Monday, June 14, 2010

Texas School Boards!

Well, originally I figured this topic was too uninteresting to get into, but a dispute elsewhere made me decide to comment further. Pardon me if I'm all rude and blunt.

For anyone who hasn't heard of it, the Texas School Board intends to considerably revise their textbook guidelines. This is news because the TSB seems to be packed with conservatives, and thus their changes are injecting undue bias into the school books. Because, I don't know. There wasn't any bias there before?

This is a cue for everyone to get all worked up and see this as yet another conservative attack on science or education or history or... you know the schpiel, I'm sure. Bias in state education? Politicization of what students learn? Shocking.

Pardon me if I'm not surprised about all this. In fact, pardon me if I find it to be ridiculously unsurprising, rather par for the course, and that if anything that I outright encourage this coming to pass because it highlights the inherent dangers of state education. The idea of being able to teach history in an "unbiased" way is something I regard as very difficult to accomplish, and in practice impossible once the subject has been politicized and is being taught under the auspices of the state.

Now, I understand the typical mantra in reply here: A person is entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts! Teaching history in a biased way doesn't mean that history really unfolded that way!

Wonderful. But this misses a sadly important point: People who inject bias into history or education aren't necessarily concerned that what they teach may be incorrect. When the Soviets doctored photos to remove inconvenient once-allies, I doubt any of them thought that they were thereby changing actual historical events. They simply realized that, while not everyone is entitled to their own facts, they could damn well convince people of certain "facts", truth be damned.

To pull an example out of thin air - if a person wants to convince everyone that Thomas Jefferson was an atheist (Ignore all that stuff about swearing on God's altar and the deism, etc!) because they're interested in, here and now, promoting atheism and making history seem more atheist-friendly... the fact that the actual historical facts of the matter don't line up with what they're saying may not, and chances are will not matter. That there are actual professional historians out there who can correct this and provide powerful evidence to the contrary only matters if many people will hear from and be convinced by those historians. And that's assuming that there isn't a nice manufactured controversy to point at among even the professional historians.

Which, by the way, isn't to say I think the TSB is being tremendously deceptive or biased. I rather suspect they think they're correcting past bias (and they probably are to a degree) and are emphasizing things that 'should' be emphasized (And what 'should' be is a fight itself.) And I also think that the entire fight, right or wrong, highlights the considerable dangers of mandatory public schooling, or placing children's educations so largely in the hands of the state - and also the utter naivete of anyone who thinks such systems can be "fixed" to any degree approaching acceptable or reliable. Or who think that people politicizing history really care about accuracy over effect.

What I do reject is this suggestion that the TSB is doing something new and radical, and that there was no bias in state education previously - or that bias can actually be removed in so politicized a republic with various camps who have increasingly less in common as far as values go. Better to regard public education as a perpetual political and social warzone and engage in the fights there openly, while cultivating a culture that avoids the mess entirely (home-schooling, autodidactism, certification over degrees, etc).


Drew said...

It's gonna take quite a bit before they can convince me that anything these Republicans are doing outweighs the Supreme Court's requirement of teaching evolution in schools. That's a bias of the highest order, and it absolutely distorts the scientific method.

Crude said...

It's required that evolution is taught in schools? Really?

Pardon me, I'm ignorant of some things. Can you cite me the case or such?