Digging Deeper for the Roots of Curricula Reforms in the Southwest

A few weeks after Arizona approved a controversial K-12 curriculum change, its sidekick in Texas followed suit. While Arizona banned Ethnic Studies, slamming a controversial king on the table, Texas has pulled out an ace—refashioning its entire social studies curriculum.

In Texas, the changes will affect almost 5 million public school students every year over the next decade and countless more students in other states. Since Texas is the leading consumer of textbooks and dominates the market, writers and publishers base their materials on the standards in Texas.

There is a glaring directive in these moves by Arizona and Texas lawmakers and educators. They are truly coming from the same suit. 

These Texas and Arizona leaders want their curricula to breed even more American patriotism. They are eliminating the relatively few oppositional spaces, ideas, principles, figures, and terms. They are removing the small amount of educational elements that millions of AALANAs (African-Americans, Latino/as, Asians, and Native Americans) and progressive Whites have fought for decades to insert into the curricula.   

Conceptualizing this dynamic, I started to ask a series of whys. Why this massive push to find and remove those oppositional needles in those haystacks of patriotism? Why is there a mounting desire in these two states for teachers to teach the status quo on steroids, for books to preach the status quo on steroids? Why are so many Whites and right-wing AALANAs supporting these changes? Why allow the framing of educational policy as political when the de-politicized educational frame has been so effective in masquerading status quo educational policy as apolitical? [This last question, which I discussed in my previous blog, is particularly important. One Republican Texas board of education member in support of the curricula reforms, David Bradley, surprisingly told the Associated Press the curriculum revision process (arguably the most important educational policy procedure in our nation) has always been political.]

I think the answer to these questions lies in three words—three words that are causing and will continue to cause massive conflicts and changes in our educational system—Latino/a population growth, particularly under the age of 20. This is not just as a result of immigration but also birth rates. For instance in Arizona, the Latina birth rate is twice that of Whites.

Whites have long dominated these states, but their supremacy is viciously being assailed by a rapidly growing Latino population. There is no way the stop the growth. Legalizing harassment and discrimination will have minimal effects on the expansion.

So what do they do? I believe some of the people fighting to maintain the supremacy of Whites in these states may have read Carter G. Woodson’s famous line in his 1933 classic, The Mis-Education of the Negro.

“If you can control a man’s thinking, you don’t have to worry about his actions. If you can determine what a man thinks you do not have worry about what he will do. If you can make a man believe that he is inferior, you don’t have to compel him to seek an inferior status, he will do so without being told and if you can make a man believe that he is justly an outcast, you don’t have to order him to the back door, he will go to the back door on his own and if there is no back door, the very nature of the man will demand that you build one.”

If you cannot slow the growth, you do the next best thing—you manage the effects of it. You make sure the Latino children who will inherit these states as a majority bloc do not practice nationalism, as Whites have for ages. You ensure these children are not politically contemptuous of Whites, as many (though not all) Whites have been of Latinos for decades. You take those elements out of the curriculum that would cause these children to relate to the experiences of African-Americans—thwarting this coalition. 

As Woodson says so eloquently, even with these massive demographic shifts, through indoctrinating the status quo of the supremacy of Whites, you ensure its maintenance.

Dr. Ibram H. Rogers is an assistant professor of African-American history at SUNY College at Oneonta.