Texas Textbooks Ignore Hip-Hop, Thomas Jefferson

"...But history is written by those who have hanged heroes" - Braveheart

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What do you need to know about history? They are the stories that made up America. They are the stories that America made up.

That's actually not ours. If you've seen Assume The Position on HBO, you know it's a comedic but accurate portrayal of American history - the stuff they don't tell you in history books. At the end of the program, various actors and scholars comment on the notion of accurate history. One person says something along the lines of, "When you think about history, you have to wonder who does the story belong to and why are they telling it?"

That statement holds incredible truth today. In March, both our sister blog Hair Balls and The New York Times reported on the Texas Board of Education's approval of a new social-studies curriculum that put a conservative stamp on history and economics textbooks by, among other things, omitting any references to hip-hop.

What the hell does that mean? We can tell you that it means that as influential as a cultural force hip-hop has been in the last 30 years, it will not be in history books - not one lyric. We can tell you that despite Hispanics being the largest minority in this country, their role models won't have a satisfactory place in history books. And here's the kicker: Neither will Thomas Jefferson.

We can thank the Houston area's own Cynthia Dunbar for that one. Dunbar is a representative for the Texas State Board of Education, District 10 and Rocks Off is proud - OK, not really - to say she's from our hometown of Richmond, a place where 58.7 percent of the residents are Hispanic, 13.6 percent are Black and 26.8 percent are non-Hispanic White. She represents the people. (Pick up on the sarcasm?)

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Gilbert Stuart
Thomas Jefferson: Original Gangsta?
Dunbar has managed to hang Thomas Jefferson from Texas' history books. Jefferson coined the phrase "separation between church and state," but Dunbar prefers "One Nation Under God." You do the math, or the history. The third president wasn't relevant enough for her. Relevance - that's the name of the game, isn't it?

You know what Rocks Off finds fascinating? Since we started writing about Latino hip-hop with a civil rights undertone, so many young Latinos have written us and said, "You're all I read. You're all I read." And it hit us. They're reading about another subject they'd otherwise tune out.

But they are learning, maybe not the subject matter of the Texas Board of Education's choice, but learning nonetheless - stretching their mind with words and sentence structure and information that makes them feel good and that they count for something. They are engaged, and so they do what we can't get kids to do anymore - read.

Perhaps Rocks Off could teach the board a little something about decreasing our dropout rate: Just keep it relevant.

In the last 100 years, the way we consume information has evolved dramatically, from reading print on a piece of paper to having the world at your fingertips with a thing called the iPad. But inside the classroom, we haven't evolved. We're still teaching the same way, we always have. Chalk on board. In this age of iPods, iPads, and the Internet, we're still in the stone age.

It's a sad state of affairs we are in with public education.

Perhaps we need to hire some lobbyists to make hip-hop relevant to the board of education's ruling conservative white base. We have just the guys. Just like golf is no longer a white man's game and the best player is black, hip-hop is no longer a black man's genre and the best rapper is white.

Do you think the board knows this? If we get the right lobbyists, could we get the decision to excise hip-hop from Texas' history books flip-flopped?

Here are Rocks Off's ideal lobbyists. Hope it helps, Cynthia.

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