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Texas Matters: The Great Texas Textbook War

In 2018, the 15-member Texas State Board of Education voted to streamline the social studies curriculum. They kept in that Moses informed the American founding documents, the defenders of the Alamo were “heroic” and they cut out Hillary Clinton and Helen Keller.

It was another skirmish in the ongoing battle over what to teach in Texas classrooms – and again the decision making process was more about politics than education.

It was in 1917 that Texas law first authorized the state board to purchase textbooks for all of its schools and that’s when a small group of people where able to make big decisions over what young Texans were told about their state. And that group of people has long been influenced by conservative groups.

In the early 1920s, the Ku Klux Klan influenced the state board to forbid references to evolution in Texas textbooks.

It was during the Cold War that Texas conservatives were able to flex big in educational debates. The Daughters of the American Revolution, the John Birch Society and Texans for America used the Red Scare to censor or diminish fact-based evidence in history textbooks. The groups also took aim at labor unions, Social Security, the United Nations, racial integration and the Supreme Court.

Allan O. Kownslar is a historian and the author of “The Great Texas Social Studies Textbook War of 1961–1962.” It recounts how Texas became the national battleground over what teachers could teach and what students would learn. It’s published by Texas A&M University Press.

Kownslar’s own books were the subject of conservative attacks. He says the extent of the protests grew in scale and scope from one issue to another. This made it one of the most lengthy and controversial textbook battles in American history.

David Martin Davies can be reached at DMDavies@TPR.org and on Twitter at @DavidMartinDavi.

David Martin Davies can be reached at dmdavies@tpr.org and on Twitter at @DavidMartinDavi