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Texas' twisted excuse for removing Helen Keller

On September 14 the Texas State Board of Education ...

Posted: Sep 24, 2018 6:42 AM
Updated: Sep 24, 2018 6:42 AM

On September 14 the Texas State Board of Education made a series of key votes that could transform the way students learn to understand the world around them -- and themselves. Texas wants to remove some content from the social studies curriculum, said board chairperson Donna Bahorich, so that teachers can delve more deeply into certain topics.

Billed as an effort to "streamline" the curriculum, the move spared Baptist pastor Billy Graham, the impeachment trial of former President Clinton and Moses from the chopping block -- while Hilary Clinton, Barry Goldwater, Thomas Hobbes and Helen Keller were eliminated.

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Perhaps the most overtly dogmatic cut was the deletion of the phrase, "such as holding public officials to their word" from a fourth-grade unit on how to participate in civic affairs. But the erasure of Helen Keller, an iconic advocate for the deaf and blind whose social activism also included women's suffrage, birth control and pacifism -- who is currently taught as part of a third-grade unit on citizenship -- is an underhanded play with a troubling message: that homogeny is normal and exposure to outside perspectives should be limited.

To remove Keller from the curriculum also means to eliminate the single touchstone for deafness and disability for most mainstream students. Earlier this week, I asked a room of 35 of my own college students if they'd ever met a deaf person who wasn't me. Four or five raised their hands—they worked retail and had seen deaf customers. Many of these students are considering fields like social work, education, criminal justice, occupational and speech therapy and law, where knowledge of deafness and disability will be integral to their work, and still their exposure is extremely limited long past the third grade. This is the norm in a society that constantly tells us to avert our eyes from disabled people, to separate out "normal" and "other."

While studying Keller in school doesn't guarantee improved interaction between non-disabled and disabled people, things certainly cannot change if students never see even a single example of a deaf or disabled person as an integral member of society. Can we create good non-disabled citizens if they have no frame of reference through which to understand, respect or empathize with their disabled peers, colleagues, charges or supervisors?

Further, is there any hope for deaf or disabled kids, particularly girls, to excel and be the best citizens they can be if they never see themselves as worthy of a place in the historical record? For us, Helen Keller is a role model and a beacon, a reminder of what is possible despite the abuse we may take on the playground or the gaps in the education system that seem designed to lose us.

While the board stressed repeatedly that their decisions were "not political," it's easy to wonder whether Keller's membership in the Socialist party was a factor. And in light of the current federal administration's active attacks on the rights of disabled people, particularly through the attempted gutting of the Americans with Disabilities Act via H.R. 620 and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos's rescinding of 72 guidance documents ensuring the rights of disabled students, marginalizing the disabled is increasingly part of the GOP strategy.

Like the rest of The Texas Board of Education's cuts, Keller's removal was justified as a way to save time; without her, says the Board, third-grade teachers will gain 40 minutes per year. But a note from the work group who chose to remove Keller makes their motive clearer: "Helen Keller does not best represent the concept of citizenship. Military and first responders are best represented."

What is a citizen, and what makes a good one? It's a question at the heart of so many of the controversies we see playing out across the country today.

While first responders and military personnel are often exemplary citizens and exhibit the qualities of bravery, selflessness and patriotism we value, working in these fields is far from the only way to be a good citizen. Further, to suggest that the singular way to teach a third-grader about good citizenship is through the military is to set early limits on the imaginations of our children, and ultimately curb what future generations can and will do for their communities and country.

Keller -- an author and activist who transformed the way people thought about disability and education -- was an engaged member of her community and a catalyst for a cultural shift in understanding our humanity. The first deaf-blind person to earn a bachelor's degree, Keller fought not only for deaf and disabled people's access to education, but also for women's rights, worker's rights and peaceful resolutions to international conflict, overcoming numerous obstacles to give voice to the underrepresented. She was a world traveler, visiting 35 countries to discuss the rights of deaf people abroad. She wrote multiple books, was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. If Keller is not a good citizen, who is?

Fortunately, good citizenship is not a limited resource. To say that we value, that we need teachers, artists, inventors, tradespeople, engineers, scientists, volunteers, religious leaders, non-emergency healthcare providers, public officials and people in all kinds of professions in no way undermines the valor of military personnel or of first responders. To give any one mode of employment a monopoly on essentiality or moral goodness is to deny the basic foundation of our union: different kinds of virtuous, engaged citizens are what make up any successful society, especially America.

Happily, the board has a chance to right this decision in a final vote in November. I hope the citizens of Texas will encourage them to reconsider. Perhaps if the voting parties had seen alternative models for good citizenship reinforced more emphatically throughout their own educational experiences, this question wouldn't be on the table at all. I, for one, can't think of a better use of 40 minutes.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 338079

Reported Deaths: 7523
CountyCasesDeaths
Hinds23409440
DeSoto23069280
Harrison20064328
Rankin15119290
Jackson14743251
Madison10806227
Lee10568179
Jones8864169
Forrest8408159
Lauderdale7684243
Lowndes6917151
Lamar683789
Lafayette6502124
Washington5551139
Pearl River5060150
Bolivar4923134
Oktibbeha484798
Panola4739112
Warren4690127
Marshall4670106
Pontotoc442873
Monroe4293137
Union429179
Neshoba4232181
Hancock417788
Lincoln4148116
Pike3605113
Leflore3587125
Tate351488
Alcorn346474
Sunflower344994
Adams338488
Scott336676
Yazoo335673
Simpson319290
Copiah319068
Itawamba312480
Coahoma311585
Tippah300568
Prentiss295063
Covington287183
Marion281780
Leake281575
Wayne274643
Grenada267588
George266251
Newton258964
Tishomingo238070
Winston236284
Jasper227548
Attala223373
Stone219437
Chickasaw217560
Holmes197674
Clay194654
Clarke184480
Tallahatchie182742
Calhoun179432
Smith177535
Yalobusha170240
Walthall144448
Lawrence140026
Greene137634
Amite135643
Noxubee134235
Perry132438
Montgomery131544
Carroll125431
Webster119132
Jefferson Davis114234
Tunica113227
Benton105925
Claiborne104831
Kemper101429
Humphreys99833
Franklin86723
Quitman84319
Choctaw81819
Wilkinson76532
Jefferson70428
Sharkey51618
Issaquena1736
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 574737

Reported Deaths: 11492
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson839571589
Mobile46611857
Madison36938532
Tuscaloosa26841465
Shelby26769255
Montgomery25853624
Baldwin24213326
Lee16897181
Calhoun15210332
Morgan14990289
Etowah14721369
Marshall12855235
Houston11661292
Elmore10727217
St. Clair10587250
Limestone10535158
Cullman10323204
Lauderdale10044253
DeKalb9335191
Talladega8797187
Walker7659286
Autauga7456114
Jackson7295117
Blount7233139
Colbert6614142
Coffee6117131
Dale5393117
Russell467742
Chilton4666117
Covington4623125
Franklin447281
Tallapoosa4420157
Escambia425282
Chambers3880125
Dallas3707163
Clarke366462
Marion3413106
Pike326979
Lawrence3211101
Winston293972
Bibb282965
Geneva274283
Marengo259067
Barbour245161
Pickens239662
Butler237672
Hale232378
Fayette225064
Henry206645
Randolph196144
Monroe195041
Cherokee194548
Washington179339
Macon168352
Crenshaw165058
Clay163659
Cleburne159945
Lamar149738
Lowndes144854
Wilcox129831
Bullock126042
Conecuh119530
Coosa116729
Perry109928
Sumter108732
Greene98336
Choctaw63925
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