Wed, 05/19/2021 - 21:54

I have been a history, government, and social studies teacher for almost a decade. In my classes, I make certain that my students are presented with multiple perspectives on historical events, and we discuss why people might see an event differently. This is a part of the job of every social studies teacher. Discussion of perspective and bias is intrinsic to teaching social studies. Texas House Bill 3979 will make that more difficult by adding ”teachers who choose to discuss current events or widely debated and currently controversial issues of public policy or social affairs shall, to the best of their ability, strive to explore such issues from diverse and contending perspectives without giving deference to any one perspective.”

Michelle Palmer

I try to remain unbiased in my classroom as much as any human is capable. However, some events don’t have two valid sides. On the first day back from Winter Break, we discussed the insurrection. I showed videos from both Fox and CNN, but the FACTS are not two sided.

"In my classes, I make certain that my students are presented with multiple perspectives on historical events, and we discuss why people might see an event differently."

When introducing the bill, Rep. Toth said, "House Bill 3979 is about teaching racial harmony by telling the truth that we are all equal, both in God’s eyes and our founding documents," but that is completely incorrect. Our founding documents said that women were lesser simply by keeping them from voting. It allowed slavery and also said that slaves — who were the majority of African Americans in the Colonies at the time — were only counted as three-fifths of a person.

Among the many provisions of the bill, there is this: "No private funding shall be … for the purposes of curriculum development, purchase or choice of curricular materials, teacher training, or professional development pertaining to courses on Texas, United States, and world history, government, civics, social studies, or similar subject areas." This is not even limited to what the rest of the bill says. It is a flat out ban on social studies materials. I can only guess at the purpose of this part of the bill, but it COULD be aimed at the fact that the Texas State Board of Education often adopts very flawed social studies textbooks and therefore many districts use secondary materials and don’t even purchase textbooks.

"...the Texas State Board of Education often adopts very flawed social studies textbooks and therefore many districts use secondary materials and don’t even purchase textbooks."

Because I (and most other Southeast Texas teachers) teach primarily Black and Brown students, ignoring racism is not acceptable. My students experience it on a daily basis. They need to be able to discuss it in a controlled environment and put it into historical perspective. Current events help us understand the importance of historical events because these discussions help students see a line that directly connects the past to the present. Watering down America’s racist history will not help us eliminate racism in the present. If anything, it magnifies it.

"Watering down America’s racist history will not help us eliminate racism in the present. If anything, it magnifies it."

The State Board of Education has done a wonderful job in approving Ethnic Studies courses during the last few years, but how can a teacher teach African-American Studies or Mexican-American Studies without discussing the racism experienced by these two groups.

In addition, the bill would also curb discussion of sexism in U.S. History. How is a U.S. or World History teacher supposed to teach about the Women’s Liberation Movement which is in the curriculum standards without discussion of why so many women felt they needed liberation? Women in the U.S. could not even get a credit card without their spouse or father’s approval until the 1970s. Would I not be able to explain that to my students?

"How is a U.S. or World History teacher supposed to teach about the Women’s Liberation Movement which is in the curriculum standards without discussion of why so many women felt they needed liberation?"

When I teach government, I have my students choose the problem in the U.S. that they believe is the worst and study it. They need to research the history of the problem, who is involved in trying to solve it now, what level(s) of government would need to be involved in solving the problem. My Black and Brown students (as well as my LGBTQIA, female, and non-Christian students) need to know that their voice matters and that there are people out there fighting for the solutions to the problems my students see. The students can choose any problem that they want, I only steer them to narrow the problem so that they are not trying to bring about world peace or solve world hunger. It seems from the reading of this bill that I could not do that project any longer.

"My Black and Brown students (as well as my LGBTQIA, female, and non-Christian students) need to know that their voice matters and that there are people out there fighting for the solutions to the problems my students see."

It seems that the Texas GOP wants us to pretend that the world is perfect, but we know it isn’t and so do the students of Texas. They are not going to be fooled; so, we should prepare them for the world they actually live in not a fantasy world that the Texas Legislature wishes we lived in.

Michelle Palmer is a history and government teacher. She was born in Stamford, Texas, and earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Houston.