Controversial SBOE history standards hit Texas classrooms

Approved in 2010, new standards include removal of 20th Century labor movement, addition of Moral Majority's contributions
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Tuesday, September 06, 2011 at 9:09 am

A controversial social studies curriculum adopted by the State Board of Education in May 2010 has debuted with the new school year, which began late last month in many Texas classrooms.

Last year, the curriculum was the subject of heated debate between the board’s social conservative bloc and moderate Republicans and Democrats. Scholars, activists and parents complained that it marginalized minority figures and included a conservative slant, drawing negative national attention to the 15-member body.

While the 9-5 vote to approve the plan was cast along partisan lines, opposition came from both sides of the political aisle, with a prominent national conservative research group giving the standards a “D” grade, calling them a “politicized distortion of history” and suggesting they undergo a “radical” overhaul, as the Texas Independent previously reported.

A recent opinion piece in the Austin American-Statesman casts renewed attention on the standards, now that they’re making their way into classrooms.

Written by a Central Texas history teacher, it points to holes in the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, including no mention of the 20th century labor movement; eliminating the government’s use of propaganda during World War I; replacing the term “American imperialism,” with “American expansionism”; and the omission of founding fathers George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams in 11th-grade history TEKS. The new curriculum also includes the false confirmation that the House Committee on Un-American Activities’ findings during the “Red Scare” of the 1950s were validated.

The author writes:

Students will learn about the contributions of Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority. Maybe the students will read Falwell’s claim that feminists and homosexuals were partially responsible for the 9/11 attacks. Phyllis Schlafly, the Heritage Foundation and the NRA are all included. Students will also be required to “discuss the meaning of ‘In God We Trust.’ ”

History in Texas classrooms will be decidedly different from when we were students. I never learned “both the positive and negative impacts of … country and western music” in my high school history class. Where would you rate Estée Lauder in terms of historical importance to our country? If you think she is one of the 68 most important historical figures, you agree with the board. Yes, the board included her in the state curriculum, but not George Washington.

The history standards include hundreds of rewrites, revisions and deletions from board-approved TEKS review committee and the SBOE.

More examples in high school TEKS include the removal of McCarthyism’s impact; the omission of Japanese internment camps during World War II; omission of socialist presidential candidate Eugene V. Debs; a call to identify the origins of major domestic and foreign policy issues currently facing the United States; a call to evaluate efforts by global organizations to undermine U.S. sovereignty through the use of treaties and changing the phrase “democratic society” to constitutional republic.

The makeup of the SBOE has changed since the board approved the history standards. As the Texas Independent reported, the March primary and November elections saw a purging of influential social conservatives like former board chair and Young Earth creationist Don McLeroy and staunch hard-right member Cynthia Dunbar.

Ten of the 15 members who voted on the history standards remain on the board; elections ushered in five new members. Of those, two members Thomas Ratliff (R-Mount Pleasant) and Michael Soto (D-San Antonio) testified at a Mexican American Legislative Caucus history curriculum hearing last year, urging the board to refrain from politicizing the text.

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