studies department at Donna High School in the Rio Grande Valley, expressed concern 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, these are the causes, the effects, that’s it,'” said Mr Carmona, who was with a 2018 effort that culminated in the long run – researched the implementation of a Mexican-American curriculum by the Texas State Board of Education.
Others questioned the intention of a chauvinistic approach to civics education and history in a state undergoing demographic change. Latinos are on the verge of eclipsing Anglos as the largest ethnic group in Texas, and nearly half of the state’s children are Hispanic.
“This type of mythology can be really exclusive for students who don’t see themselves reflected in the program,” said Maggie Stern, organizer in the Texas office of the Children’s Defense Fund.
Over the past year, as several police murders have propelled the race into national consciousness, aspects of Texas history have been strained.
Authorities removed a statue of a Texas Ranger from the Dallas Love Field airport last year amid criticism of the Rangers’ involvement in the lynching of people of Mexican descent. The University of Texas recently changed the names of buildings on the Austin and Arlington campuses that honor avowed segregationists.
As debates over some of the history bills erupted into typical partisan arguments, including a “Texas Heroes Act” which is now before the Senate and which initially sought to downplay how slavery was a driving force. in the Texas Revolution, proposed legislation to create an 1836 bill received support from Republicans and Democrats.
The bill was inspired by Donald J. Trump’s 1776 Commission, which also called for “patriotic education” on US history. It was derided by academics and quashed by President Biden on the first day of his tenure.
The Bill for Texas 1836 bill, which is now before the State Senate, would give the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and Speaker of the House – all Republicans – the power to appoint a nine-member committee to ” raise awareness of the Texas values that continue to drive boundless prosperity in this state.
The committee would ensure that “patriotic education” is provided to the public in state parks, monuments and museums. It would also create a brochure distributed to anyone obtaining a Texas driver’s license, touting facets of state history that “promote freedom and liberty for businesses and families.”
Republicans attached amendments to the bill requiring the bill to also raise awareness of the state’s Christian heritage and traditions of gun ownership, while recognizing the Texas origins of the annual June 17 holiday. which commemorates the emancipation of slaves.
Democrats were also allowed to amend the bill, and they added requirements to include contributions to the state from people of Hispanic descent and the roles Texans have played in strengthening voting rights since the 1960s. House legislators passed the bill by a margin of 124-19.
State Representative Chris Turner, an Austin Democrat who submitted the voting rights amendments, said he supported the legislation despite fears that the Texas 1836 Bill “would make the history of the country too romantic. Texas”.
Donald Frazier, a historian who is the director of the Texas Center at Schreiner University in Kerrville, said he supported the bill and saw it as “a reaction to the absolute lack of historical knowledge of any kind.”
“There is a lot to admire in the history of Texas and there is a lot to complain about,” said 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 committee members.
“If they choose historians who are worth their salt, who are honest with their profession,” he said, “no one will have anything to worry about.”