Thursday, July 01, 2010

Texas textbook controversy

Through out my years of living in Texas I have experienced much stereotyping from people outside of the state. They seem to think that we are all country bumpkins who walk around with ten gallon hats and speak with thick country accents. There are even some who think that we drive around with cow horns on the hoods of our cars. They also think of us as inbred yokels who are incapable of having any intelligent thought. Unfortunately the recent scandal over what has been written in the textbooks probably reinforced this image for those who like to turn their noses up at this state.

Recently, the conservative members of the Texas Board of Education passed revisions to the textbooks used by public schools. There are many states who are concerned that these revisions may spread into their domains, since Texas is the largest purchaser of textbooks.

I am not certain what has been written in the new textbooks. All I know is what the media has claimed and we all know how reliable the mainstream media can be. Even the local media has proven itself to be worthless.

One of these changes is the portrayal of America as a constitutional republic as opposed to a democracy. I wasn’t even aware that this concept was being disputed. I was always taught that America was a republic, a form of indirect democracy. Whenever we said the Pledge of Allegiance, the words were “to the republic for which it stands” not to the democracy for which it stands. I didn’t realize that things have changed so much since I last attended public school.

There were some changes that seem absurd, such as the exclusion of Thomas Jefferson from the Texas Curriculum’s world history standards on Enlightenment thinking. I suppose that the logic behind this was to show that the US was founded on Christian values and since Jefferson was a Deist, he didn’t quite fit the mold. I would have to agree that this change is utterly ridiculous. The idea of excluding one of the greatest minds of the Enlightenment period because he contradicted the idea of the US being a Christian country goes way beyond absurdity. Not to say that Judeo-Christian values didn’t play a part in the formation of this country. However one can not deny that there were many Deists, like Thomas Jefferson, who also influenced the formation of this nation.

There were many Hispanic activists that were upset over the absence of key Latino figures in the curriculum, such as Caesar Chavez and the Mexicans who fought on the side of Texas independence. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that Chavez is being excluded since conservatives are known for their distain of union leaders. You would have thought that Chavez’s views against illegal immigration would have earned him some points among the conservatives. I do side with the Hispanics on including information about the Mexicans who fought for Texas independence. One of those men was an ancestor of mine, Jose` Antonio Navarro. He was a statesman who signed the Texas Declaration of Independence. Sadly most people don’t know of him or any of the other Latinos who fought for Texas.

The Democrats on the board also took issue with the curriculum standards regarding economics. One of those standards was the teaching of the rapid inflation that occurred after the abandonment of the Gold Standard. Apparently the Democrats don’t like the idea of anybody pointing out the fallacy of the money out of thin air system that replaced the Gold Standard.

The left-wingers on the board have also complained about the idea of teaching the ideologies of free market economists such as Milton Friedman and Friedrich A. Hayek, alongside the ideologies of Adam Smith, Karl Marx and John Keynes. Keynesian ideology is a form of Voodoo economics, which was responsible for prolonging the Great Depression.

We all know that Marxism has not only proven to be a total failure, but it has also led to the death of a hundred million people world wide. Considering that both of these ideologies have proven to be disastrous, I don’t see any problem with free market economics being taught in the curriculum.

There have also been some complaints about the textbooks mentioning the great conservative resurgence of the 1980’s and 90’s. These textbooks would feature organizations such as the Heritage Foundation, the NRA, and the Moral Majority. To what extent I don’t know. The media claims that the new textbooks would show favorable bias towards these organizations. Since I haven’t seen the new revisions for myself I can’t really comment on them.

The media also claims that the revisions put Joe McCarthy in a favorable light. Once again I don’t know how true this is, but they seem to base this on the fact that the new books would make reference to the Venona Papers. Even though McCarthy was a paranoid drunk who helped start a series of witch hunts, it turned out that he was right about many of the high profile people that he accused of being Communists. These revelations would come after the release of the Venona Papers, which came from decoded Soviet cables.

I can’t say that I have ever been fond of McCarthy’s legacy, but it turns out that he was right about many of the people he accused. We shouldn’t ignore the facts just because we may not like a certain individual.

The board also wanted the Republican’s role in the Civil Rights movement to be mentioned, which seems fair. It seems like people have this misconception about the Civil Rights movement being a Democrat vs. Republican conflict, when it was actually a fight against Southern leaders who wanted to cling on to their archaic ways. After all, there was a higher percentage of Republicans who voted for the Civil Acts of 1964 and there were many Democrats, such as Governor Wallace of Alabama, who supported segregation.

The internment of Italian and German Americans during World War II was something else that the board wanted to mention in the textbooks. Most of the history books only make mention of the Japanese Americans who found themselves imprisoned in concentration camps. I believe that the Americans of German and Italian descent also deserve to be mentioned. According to the media, the motive behind this move is to show that the internments weren’t motivated by race. As long as they don’t try to justify one of the grossest violations of civil liberties in American history, I don’t have a problem with it.

With the exception of the exclusion of Thomas Jefferson and key Latino figures that have much historical significance, most of the changes seem with in reason. Most of the bias that I have seen in textbooks usually leans to the left. You never hear that mentioned by any of the mainstream media outlets.


