It's often been said that history is written by the victors. This was never more true than on March 12, when the Texas board of education voted 10-5 in favor of curriculum standards that would promote conservative takes on controversial issues in the pages of the state's textbooks. The changes, expected to win final approval in May, include an increased emphasis on and sympathetic treatment of such Republican touchstones as the National Rifle Association and the Moral Majority. They also tout the superiority of capitalism and the role of Christianity in the nation's founding. Even Thomas Jefferson's profile will be diminished; some board members were less than fond of his ideas about the separation of church and state.
This is not Texas' first such skirmish. Since the 1970s, the state has tried to drop books that were seen as too liberal or anti-Christian, to omit passages on the gay-rights movement and to tone down global-warming arguments. But the nation's battle over textbooks stretches back almost half a century earlier. In 1925, Tennessee's Butler Act (which was repealed in 1967) made it illegal to teach "any theory that denies the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible." The Scopes "monkey trial" famously followed. In 1974, a clash erupted in Kanawha County, West Virginia, over the controversial writings of such authors as George Orwell, Arthur Miller and Allen Ginsberg. Opposition was so heated that some schools were firebombed with dynamite and Molotov cocktails.
As one of America's largest textbook buyers, the Longhorn State has a good deal of sway over what is peddled to schools nationwide. And while Napoléon may have maintained that "history is the version of past events that people have decided to agree upon," getting Texans to come together on the past may prove to be their Waterloo.