Friday, January 30, 2009

Why is Latino and Asian History left out of California History Textbooks?

"Once social change begins, it cannot be reversed. You cannot un-educate the person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore. "
Cesar Chavez. Nov.9, 1984.

Textbooks in California are selected by the State Board of Education based upon recommendations of their Curriculum Committees and the state frameworks and standards, in this case the History /Social Science Framework for California Public Schools.
The framework is revised each 7 years. The framework, along with the standards, provides the guidelines for what is to be taught and what is to be included in the history and social science textbooks in California. In 2009, the History /Social Science Framework is up for re consideration.
It is urgent that the History-Social Science Framework be revised to provide an accurate history of the contributions of Mexicans, Mexican Americans, Latinos and Asians to the history of the state and of the nation. The current Framework reflects the historiography of the 1950’s. It was written in 1986 by senior scholars, they in turn were educated in the early 1970’s or before. It is substantially out of date.
The view of history that won out in California was crafted by neoconservative historian Diane Ravitch and supported by Paul Gagnon and former California State Superintendent of Public Instruction Bill Honig, among others (Cornbleth & Waugh, 1995). Gary Nash of UCLA was a participant in the later effort to establish national history standards.
The 1987- 2005 Framework expanded African American, Native American, and women’s history coverage but remains totally inadequate in the coverage of Latinos and Asians. The only significant change between the 1985 and the 2005 adopted Framework was the addition of a new cover, a cover letter, and additions of photos such as of Cesar Chavez . Latinos currently make up 48.1 percent of California’s student population and Asians make up 8.1 %.

The dominant neo conservative view argues that textbooks and a common history should provide the glue that unites our society. Historical themes and interpretations are selected in books to create unity in a diverse and divided society. This viewpoint assigns to schools the task of creating a common culture. In reality, television and military service may do more to create a common culture than do schools and books.
Conservatives assign the task of cultural assimilation to schools, with particular emphasis on the history, social science, and literature curricula. Historians advocating consensus write textbooks that downplay the roles of slavery, class, racism, genocide, and imperialism in our history. They focus on ethnicity and assimilation rather than race, on the success of achieving political reform, representative government, and economic opportunity for European American workers and immigrants. They decline to notice the high poverty rate of U.S. children, the crisis of urban schooling, and the continuation of racial divisions in housing and the labor force. In California they decline to notice that Mexicans, Mexican-Americans and Latinos as well as Asians contributed to the development of this society.
This consensus conservative viewpoint history dominates textbook publishing in California , but these partial and incomplete histories do not empower students from our diverse cultural communities. By recounting primarily a consensual, European American view, history and literature extend and reconstruct current White supremacy, sexism, and class biases in our society. When texts or teachers tell only part of the story, schools foster intellectual colonialism and ideological domination (Cornbleth & Waugh, 1995).
As citizens of California we have an opportunity to insist that California history, and the nation’s history, be accurately taught in the schools. The process begins with revisions to the History/Social Science Framework for California Schools. The other way to achieve this long overdue revision is to pass legislation requiring revision. We should not be writing history by passing legislation. Rather, the History/Social Science Framework Committee should perform the tasks of revision with care. Their first meeting is Thursday, Feb. 5, 2009, in Sacramento.
More to come on this topic.
Duane Campbell
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