We were in the midst of text book adoption some years ago when an unexpected snag brought the process to a halt.
The Social Studies Departments across our district were asked to pilot an array of textbooks for the Fall of 1994. Publishers had generously provided sample texts, and we spent hours previewing different titles, passing our preferences to our District Social Studies Coordinator.
Government teachers decided, unanimously, that they would replace their current text with the newer edition of the book they had used for some years. To a person, instructors agreed to readopt Magruders American Government; a trusty standard, and the hands-down favorite of most 12th grade teachers across the country. Our staff had ready-made units, lessons, speakers, ancillary materials,, film clips, debate resolutions, etc . . . only requiring the newer book with updated factual information. And their decision appeared to be resolved.
But in the last phase, presentation for final adoption, the Board of Trustees suddenly slammed on the brakes, visibly unhappy with the choice.
Magruders, as a tradition, had placed a photo of the current first lady inside the first page of their textbook. The old copies may have still been of Mamie Eisenhower by the tattered condition of the old copies. But no longer. The inside photo of this new edition featured First Lady, Hillary Rodham Clinton, and board members, reactionaries to the core, lost their minds.
I taught AP American History at that same time, and thought nothing of reordering Thomas Bailey’s American Pageant, another classic. We had used this text for some time, but needed an updated edition, too. However, in light of the fiasco over Magruders, I too, found my text in the crosshairs.
Wearing an understanding, sympathetic expression the district coordinator said I had to prepare a defense of my book, too. And it wasn’t that I minded touting the virtues of the book, I liked Pageant a lot, but I did mind the time lost in preparing my classroom work. Plus, it was so annoying that we all had to jump for the Board because Mrs. Clinton had the audacity to be the new First Lady.
I supposed, fair was fair, if one book was attacked for fallacious reasons, attack the rest-a convenient diversion to camouflage the real aim of thought suppression.
The central thrust is that Trump era of intolerance had been in the making for quite some years. The irrational politics of 2016 was clearly hardening across the nation years earlier. From School Boards, to City Halls, to library districts, restriction of free thought was under assault.
Nothing pisses off the far right more than a rational challenge from open-minded, articulate, and educated thinkers.
Gail Chumbley is a retired history educator, and author of the two-part memoir River of January, and River of January: Figure Eight.