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moragmacpherson ([personal profile] moragmacpherson) wrote2014-09-12 06:45 pm

Science and History: Why Scientists Should Stand Against the New Texas History Textbooks Too

The Texas Freedom Network started back in the mid-1990s with two top issues: keeping Texas schools in line with Supreme Court rulings on school prayer, doing the same for Creationism Intelligent Design Emphasizing Alternative Theories to Evolution. Once they got involved in raising awareness of truly embarrassing textbooks mandated and approved by the Texas State Board of Education (TXSBOE) in biology, their expansion into the health "abstinence only" curriculum was pretty organic. And their efforts are not just for Texas students: because Texas is one of the largest states to have a state mandated list of approved texts (New York, while populous, lets school districts select their text books independently), about half the textbooks sold in this country are written to conform with Texas State Guidelines (the other half are written to conform with the California State Guidelines). I've been supporting them pretty much since I moved down here to study history. because historians have a strong interest in science (it's hard to talk about the Ice Age one period when your biology teacher tells you the world isn't old enough to have had an ice age the next one).

This year, however, it's texts for the History/Social Studies curriculum that are up for approval. TFN having been largely science-oriented before, realized that the social sciences were just as vulnerable as the hard ones. So they rounded up a group of volunteer professors, teachers, and doctoral candidates to independently review all 43 proposed texts, covering Texas, US, and World History, as well as US Civics. Some of those reviewers are friends of mine. "[TFN was] a little shocked at how detailed our submitted reviews were," one told me. He's going to have 120 seconds to explain to the Board why the text he reviewed is inaccurate, glaringly biased, and downright unprofessional in its presentation. If you've been following this through the abbreviated articles touching on the worst inaccuracies, my friend is the one who (though he didn't read the overall worst rated text) had the pleasure of reading about how all problems in the Middle East result from Jihad, and that sub-Saharan Africa is populated by "the Negro race."

Now, conserve your energy, because I have his first draft, no snark spared, and it got worse. And this is reason number one why Scientists should be equally appalled as historians about Chapter 13, the home of that delightful phrase.

To give some context for Chapter 13, I'll give you a brief sample of Chapter 12 - "Latin American Civilizations" (never mind that there was no Latin to be found there in the Pre-Columbian Era, which would be the proper title of that chapter) where after like the Aztecs (slur name), Mayans (who apparently were "pantheistic," which is NOT a synonym for "polytheist"), and Incans by asking students to write an essay "speculat[ing[ on why the Maya, Aztec, or Inca did not develop more advanced science, technology, or mathematics" and "identify[ing] at least two reasons and evaluate them in light of your knowledge of history."

So, yeah... they've set a very low bar for themselves. It's in Chapter 13 "African Civilization," where we're confronted with the subsection, The People and Cultures of Early Africa. Here's the thing: that use of the made up "Negro race?" Is preceded by something far more evil. I'll just copy-paste his complete rundown of the chapter so we can rip it off like a band aid, take RAEG breaks as needed:

The first known inhabitants of Africa north of the Sahara in prehistory were Caucasoid Hamitic people of uncertain origin.

Africa. Was Settled. By Caucasians. OK then.

South of the Sahara Desert most of the people before the Age of Explorations were black Africans of the Negro race.

WHAT?!?!?”!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!??! Who the hell wrote this? To begin with, why are people even categorized by such a nebulous category as ‘race’ anyway? And what kind of definitions are these—straight out of the KKK playbook?

“Negro race” is not a thing—and it never was. Wikipedia has this to say:

Negroid (also known by the more precise term Congoid[1]) is a term that is used by some forensic and physical anthropologists to refer to individuals and populations that share certain morphological and skeletal traits that are frequent among most populations in Sub-Saharan Africa.[2][3][4] The term is commonly associated with notions of racial typology which are disputed by a majority of anthropologists.[5] For modern usage it is associated with racial notions, and is discouraged, as it is potentially offensive.[6]

(for the record, they say the same thing about “Caucasoid”)

They’re basically treating racial anthropology like a real valid attempt at modern science as if it hasn’t been discredited—they are really reaching here trying to pass it off as a scientifically valid classification. It’s almost like they went to the Encyclopedia Britannica from 1900 and regurgitated it because it’s in the public domain.

In an answer meant to reinforce this question: The Arabs became the dominant Caucasian people of North Africa after 700 C.E.

Describing Arabs as Caucasian is also problematic. And they were never “dominant”—they intermarried into the local populations; this is why there is no “Arab” phenotype and “Arab” is defined linguistically.

This is bad. This is very, very bad.

We forgive his use of Wikipedia as a source because it shows that the academic lowest common denominator condemns this language as harshly as liberal intellectuals do. And my friend is a great devotee of the liberal arts, because he missed the words that once again try to sneak a Creationist narrative into Texas Schools. As I told him:

"I'm assuming the "first known inhabitants" and "uncertain origin" stem from a reluctance to admit that humans evolved in North West Africa before the Saharan Desert existed?"

He said that actually, he'd found an expert on the history of science to explain the long-discredited 19th century theory of Racial Anthropology and he hadn't looked further because Mediterranean Africans were lumped in with the **shudder** Caucasoids.

I looked at the text again. "No, I'm pretty sure that for these authors the first inhabitants of Africa had to come from the Northeast, because that's how you'd get to Africa from Eden, which was somewhere in Iraq, Iran, or Syria, depending on who you ask."

"Adam and Eve," he replied.

"Yep." I looked again, checked a couple other sections, and then felt confident enough to go with it. "And I hate to nitpick, but this is the second time they've totally segregated North and sub-Saharan Africa, and this one's got an even more political agenda."

"What's that?"

"When the first inhabitants of Africa lived there, painting on cave walls, you couldn't have a sub-Saharan region because there wasn't a Sahara Desert."


"The Sahara Desrt big and it's growing, but it's very well documented as being young. Right at the end of pre-history. that region was lush tropical forests, crocodiles and everything. Its only a desert right now because of something having to do with axial tilt and maybe because the Americas smushed together. The weather changed, maybe 10,000 years ago."


I decided to stop tip-toeing. "Humans might not have been responsible for this, but this book is quietly and repeatedly denying any form of climate change since the last Ice Age, and it even glosses over that as much as it can."

"You think?

And yes. considering the blatant political motifs found throughout the book (Greek and Roman societies were capitalist, and Judaeo-Christians worship God while Muslims worship "Allah" (aka the Arab word for God), and Christianity is the only religion that doesn't oppress women) -- I think that this book is designed to dovetail with pseudo-science curricula that deny both evolution and climate change of any kind.

So, my more lab-oriented friends, please take a second to stand with the historians. Don't let ideologically driven politicians lay the foundations for their denial of science while the kids think they're learning history. We've all got a stake in this.