Curriculum

Obama Excerpt in Text Causes Controversy

October 16, 2008 2 min read
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Some parents and residents in Racine, Wis., are raising eyebrows over a section in a middle school literature textbook that includes a lengthy narrative on Barack Obama and excerpts from his book, Dreams From My Father. The 8th grade text, published by McDougal Littell, has been in use in the schools since last year, according to this local news account.

And now, thanks to the wonders of the Internet, the debate has gone national, fueling a feeding frenzy on blogs and Web forums. Some conservative bloggers and pundits see it as a carefully organized campaign to indoctrinate students with liberal values. Others are angered by the lack of equal time for John McCain, George Bush, Hillary Clinton, and other national leaders.

When I first heard of the controversy—and the conspiracy theories about how the text was a tool for bolstering the candidate’s chances in the current presidential election—I wondered how a publisher could act so quickly to get fresh material into its books. I remember that after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, it was a couple of years before any substantive additions were made to the most popular history texts. Then I realized that it is a dated entry, referring to Sen. Obama’s 2004 address at the Democratic National Convention, and his intentions to run for president.

I am not familiar with this text, which is about a year old, but it was likely several years in development. News reports say the book features a diverse selection of authors. The online activities associated with the text include a list of dozens of authors, of which Obama is one. He does seem to be odd man out among the likes of Mark Twain, Leo Tolstoy, Isaac Asimov, Emily Dickinson. But textbook publishers are under a lot of pressure to make sure people of color are represented in schoolbooks.

Some commenters on this blog are talking leftist conspiracies and suggesting a “book burning.”

And a Web site that is identified as an independent online forum for supporters of Hillary Clinton (but with no associations to the senator) hasn’t taken so kindly to the news either. See here.

Looks like this might become one of those bandwagon causes that attracts all kinds of citizens, whether they have children in the school system or not. The Racine district hadn’t received any complaints until the news hit the Internet. Apparently the controversy started when a parent complained to a conservative blog site in the state.

District officials announced today that they would review the text to ensure it aligns with state and local standards, and to respond to a complaint from a parent of an 8th grader.

In an earlier press release, they said the book was adopted before the presidential primaries and is popular throughout the country. The Obama section fits into lessons on community and provides “a contemporary and multicultural figure to explore the unit on community.”

A bunch of blogs are now urging their readers to call the district. They may want to beef up staffing at the switchboards.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.

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