Saturday, July 11, 2009

Including ALL of our history

Some things are just hard to believe.

I received a tweet from EIFdotorg the other day saying, "TX Conservatives seek to remove a woman, a Hispanic, and a Black man from Social Studies curriculum," and then referenced this article: Conservatives seek to shift focus of state social studies lessons.

Surely, they were exaggerating.

But, sure enough, here are some quotes from the article:

"To have César Chávez listed next to Ben Franklin" – as in the current standards – "is ludicrous," wrote evangelical minister Peter Marshall, one of six experts advising the state as it develops new curriculum standards for social studies classes and textbooks.

Marshall also questioned whether Thurgood Marshall, who argued the landmark case that resulted in school desegregation and was the first black U.S. Supreme Court justice, should be presented to Texas students as an important historical figure. He wrote that the late justice is "not a strong enough example" of such a figure.

Both Barton and Marshall also singled out as overrated Anne Hutchinson, a New England pioneer and early advocate of women's rights and religious freedom, who was tried and banished from her Puritan colony in Massachusetts because of her nontraditional views. "Anne Hutchinson does not belong in the company of these eminent gentlemen," he said, referring to colonial leaders William Penn, Roger Williams and others.

How can we continue to say that Black people, Hispanic people, and women have made no real contribution to our society? How can we claim that someone like Ben Franklin deserves to be in a history book, but César Chávez does not?

The arguments I've heard is that including diversity in the curriculum requires that we take out all of the "important people" in order to have enough room to include others (i.e. women and people of other ethnicities). Who originally determined who those "important people" are? Where is the rating scale and what do we look for to determine that? How does someone like Peter Marshall get to be the authority figure on what is and isn't important?

I'm not suggesting that Ben Franklin is any less important than César Chávez. There have been a lot of contributions to our society over the years. We wouldn't be in the position we are without all of those contributions. The light bulb, electricity, and the first president of the United States were important contributions. But so was the filament that goes in the light bulb, the stop light, windshield wipers, COBOL (a common computer language), Kevlar (the material that makes bullet proof vests bullet proof) , color television, and so many more--contributions made by women and people of color.

Including women and people of color in the text books aren't about excluding white men. It's about including the contributions of every sector of our society.
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