Bad textbooks are the reason we need Critical Race Theory

I’ve been involved in textbook battles for decades — conservatives/creationists have been smart, and worked to undermine elementary school education, and it’s been effective. The Texas Board of Education has been a running sore on science education for years. Check out the NCSE!

I’ve mainly been focused on science textbooks, but the rot goes all the way through to everything. To show that, Michael Harriot did something absolutely brilliant: he looked into the educational background of those prominent Republican opponents of critical race theory, and asked what these people were actually taught as kids. There’s a lot of work here, but it’s all public information. He just looked up where and when certain Republicans went to school, and then looked up what textbooks were in use, and read how they treated race in America.

It’s horrifying.

Read it if you really want to know what kind of crap poisoned the young minds of Marsha Blackburn, Tom Cotton, Ted Cruz, Lindsay Graham, John Kennedy, Mitch McConnell, Tommy Tuberville, and Tim Scott. The Daughters of the Confederacy were busy shaping children’s plastic little brains. Here, for example, is what Moscow Mitch was taught.

After moving to Louisville, Ky., and attending duPont Manual High School, McConnell would have learned from an education department that provides grants to Kentucky Educational Television for Kentucky’s Story, which still teaches this about slavery in Kentucky:

Because many owners and servants worked side by side or had frequent contact, the bond between them was more patriarchal than was the relationship shared by slaves and masters in other states. While exceptions can be noted, it is generally believed that Kentucky’s slaves experienced a less harsh life than did those living elsewhere…

Many aspects of the slaves’ lives resembled those of white laborers…In addition to these evening and Sunday activities, masters encouraged their chattels to engage in recreational activities, such as dancing and singing, that provided emotional release; happy slaves worked better than did discontented ones.

Religion also played an important role in the slaves’ existence. Churches encouraged masters to treat their people kindly and urged slaves to be good Christians, to serve their earthly masters as they would their heavenly father and to look for rewards in the hereafter for services rendered on earth.

It’s weird. There’s also this strange vibe where each state, in addition to claiming that they really treated slaves nicely, has to explain they were really so much better than those other Confederate, slave-holding states. They all had happy slaves, but our slaves were the happiest.

Unfortunately, Harriott doesn’t get around to analyzing Yankee textbooks — but there’s a fair amount of work in what he did cover, so I understand. I was educated in Washington state, a part of the country that wasn’t even a state at the time of the Civil War, and I have no recollection of learning anything about black people or civil rights. We sure learned about Lewis and Clark and the Whitman Massacre and Chief Joseph, though, which meant we were inculcated with the idea of the Noble Indian who had to fade away to make room for the heroic white destiny. There was also some mention of the Japanese internment, but, you know, we had to win the war. It was such a shock to learn that Jimi Hendrix was from Seattle. There are black people in Seattle? They didn’t teach us that, I had to find out for myself!

In my education, the schools committed the sin of omission, but at least my teachers skipped over the dancing, singing slaves and their kindly masters.

We also didn’t do horrifying in-class exercises like these:

Slavery was just like being denied recess!


  1. kagy says

    As someone who is in the process for being certified to teach in Texas, I can assure you it’s gotten better. Specifically in reference to Bio we’re using these “Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills” (TEKS):

    Though there is wiggle room for a religiously minded teacher to present things in a skewed manner SS 112.34. Biology C-7 clearly states we have to examine common ancestry, examination and explanation of the fossil record, how selection works in populations and not individuals, fitness/adaptation/diversity, and evolutionary mechanisms like gene flow, drift, and mutation.

    If one of my fellows misses any of those points (and I have to say, Creationists have a hard time explaining or testing some of these) there is grounds for dismissal if a more-science minded student or colleague complains. They probably won’t get dismissed, just end up with a warning or years of “just….do better, ok?” but that’s kind of the state of academics at all levels right now, given some of the abysmal behavior the universities cover up with these days. But it’s something.

  2. chrislawson says

    I read that piece by Harriot and was deeply impressed by it. The only layer I would add to it is that those named politicians are mature, educated, and in positions of great power, and it is an utter betrayal of their responsibilities that they cling to horrific lies and distortions just because they learnt them in high school.

  3. says

    Having been edicated one public school district to the north of Dr Myers at about the same time, I’m a bit torn.

    Redlining — and, thereby, lack of exposure to those who didn’t ancestrally participate in American Exceptionalism and/or Manifest Destiny — was a much bigger problem than formal teaching standards and/or textbook content. (But then, it wasn’t Texas, so I can only consider the latter from my experiences with the invidious and reprehensible Texas textbook standards as an adult, and in particular as an editor of books on “health.”) On the other hand, sometimes that exposure proved helpful in revealing blind spots, like the former “resident” of Manzanar just down the street; the daughter’s presence in my (pathetically ill-informed and shallow) US History class made for some interesting class discussion, despite the 197x textbook and syllabus completely ignoring Executive Order 9066 or any of the tomfoolery surrounding it. Our problem was much more with fundagelicals, which admittedly loops right back into Manifest Destiny.

    It could have been much worse. The school district to the east (northeast of Dr Myers) was and remains somewhat welded to the concept of the white sheet as a fashion necessity; when one names one’s brand new second high school “Liberty” in the 1970s (when the trend was that “second” and subsequent schools in a district were named after dead white men), makes the mascot the “Patriots,” and looks at the carefully drawn attendance boundaries and what they exclude (like the enclave of Southeast Asian “boat people” refugees condemned to a six-mile bus ride to the other high school), one can draw some interesting conclusions about that district’s school board. Interesting and not very complimentary.