Math, reading gap among Native American students

I think this shows that only the dumb ones remain on the reservations

Native American students at schools overseen by the federal Bureau of Indian Education performed significantly worse on national standardized tests in reading and math compared with those in public schools.

The National Indian Education Study released Wednesday found lags in achievement and persistent gaps among Native American students and their peers. There was also a significant disparity among Native American students depending on the type of school they attend, according to the U.S. Department of Education study.

Those in public schools, and particularly those in schools where Native American students represent less than 25 percent of the population, consistently scored higher than their peers who attend schools heavily populated by Native Americans. The most stark contrast was seen among those who attend Bureau of Indian Education schools, which were created to provide quality education to Native Americans.

The bureau oversees 183 schools on 64 reservations in 23 states, a majority of which are run by tribes. They educate an estimated 44,000 students — less than 10 percent of all Native American children nationwide.

In reading, fourth grade students at Bureau of Indian Education schools scored an average of 181 on a 500 point scale on the National Assessment of Educational Progress — 25 points lower than Native Americans attending public schools. There was a 23 point gap among eighth grade students. Similar gaps were seen in math.

Poverty, less access to resources and difficulty obtaining and retaining teachers to work in tribal areas could be part of the problem, researchers said.

"If I could pinpoint it, I could bottle it and sell it and solve the problem," said Bart Stevens, deputy director of school operations for the Bureau of Indian Education. "It's one that we keep plugging at, and a lot of things that impact our students are not necessarily within our control, as with any school system."

Overall, Native American students are struggling, with more than a third scoring below the basic level in reading and math, according to the study. Those scores have remained basically unchanged since 2005.

"The fact that our American Indian and Alaska Native students have not made any progress since 2005 is alarming and cause for major concern," said Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee.

The American Indians' scores were similar to those of black and Hispanic students.

Kerry Venegas of the National Indian Education Association said the challenges facing Bureau of Indian Education schools are similar to those in large, urban schools — but exacerbated. On some reservations, unemployment hovers at 70 percent and graduation rates are low.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan expressed his dismay at the situation at a National Press Club luncheon in 2009, in which he described having visited a reservation in Montana where the dropout rate was as high as 65 percent. Teachers told him only one student had graduated from college in the past six years.

"If we can't help those Native American children be successful over the next couple of years, than I think I personally would have failed," Duncan said.

The study also included a look at the integration of Native American culture into education. Forty-three percent of fourth grade students said their teachers did integrate Native American culture and history into class.

The issue of retaining Native American culture is not lost among people like Harold Dusty Bull, 60, vice president of the National Johnson O'Malley Association, a nonprofit educational organization. He recalled how in the 1940s Native American children were sent to government boarding schools where they were stripped of their culture and language.

"It started out with bad history, and I don't think it's ever really overcome it yet," he said.


British parents 'should get grants for private schools'

Private schools are Federally subsidized in Australia, by way of example

Parents should be given grants to send their children to private school, according to an education leader. Families should be allocated a tax code each year and decide whether to use it to send their child to their local state school or top it up to pay independent school fees, it was claimed.

David Hanson, chief executive of the Independent Association of Prep Schools, said those on the lowest incomes should be given more money than the richest. He called for independent schools to be seen as an "integral part of education provision", putting them on par with private health care.

Ministers are desperate to create a more diverse education sector in England and have invited parents' groups and teachers to open their own “free schools” funded at taxpayers’ expense. But they are unlikely to directly fund private schools amid fears it will leave them open to accusations of “elitism”.

Commenting on the plan, Mr Hanson said: "This proposal not only extends provision and draws upon public sector expertise, but very importantly would for the first time provide a truly level playing field and therefore dramatically increase social mobility. “In a nutshell, all parents would be able to choose any type of school for their child."

The IAPS, which represents 600 private prep schools, suggested that all parents should have “personal educational grant”, which would be “tapered”, with the poorest receiving the most.

Mr Hanson said the poorest could have a grant of £6,000 and the richest would get just £1,000. All families would then be required to pay – through the Inland Revenue – for their child's schooling. He said the grant could be topped up to pay for a private education, adding: “It should be redeemable in any chosen local authority or private, independent or voluntary school."

Mr Hanson said that parents are already paying for education through their taxes, but this was not made explicitly clear.

Mr Hanson's comments will resurrect the debate about "education vouchers". The Tories announced plans for a "school passport" in 2003 - a voucher-style scheme that would allow parents to "spend" the amount allocated to them on the school of their choice. But the money could not be used in part payment of private school fees. The proposals were dropped shortly after the 2005 General Election.

A spokesman for the Department for Education said: "We have no intention to introduce anything like the proposal put forward by the Independent Association of Prep Schools. "We are committed to investing more in the education of the poorest, and that is why the new pupil premium is at the heart of this coalition Government's plans for schools.

"Additional money from outside the existing schools budget will be made available to ensure that those teaching the children most in need get the resources to deliver smaller class sizes, more one-to-one or small group tuition, longer school days and more extracurricular activities."

Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT teachers union, said: "The IAPS clearly either hasn’t read or understood the Coalition Government’s guidance on the establishment of free schools. “Instead of IAPS inventing its own barmy idea, it can simply advise its members to use the one already thought up by the Coalition Government.

“Any independent school failing to make ends meet can now have its bank account under-written by the taxpayer and parents can send their children to the school at no additional cost.”


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