For months, the Texas State Board of Education has been hearing from “experts” about the direction of the state’s social studies curriculum and textbook standards. The advice to the 15-member board — which is composed of 10 Republicans — has included more references to Christianity, fewer mentions of civil rights leaders, George Wasington, and Abraham Lincoln.
On Thursday and Friday last week, the State Board of Education took up these recommendations in a lengthy, heated debate. Some highlights of what the Republican-leaning board ended up deciding, and the debates that went on:
— On a 7-6 vote, the board decided to add “causes and key organizations and individuals of the conservative resurgence of the 1980s and 1990s, including Phyllis Schafly, the Contract with America, the Heritage Foundation, the Moral Majority, and the National Rifle Association” to the curriculum.
– The Republican majority voted against requiring Texas textbooks and teachers to cover the Democratic late senator Edward Kennedy, the first Hispanic Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, and leading Hispanic civil rights groups such as LULAC and MALDEF. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Thurgood Marshall, the country’s first African-American Supreme Court justice, will be taught.
– Republican Don McLeroy lost a battle to “remove hip-hop and insert country music in its place from a proposed set of examples of cultural movements.” Republican Patricia Hardy said that while she disliked hip hop music, pretending it wasn’t around was “crazy.” “These people are multimillionaires, and believe me, there are not enough black people to buy that,” she said. “There are white people buying this. It has had a profound effect.” Country music was added as a separate measure.
– “McLeroy was successful with another of his noteworthy amendments: to include documents that supported Cold War-era Sen. Joseph McCarthy and his contention that the U.S. government was infiltrated with Communists in the 1950s.”
– “Republican board member Cynthia Dunbar unsuccessfully tried to strike the names of Scopes monkey trial attorney Clarence Darrow and Pan-Africanist Marcus Garvey from the standards. Asked by another member about her opposition to Garvey, Dunbar explained, according to the Texas Tribune: “My concern is that he was born in Jamaica and was deported.”
– The board “included a requirement for students in U.S. history classes to differentiate between legal and illegal immigration.”
Unable to reach to reach complete agreement last week, the board unanimously decided to “suspend debate on the standards until March, when they will take up other social studies subjects such as government and geography.” A final decision won’t be reached until May. McLeroy, who has been the driving force of some of the most conservative amendments, said that he plans on proposing more controversial standards, such as an evaluation of the U.S. civil rights movement and the “increased participation of minorities in the political process and unrealistic expectations for equal outcomes,” in addition to the “adversarial approach taken by many civil rights groups.”
This debate is important not only because it will dictate how the state’s 4.7 million schoolchildren are taught social studies, but also because Texas “is one of the nation’s biggest buyers of textbooks.” Publishers are often “reluctant to produce different versions of the same material,” and therefore create books in line with Texas’ standards. “Publishers will do whatever it takes to get on the Texas list,” one industry executive told the Washington Monthly.
Paul Krugman has more on the importance of textbook writers.
,The editorial staff of the Waco Tribune writes, “The board’s decision to postpone final decisions till March is good, if only to allow board members, special-interest groups and Texans to re-examine what’s happening to our society. It’s gradually morphing into a republic where students learn what’s either politically correct or what’s on someone else’s political agenda. Little of it truly improves students.”