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Texas curriculum law and the perils of teaching ‘both sides’ of history

The law requires teachers to “present opposing views on controversial subjects.”

In a recent edition of her excellent online newsletter, Letters from an American, historian Heather Cox Richardson features the new curriculum requirements in Texas public schools, which requires teachers to “present opposing views on controversial subjects.”

Recently, a fourth-grade teacher, who kept an anti-racism book in her classroom, was reprimanded by the Carroll County School Board apparently (it’s not totally clear) for ignoring the “both sides” requirement. Did the reprimand suggest that an anti-racism text must be balanced by a pro-racism text?

Teachers asked the curriculum director for guidance about what books they could keep in their classrooms.

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As reported by Richardson, the curriculum direction replied:

Just try to remember the concepts of [House Bill] 3979. Make sure that if you have a book on the Holocaust, that you have one that has an opposing, that has other perspectives.

The director was asked for specific guidance. If you have a book on the Holocaust in your classroom, what would constitute an acceptable opposing viewpoint?

“Believe me,” the director said. “That’s come up.”

photo of heather cox richardson
Heather Cox Richardson
Richardson reports that “the [Texas] legislature took three pages to outline all the things that teachers may not teach, including all the systemic biases the right associates with Critical Race Theory (although that legal theory is not taught in K–12 schools), and anything having to do with the 1619 Project.”

The rest of Richardson’s essay explores the challenges of teaching even-handed both-sidesist history. But, in addition to preaching both-sidesism, the Texas standards apparently include a list of “topics eliminated from the teaching standard.” I infer that these are things that were in the old standards but not included in the new version, including: “the history of Native Americans,” and “[founding] mothers and other founding persons.”

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Under “commitment to free speech and civil discourse,” things that were dropped from the old standards included:

 “the writings of…George Washington; Ona Judge (a woman Washington enslaved and who ran away); Thomas Jefferson, Sally Hemings (the enslaved woman Jefferson took as a sexual companion after the death of his wife, her half-sister…

“…The standards lost Frederick Douglass’s writings, the Fugitive Slave Acts of 1793 and 1850, the Indian Removal Act of 1830 that forced Indigenous Americans off their southeastern lands, and Thomas Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists defending the separation of church and state.

“…The standards also lost ‘the history of white supremacy, including but not limited to the institution of slavery, the eugenics movement, and the Ku Klux Klan, and the ways in which it is morally wrong” and “the history and importance of the civil rights movement.”

The full Richardson column on the new Texas standards is right here.