Are Texas Lawmakers Making it Tougher to Accurately Teach History in Schools?

The 1836 Project would include teaching about Texas' Christian heritage its history of keeping and bearing firearms in defense of life and liberty and for use in hunting.EXPAND
The 1836 Project would include teaching about Texas' Christian heritage its history of keeping and bearing firearms in defense of life and liberty and for use in hunting.
Lynda M. Gonzalez-Pool/Getty Images
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For decades, educators and students from across the country have pushed schools, colleges and universities to teach a more truthful and inclusive version of U.S. history. Texas is pushing back.

This week, Gov. Greg Abbott signed a law establishing the 1836 Project, which creates a nine-member advisory committee to “promote patriotic education” about Texas' succession from Mexico in 1836 and other historical events. Additionally, it has a goal to “increase awareness of the Texas values that continue to stimulate boundless prosperity across this state.”

"To keep Texas the best state in the nation, we can never forget WHY our state is so exceptional," the Republican governor tweeted after signing the bill into law. "I signed a law establishing the 1836 project, which promotes patriotic education & ensures future generations understand TX values. Together, we'll keep our rich history alive."

Texas Democrats, like Gilbert Hinojosa, chairman of the state Democratic Party, pushed back against the 1836 Project, calling it an attempt to “whitewash the history of Texas through indoctrination disguised as legislation.”

Another bill that would limit how educators talk about current events and racism in the classroom was also recently sent to the governor's desk.

Marvin Dulaney, deputy director and chief operating officer of the African American Museum of Dallas, has long fought for more inclusion and truth in the telling of U.S. and Texas history. To say it’s been an uphill battle would be an understatement. It’s been more like climbing a mountain.

Since the late ’60s, Dulaney has been involved in what has become known as the Black Studies Movement.

He recalls being a student at Ohio State University where he says he was taught the same “white supremacist history our country’s been teaching for over 200 years.” Only after pressuring his professors was he allowed to research the African American experience.

In 1975, Dulaney taught his first African-American history course and has been fighting for educators' right to do the same ever since. He’s also worked to integrate Hispanic and Native-American history into the education system. Opponents often tell Dulaney there’s not enough time to teach all this history. But, there's apparently time to teach "the Christian heritage of this state, this state's heritage of keeping and bearing firearms in defense of life and liberty and for use in hunting," as these are priorities in the Texas project.

The 1836 Project is the product of Rep. Tan Parker’s HB 2497. Parker didn’t respond to a request for comment, but told the Observer in April his goal was to highlight “the Lone Star State’s culture of opportunity for every citizen and [preserve] our state’s diverse history while celebrating the strong values that have enabled decades of boundless prosperity.”

The project’s committee will also be tasked with ensuring “patriotic education” about Texas is provided to people at state parks, landmarks, monuments and museums. A pamphlet about Texas history will also be handed to anyone receiving a Texas driver’s license.

Modeled after former President Donald Trump’s now-canceled 1776 Commission, it’s a tongue and cheek diss on The New York Times’  "1619 Project." The Times' project examined slavery and racism in U.S. history.

Historians have bashed the Texas project but one history professor at Southern Methodist University sees it a bit differently.

“Historians are dunking on the Project 1836 Law signed by Greg Abbott and fairly so,” Brian Franklin, an SMU history professor, said in a Twitter thread about the project. “It’s pure culture-wars inflaming rhetoric, a response to a virtually non-existent threat of critical race theory. But if we only trash it, we’re missing the good news of ‘opportunity.’”

As a historian, Franklin is used to reading and interpreting primary documents. The bill’s text says it promotes “patriotic education” in “Texas values” through “knowledge of the founding documents” of Texas history, the professor pointed out. To Franklin, this presents an opportunity.

“We get to read the TX Dec. of Ind. w/ our students,” he said. “We get to discuss the Mexican constitution & colonization laws: how Santa Anna suspended the constitution AND how Anglos consistently broke/bent Mexican laws, esp. Mexico's abolition of slavery.”

He said educators should take this as an opportunity with students to read and identify the values in the 1836 Constitution of the Republic of Texas. “We'll find all kinds of Texas values: divided government, a strong congress, no religious establishment, the right to bear arms,” Franklin said. Here are some others: slaves must remain slaves, slaveholders must be allowed to emigrate to Texas, it is illegal to emancipate a slave, and free Black people may not live in Texas without consent.

“So yes, this 1836 Project Law is partisan, unnecessary, and ahistorical,” Franklin said. “BUT, after teaching TX history for a few years now, I can attest: this is opportunity. When you read these founding documents w/ students, they will see: freedom, slavery and everything in between.”

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