Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Professor Emilio Zamora's testimony before the State Board of Education today

Emilio Zamora, Professor
Department of History
University of Texas at Austin March 10, 2010

Oral Portion (paraphrased)

I teach Texas history across the street, at the University of Texas, and am a Fellow in the Texas State Historical Association, but speak before you as a private citizen. I’ll start with an observation. If you believe that the major textbooks that are being used to teach Texas History in universities throughout the state are reliable sources of information on the state of historical scholarship on Texas, you must conclude—as I do—that the state-mandated tests, the adopted high school textbooks and the proposed curriculum lag far behind what we know and teach about Texas history. I’m not suggesting that you replace public school texts with university texts, but that you revise the proposed curriculum to more fully and accurately reflect the scholarship that has been expanding significantly since at least the middle 1970.

The major university texts on Texas history that I’m thinking about include the revised edition on Texas history by Rupert Richardson, as well as important surveys by Robert Calvert (and co-authors), Randolph Campbell, Jesus de la Teja (and co-authors) and general readers by Sam Haynes (and co-author) and Ben Procter (and co-author). To varying degrees these representative works are interpreting Texas history in a more broad and inclusive manner, that is, they include women, Mexican Americans, African Americans, and workers to a much greater extent than does the proposed curriculum. They also treat causes for equal rights as essential to learning about our egalitarian tradition.

I would conclude the oral portion of my testimony by stating that you can no longer justify a high school curriculum that fails to measure up to the abundant scholarship on Texas history. It is only a matter of time before you will be compelled to join the rest of us who are dedicating our professional careers to researching and writing on the subject and who are teaching in universities in a more inclusive, comprehensive, and democratic way.

Written Portion of Testimony (part of which was read)
I recommend two general revisions to the revised document entitled “subchapter C. High School” of the proposed curriculum. It is based on a detailed set of recommendations that I submitted to one of your members, Ms. Mary Helen Berlanga. My first recommendation calls for more clear, coherent, and complete statements to help you align the content of mandated state tests and adopted textbooks with the recommended curriculum. The more recent revisions (January 2010) of the recommended curriculum have improved its readability and comprehensiveness, but not sufficiently. My second recommendation asks for a strong endorsement of oral history.

The following illustrate the need for editing revisions. In section (b), (5), ( A), the proposed curriculum declares that “Each social studies class shall include, during Celebrate Freedom Week . . . and the abolitionist movement, which led to the Emancipation Proclamation and the women’s suffrage movement.” This is an incomplete statement if you consider that other equally inspired causes—African American and Mexican American—also express the constitutional, moral, and divine spirit of liberty and freedom in our history.

In (c), (6), (F), another incomplete entry reads as follows: “explain the home front and . . . the bravery and contributions of the Tuskegee airmen, the Flying Tigers, and the Navajo Code Talkers; and opportunities and obstacles for women and ethnic minorities.” This should also include Mexican Americans. They were among the most socially marginalized Americans in the 1940s and the most highly decorated group in the U.S. military. This provides an opportunity to appreciate the depth and breadth of American dedication to the war effort.

Still another incomplete and ambiguous statement appears in (c), (11), (E). The text suggests that our teachers should “. . . describe significant societal issues of this time period.” It should read “. . . describe significant societal issues of this time period such as desegregation, minority and women’s rights, and recurring economic downturns.” This revision completes what I believe to be the entry’s original intent.

My second general recommendation is that the board encourages the use of oral history. The proposed curriculum notes this method, primarily in the early grades, but it suggests it in passing and with little conviction. You need to recognize the expansive and practical value of oral history in the classroom. It minimally provides hands-on opportunities to teach research planning, good writing, interviewing techniques, understanding and empathy for the family or community members as narrators, a deeper familiarity and appreciation for local history, the value of the relationship of local history with the regional and national experience, and the intellectually stimulating experience of creating a research product from start to finish—from the point of the production of the record to the final historical interpretation in the form of a research paper, an exhibit, or an audio-visual presentation.

Oral history’s encompassing and enabling nature, in short, provides limitless opportunities for teachers to enrich classroom instruction and for the board to endorse it as an overarching theme and focused activity. This would require that the Board instruct its staff to initiate a more thorough review of the proposed curriculum and offer a more detailed recommendation than I can offer today.

Thank you for your attention.

No comments:

Post a Comment