"Pro-American" History Textbooks Hurt Native Americans

11/21/2014 10:43 am ET Updated Jan 21, 2015

I teach Native American Studies and virtually none of my university students has had any education whatsoever in the history of this country's treatment of the 10 million or so people who lived here before Europeans arrived. They generally believe that the continent was more or less wide-open and that the few people who were here aided the Pilgrims with a harvest fest and then after a few skirmishes with settlers complied with their destiny as the vanishing Indian.

The Texas State Board of Education wants to reinforce this knowledge gap, forcing Texas high schoolers to learn a sanitized version of U.S. history in the name of being "pro-American."

The Texas board recently voted to allow state-defined curriculum for the Advanced Placement History Exam to trump that of the federally-defined curriculum on which the exam will be based in order to sidestep aspects of U.S. history they find distasteful. The board is expected to take a final vote on textbook approval on Friday.

The Texas board took this measure even though it is certain to disadvantage Texas high school students on the AP test.

They feel the purpose of teaching history, as one school board member recently stated, is to "teach students to be proud American citizens."

But as a professor at Texas' flagship university, I have found these omissions to have the opposite effect. My students are usually quite surprised to find that they have been provided a whitewashed version of history. They are often outraged. They feel lied to.

Omission of the truth is, in fact, a form of lying.

I would offer that the purpose of teaching history in schools is to create critical thinkers capable of meaningful participation in a democratic society. Not surprisingly with attitudes like those exhibited by their stance on history, Texas is often failing to do that.

I am regularly alarmed at my first year students' lack of critical thinking ability. These are bright students. They wouldn't be at UT if they weren't.

They simply haven't been taught to think critically because their education favored memorization and successful performance on standardized tests. This is exactly the problem the overhaul of the AP U.S. History test and related curriculum was designed to overcome.

But the board found the new curriculum to be "anti-American" because it includes "negative aspects" of U.S. history. Pat Hardy, another conservative school board member, said "To me there was a negativity to the standards, and very few positives about America were found."

While the school board claims the problem is anti-American bias, the material in question is not a matter of interpretation.

The United States expanded by systematically eliminating Native Americans from under official policies and acts of Congress with names like "removal," "reorganization," "termination," and "relocation." Millions died, and many millions of acres of their lands were taken from them to serve the advancing settlers. Ideologies of white racial superiority were widespread from colony through the early 20th century and were regularly and openly offered as the justification for these harms as necessary to the civilizing mission.

These are historical facts. These events and dynamics shaped our country. And they should be taught to our students.

Providing our students with a strictly "positive" version of U.S. history does not produce proud Americans. Nor does teaching the difficult truth of our country's history necessarily produce citizens that are not patriotic.

For example, Native Americans are among the most patriotic people I know. They serve in the U.S. armed forces in disproportionately high numbers, with the highest troop-to-population ratios of any racial or ethnic group. Natives revere their veterans and honor them for their service to this country. No powwow begins without the entry of the Honor Guard, and the posting of the American flag alongside state and tribal flags. My own tribe begins its annual meeting with the pledge of allegiance.

And they know their history.