STREAMING NOW: Watch Now

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.

Continents and regions

North America

Southwestern United States

Texas

The Americas

United States

Citizenship and naturalization

Curricula

Disability and society

Disabled persons

Diseases and disorders

Ear, nose and throat disorders

Education

Health and medical

Hearing impairment

Immigration, citizenship and displacement

International relations and national security

Society

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: 144544

Reported Deaths: 3729
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto963299
Hinds9584195
Harrison6848109
Jackson6124118
Rankin528598
Lee484295
Madison4633105
Forrest368186
Jones345287
Lauderdale3350143
Lafayette315049
Washington3097107
Lamar281849
Oktibbeha239261
Bolivar239083
Lowndes228863
Neshoba2164115
Panola211749
Marshall208350
Leflore200890
Pontotoc194728
Monroe190277
Sunflower189755
Lincoln186165
Warren172257
Tate164251
Union160925
Pike160458
Copiah158940
Yazoo151239
Scott150229
Itawamba147634
Coahoma147443
Pearl River144467
Simpson144253
Alcorn143925
Prentiss140429
Grenada136945
Adams136548
Leake131843
Holmes124961
George122224
Tippah121530
Covington117636
Winston116624
Wayne115823
Hancock114139
Marion111046
Attala107833
Tishomingo106142
Newton102729
Chickasaw102432
Tallahatchie95527
Clarke88553
Clay87027
Jasper81122
Walthall75028
Stone72414
Montgomery71925
Calhoun71613
Carroll70614
Lawrence70214
Yalobusha69427
Noxubee69217
Smith68816
Perry65225
Tunica59619
Greene58422
Claiborne57416
Jefferson Davis54217
Humphreys52618
Amite51214
Benton48417
Quitman4796
Webster42014
Kemper40917
Wilkinson38622
Jefferson33811
Franklin3235
Choctaw3077
Sharkey30617
Issaquena1114
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 236865

Reported Deaths: 3472
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson31043491
Mobile19446360
Tuscaloosa12684150
Madison12528146
Montgomery12122235
Shelby992276
Baldwin837684
Lee759765
Morgan626247
Calhoun6049113
Etowah600564
Marshall596153
Houston510838
DeKalb469635
Cullman421136
Limestone408844
St. Clair403955
Elmore398961
Lauderdale387253
Walker356199
Talladega339044
Jackson302524
Colbert297641
Blount282236
Autauga266139
Franklin246233
Coffee236615
Dale228454
Dallas222331
Russell21923
Chilton218537
Covington215933
Escambia196931
Tallapoosa171790
Chambers171448
Pike156014
Clarke155319
Marion135535
Winston126623
Lawrence123936
Geneva11848
Pickens117618
Marengo117424
Barbour116710
Bibb115717
Butler114341
Randolph100321
Cherokee99624
Hale93231
Washington89918
Clay89623
Fayette86216
Henry8436
Lowndes78929
Monroe77911
Cleburne75614
Macon71720
Crenshaw70330
Bullock69019
Conecuh68214
Perry6726
Lamar6337
Wilcox62818
Sumter56222
Choctaw41813
Greene41317
Coosa3144
Out of AL00
Unassigned00
Tupelo
Overcast
61° wxIcon
Hi: 72° Lo: 40°
Feels Like: 61°
Columbus
Overcast
61° wxIcon
Hi: 73° Lo: 41°
Feels Like: 61°
Oxford
Broken Clouds
61° wxIcon
Hi: 70° Lo: 37°
Feels Like: 61°
Starkville
Overcast
57° wxIcon
Hi: 72° Lo: 38°
Feels Like: 57°
WTVA Radar
WTVA Temperatures
WTVA Severe Weather