On Friday, the members of the Texas State Board of Education voted 9-5 on social studies curriculum standards for Texas Public Schools. Proposed revisions to textbooks will largely eliminate the civil rights movement from the curriculum.
Former U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige and NAACP President and CEO Ben Jealous were among those who spoke before the board earlier in the week. Paige, who served as Education Secretary during President George W. Bush’s first term, implored the board members to take more time to consider the new standards, saying they will diminish the importance of civil rights and slavery.
For example, references to activists such as Susan B. Anthony and Upton Sinclair will be minimized. In a small concession by conservatives, Thomas Jefferson was restored to a list of political philosophers to be studied. Jefferson’s place in U.S. and world history had originally been largely removed because he advocated the separation of church and state. Students will, however, be taught that “separation of church and state” is not in the U.S. Constitution.
More than 1,200 scholars from universities across the state wrote a letter condemning the board for falling short of “providing even a basic education to Texas school children.”
“Standards are supposed to be about equity, not about marginalizing certain groups by using political power,” said Dr. Julian V. Heilig, assistant professor of education policy and planning and affiliate faculty in the department of African and African American Diaspora Studies at the University of Texas at Austin.
“Standards, accountability and testing were created under the auspices of creating greater equity for students who have been historically underserved by the schools, the districts and the state,” he says. “As standards have become more and more politically defined the histories of those groups are being defined by other groups. When you disempower the history of the very groups that these standards were created to serve, the unintended consequences, I believe, is that these students are disempowered by those changes. It serves as a disincentive for these kids to stay in school.”
A huge concern is that this decision will affect more than the 4.8 million Texas students who will be taught under these guidelines for the next 10 years. Texas is such a large consumer of textbooks that changes to Texas curriculum can have a national impact.
“Our position is they need to back up, go back, change the process and bring in the folks who really know what they’re doing, not try to engage in indoctrination,” says Gary Bledsoe, NAACP Texas State Conference president. “We’re nonpartisan. All we want is the truth told — the good and the bad about both political parties that you can tell.
“To actually teach that limited government is the right way, it’s so far extreme,” says Bledsoe, who added that many of the changes are perceived as a form of right-wing indoctrination.
Approximately 12 percent of the population of Texas is African-American and approximately 36 percent is Hispanic or Latino. The proposed changes would include no requirement to teach about the NAACP or LULAC. Jefferson Davis would be treated similarly as Abraham Lincoln. The Civil War would be described as a battle over states’ rights, with reference to slavery minimized.
“The psychological damage it will do to individuals,” Bledsoe says. “A bigger issue … is it undermines college readiness. That should be one of the primary things we’re about in terms of providing education to our public school students. It’s clearly combative and it’s offensive when you try to steal someone’s history and rewrite it. To rewrite history flies in the face of the truth.”
Proponents of the revisions said they’re simply compensating for the liberal bias that has long pervaded education.
In a press release from the Liberty Institute, Jonathan Saenz, director of legislative affairs was quoted as saying, “After almost 18 months of review, educators, experts, parents and members of the business community are sending a message: we don’t want the American Atheists and the ACLU in charge of writing our history standards and we don’t want a delay of the final vote. Liberal fringe efforts to complicate, obfuscate and denigrate our heritage and history must be rejected.”
Dr. Clayborne Carson, professor of history at Stanford University and director of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute, says he is concerned by the lack of expert guidance the board considered.
“What’s disturbing is when you not only want coverage of a certain area, but you want a certain viewpoint of an area. You’re mandating an interpretation of American history,” Carson says. ”When you demand a certain interpretation of American history, then why bother to have historians write history books? Why don’t you have the Texas Board of Education write them? Because they can’t. They’re not qualified to write. It puts historians into a very difficult position of essentially having to lie. You’re not really telling what you think is the story. You’re telling what you’ve been told is the story.”
Of greater concern is the board’s unwillingness to engage in meaningful discussion.
“If you think of education as I have my reality and you have your reality, then we can easily see that the future does not bode well for having an informed discussion about any significant topic in American history,” says Carson.