A screed published Friday on a San Antonio Express-News blog provides a good example of why it’s a bad idea to turn over to political activists decisions about what our kids learn in their public schools. In his post, Bill Ames lashes out at critics of the heavily politicized new social studies curriculum standards the State Board of Education approved for Texas public schools last year. Then-board member Don McLeroy insisted that the Texas Education Agency appoint Ames to the curriculum team drafting the high school U.S. history standards in 2009. Ames’ angry words Friday reflect standard — and absurdly misguided — right-wing hysteria about “leftists” supposedly distorting what kids learn in their public schools. But they also reveal a disturbing resentment about race issues in American history.
Ames first goes after Republicans in the Texas House of Representatives who have dared criticize the state board’s controversial revision of the standards. He calls them “RINOs” — “Republicans In Name Only,” the standard epithet right-wingers hurl at any Republican who fails to bow to their extremism. He then attacks the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute, which has sharply criticized the state board for its “ideological manipulation” and blatant politicization of the standards. Ames echoes absurd charges that Fordham is simply trying to humiliate Texas for refusing to join other states in adopting new Common Core Standards. In fact, there are no common core standards for social studies.
But Ames reserves his most venomous language for attacking legitimate criticism of how the new Texas standards distort the history of race and civil rights in America. That criticism, Ames says, “follows the liberal left’s pattern of political correctness,” including the “axiom” that “history cannot speak negatively about minorities, only about whites.” (Keep in mind that Ames has criticized past social studies standards for supposedly having an “over-representation of minorities.”)
Ames pushes back against criticism that the standards misleadingly compare the internment of Japanese Americans in World War II with the internment of much smaller numbers of German and Italian Americans. Ames suggests that the standards simply set the record straight:
“Always ignored has been the fact that significant numbers of German and Italian American citizens were detained as well. This fact has been papered over by the left, since the internment of whites of Europeans descent raise the level of the whole internment issue from one of white racism to one of national security.”
But Ames lets his racial resentment get in the way of reality. In truth, U.S. authorities interned a tiny fraction of the millions of German and Italian Americans during the war. In fact, the number of German Americans in certain Texas counties likely exceeded the 11,507 people of German ancestry (by one estimate) who were interned across the whole country. In contrast, about 110,000 or more people of Japanese ancestry — two-thirds of whom were U.S. citizens — were sent to “War Relocation Camps.” To be clear, the internment of innocent Americans of German and Italian descent was wrong. But suggesting a false equivalence to what happened to Japanese Americans is a gross distortion of history.
And here is how Ames defends the standards against criticism that they distort civil rights history:
“Fordham whines that the standards do not condemn whites: No Black Codes, No KKK, no Jim Crow. But consistent with protecting minorities, they do not complain that the standards do not include that black rioters burned many of their cities in the years during and following civil rights legislation.”
“Protecting minorities”? “Their cities”? Ames’ loaded language is revealing, to say the least. But is he seriously comparing the riots in Detroit, Los Angeles and other cities — as deeply troubling as they were — to the systematic and vicious discrimination represented by Black Codes, the Ku Klux Klan and Jim Crow laws over nearly a century?
It looks to us like Ames is interested more in promoting his own political views rather than facts in our our kids’ classrooms. And that reinforces the importance of ensuring that teachers and scholars, not political activists (on the left or the right, and on or off the State Board of Education), guide the process of writing curriculum standards and textbooks requirements for Texas schools.