Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Civil War education varies by state; new Texas textbooks downplay slavery's role in war

One-hundred-fifty years after the American Civil War ended and slavery was abolished, debate over the Confederate flag had heated up in some southern states, with some people calling the flag racist and others citing its historical significance. This brings up an interesting topic concerning how U.S. schools approach teaching students about the Civil War.

In Texas, five million public school students this fall will begin using social studies textbooks that say the Civil War "was caused by 'sectionalism, states’ rights and slavery'—written deliberately in that order to telegraph slavery’s secondary role in driving the conflict, according to some members of the state board of education," Emma Brown reports for The Washington Post. "The state’s guidelines for teaching American history also do not mention the Ku Klux Klan or Jim Crow laws."

Pat Hardy, a Republican board member when the board adopted the standards in 2010, called slavery "a side issue to the Civil War," Brown writes. Hardy told her, “There would be those who would say the reason for the Civil War was over slavery. No. It was over states’ rights.”

That attitude has caused concern, especially since the states' rights the Confederacy was trying to protect included the right to own slaves, Brown writes. Dan Quinn of the Texas Freedom Network, "a left-leaning advocacy organization that has been critical of the state’s academic standards in social studies," told Brown, “It’s the obvious question, it seems to me. Not only are we worried about the flags and statues and all that, but what the hell are kids learning?”

The problem is that different people view the Civil War differently, Brown writes. "Nowhere is the rejection of slavery’s central role more apparent than in Texas, where elected members of the state board of education revised state social studies standards in 2010 to correct for what they said was a liberal slant."

Standards include reading "the speech Jefferson Davis gave when he was inaugurated president of the Confederate States of America, an address that does not mention slavery," Brown writes. "But students are not required to read a famous speech by Alexander Stephens, Davis’s vice president, in which he explained that the South’s desire to preserve slavery was the cornerstone of its new government and 'the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution.'”

Rod Paige, a Republican "who served as education secretary under President George W. Bush, was among those who criticized the Texas board for minimizing difficult parts of the nation’s past," Brown writes. Paige told her, “I’m of the view that the history of slavery and civil rights are dominant elements of our history and have shaped who we are today. We may not like our history, but it’s history.” (Read more)

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