Amid claims from the far-Right that liberals want to brainwash students with pro-Muslim propaganda, the Tennessee Senate passed SB 1266 last month, a bill that would require U.S. history teachers to downplay diversity and contributions from minorities.
House Bill 1129 is just the latest of several attempts by the far-Right in the state and around the country to push curriculum that favors whitewashing history. If passed by the House, the Tennessee Department of Education would have to delete a guideline that encourages teaching about diversity and contributions from minorities in history classes in favor of an exceptionalist and nationalist perspective.
“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with talking in terms of we live in the greatest state in the greatest nation,” said state Rep. Timothy Hill, the bill’s main sponsor in the House.
HB 1129 mostly went unnoticed until last month when it quietly passed the Senate with a unanimous vote. But, the bill was filed in February 2013, well before the current debate over textbook standards began.
Last month, a Tennessee Republican filed a bill that would overhaul the state’s textbook commission and ensure books reflect the “state’s values.” While many politicians insist they are not attempting to discriminate against any particular ethnic or religious groups, some activists petitioning them are more direct.
ACT! for America, the Eagle Forum and other anti-Muslim groups have ramped up their efforts in states including Tennessee, Alabama, Texas, and Florida to convince education boards and textbook panels that several social studies books “proselytize for Islam” and are biased against Christianity. After Alabama dismissed these claims, ACT!’s Birmingham chapter founder said the move was “civilizational jihad against America.” The blog rantings of Victoria Jackson — comedian-turned-political-candidate — are reflective of much of the Islamophobic chatter in the Tennessee debates.
“U.S. textbooks are now biased toward Islam…at the same time that Christianity is under attack!” she wrote on her blog. She also suggested that the publishing company in question in Tennessee must be “getting paid off (bribed) by Muslim Brotherhood front groups like C.A.I.R. (sic).”
Collectively, these efforts by the far-Right to control curriculum are a throwback to a long tradition in the U.S. to conceal parts of our history that don’t support or advance a so-called mainstream agenda. They bring to mind the Orwellian slogan: “Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past.”
One only need to look back to 2010 to remember Arizona’s HB 2281, a ban on Chicano Studies curriculum that came on the heels of the notorious anti-immigrant law SB 1070. The bills were similarly characterized as reform measures, yet worked in tandem to marginalize of communities of color. As the state took to unjustifiably profiling and harassing Latinos, it simultaneously limited access to what could be learned about their historical legacy and contributions to the state and country.
Tennessee’s Rep. Hill said his bill is a work in progress, but he concedes it is meant to leave students with certain beliefs.
As far-Right lawmakers and activists continue to push anti-immigrant, anti-refugee and anti-Muslim measures in Tennessee and elsewhere, it is not hard to imagine what those beliefs might be.
Excerpts from Tennessee House Bill 1129
- “Students shall be informed of the nature of America which makes it an exception differentiated by its behavior, influence and contributions from the other nations of the world.”
- “The Constitution is the “rule book” for how the federal government works. No action is permitted unless permission for it can be found in the Constitution.”
- “The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, with the Bill of Rights … still apply in exactly the words they originally contained in simple English.”
- “All school district boards shall document and report to the commissioner their compliance with the content of courses as described. …”