  4. brucegee1962 says

    Sixth grade, Ohio, 1973: we were split up into three groups to research and debate the causes of the civil war, with one group focusing on political causes, one on economic causes, and my team arguing moral causes (that is, slavery). I definitely remember getting the impression that our side was supposed to lose — that “everyone knew” that the other two sides were the “real” causes of the war. I was surprised that we were able to come up with so much evidence for our side — I hope we made a good showing.

  5. says

    I remember my Massachusetts education on slavery to be pretty good. I don’t remember many specifics, but I do know I was taught about the underground railroad by like 3rd grade. We even had plays about it. There were some movies we watched that were fairly graphic, like a showing a slave’s fingers being chopped off for learning how to read. There were some troublesome parts to said education, like a game we played at camp where the kids were slaves escaping on the underground railroad and the camp councilors were slave hunters. In retrospect that seems pretty fucked up. But all in all I think I got a good education. Not sure if it’s still the same for kids in Massachusetts, but with a fairly deep history of abolitionism it just might be part of the state culture.

  6. says

    “Partiarchal relationship”?

    Those republiclowns are all old enough to have seen Roots on TV in 1977. Are they ignorant and racist enough to believe the series was “exaggeration” and not the sanitized version of reality? Cutting off a foot, whipping, rape, and other atrocities were “fictions” in their eyes instead of barely scratching the surface of the atrocities committed?

    As for the talk about religion, white xians banned, attacked, and killed practitioners of vodun, people’s attempt to keep their homeland traditions alive. White xian religion was violently imposed to control, not “share the love”.

  7. says

    An incident from 1970, when I was enrolled in my local junior college in Central California. My U.S. history instructor commented on his concern about the textbook we were using, Bailey’s American Pageant: “Black people apparently vanish from American history between the Civil War and the Civil Rights era.” Funny, that. Perhaps they went underground? Thank you, Mr. Patterson, for addressing that oversight and not being willing to let the book stand alone as our oracle of history. Our class learned that Brown v. Board of Education had a prehistory, which we would not have learned from simply reading the text.

  8. sc_262299b298126f9a3cc21fb87cce79da says

    “Their chattels”!?! Yeesh,

    I first learned about the Japanese Internment when I was around 30 years old. I think it was a tv documentary. I was gobsmacked that something as significant as that had not been included in my history classes. How could I not have known?.

  9. hemidactylus says

    I had read some other stuff by this guy but this was a gobstopper:

    I mostly agree with the CRT notion but with more leftish stuff I get a bit put off by overkill:

    So Michelle Alexander is part of the problem and too bourgeois? She is married to a prosecutor. Maybe my Overton Window isn’t skewed (or skewered) enough?

    So though I have tried, reading James Loewen or Michelle Alexander falls fall short of the mark and I’m just a neoliberal market saturated sheeple?

  10. whheydt says

    About 20 years ago I was doing some programming work for a school district in San Jose, CA. The IT manager had spent time, as a child, in one of the Northern California internment camps. He was really startled when I mentioned knowing who was the moving force behind the internment…then California Attorney General, Earl Warren.

  11. says

    I too went to school in Washington State, though in Vancouver at the southern border of the state, just across the Columbia River from Portland. I had American History three times (in fifth, eighth, and eleventh grades) and Washington State History at least once (in ninth grade). We never learned anything about the Native American peoples who lived here before the Euro-American settlers came, except insofar as they impinged on the activities of the settlers (Squanto, Sacajawea). No Chief Joseph, no Whitman massacre, no Modoc War, no Red Cloud, no Crazy Horse–oh, well, come to think of it we did learn about Aztec human sacrifices and how the Spanish (who were little better than the Aztec) put an end to them. Black people existed as slaves, and then as corrupt tools during Reconstruction (the most shameful era in American history, fortunately ended when the Redeemer governments took over in the conquered southern states). Otherwise nothing. No Nat Turner, no Harriet Tubman, no George Washington Carver, no Black writers, inventors, musicians, or artists. And no Japanese-American internment either–at least in the fifth and eighth grade classes. For that matter we never learned about “No Irish Need Apply” or the fashionable antisemitism of the educated classes in the first half on the twentieth century. (Again in fifth and eighth grade.) Our fifth grade textbook had little inset stories about a fictional plantation where the slaves were happy and didn’t want to be freed–indeed were upset when the federal troops came and burned the plantation house down.
    Eleventh grade history (an Advanced class) was different, in that we learned about History as a subject rather than merely reading a bunch of stories about the past. It still suffered from a general blindness concerning Native Americans, and concerning the descendants of enslaved Africans, but the racist immigration policies of the early twentieth century, the discrimination against the Irish (and Italians and eastern Europeans), and the Japanese-American internment camps were all covered, in some cases extensively (Earl Warren came up in the discussion). Also the traditional view of Reconstruction was dismantled for one that took into account the viewpoints of the Freedmen, the Scalawags, and the Carpetbaggers, previously written off as the villains of the era.
    Now I personally was aware of some of these gaps thanks to a habit of omnivorous reading, family visits to historical sites including material about Native Americans, and my church’s involvement in the ongoing Civil Rights movement. I learned that Patrick Henry was a slave-owner from a science-fiction novel, for example, and about the destruction of Black wealth through “race riots” from a speaker at the Unitarian Fellowship. I learned about the Dunning School and its effect on the history I’d been taught from a book by Kenneth Stampp, and so on and so forth. But I still have blind spots from the defective (or even fake) history taught me back in public school that occasionally come back to bite me–such as when I wrote that Polk ran on the slogan Fifty-four forty or fight. (He didn’t; that was the slogan of his opponents, but that’s not what I learned in school.)