SAN ANTONIO – Texas is only one of 11 states that has an elected state board of education. The 15 members are 10 Republicans, all white, and five Democrats. It meets every two years. In its meetings in January and May this year, it has shredded a year of work by teachers and scholars to write a social studies curriculum upon which 4 million textbooks will be produced for Texas schools.
In January, after refusing the suggestion that scholars or teachers be present at the board meetings, the board’s Republican majority, largely social conservatives, began to make drastic changes to the curriculum. A huge battle ensued, led by the Texas Freedom Network (TFN), against the literal takeover of the curriculum by political ideas of the right wing and religious conservatives, often showing lack of knowledge and creating an embarrassment to the state. Some 40,000 letters and phone calls came into the board from the public and from scholars within and outside Texas.
Some of the worst examples of the changes became known as the “list of shame”:
* Rejecting the word “capitalism” and substituting “free enterprise,” since “capitalism” is only used by “liberal” professors in academia.
* Rejecting teaching students about constitutional protection of religious beliefs and the separation of church and state.
* Downplaying President Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, and references to enlightenment ideas.
* Removing concepts of “justice and responsibility for the common good” from the list of characteristics of good citizenship.
* Stripping out Delores Huerta, cofounder of the United Farm Workers of America, as not a model of good citizenship because she is a “socialist.”
* Rehabilitating the smarmy image of the infamous Sen. Joe McCarthy and teaching students about “communist infiltration” in the Cold War.
* Removing the book “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?” from grade 3 because the board confused its writer Bill Martin with another author Bill Martin who wrote a book on Marxism!
* Adding in right-wingers such as Phyliss Schlafly of the Heritage Foundation with no similar standard for liberal individuals or organizations.
* Minimizing the history of the Civil War and adding a comparison of Jefferson Davis’ inaugural address as president of the Confederacy, which says nothing of slavery, to President Abraham Lincoln’s.
* Watering down the history of the civil rights movement and decades of struggle of minorities and women, claiming that they owed thanks to men and the majority for their rights!
* Downgrading the words “democracy” and “democratic government” to “constitutional republic.”
* Removing a high school standard on sex and gender as social constructs and how they interact, for fear students would learn about homosexuals, transvestites, etc.
* Requiring students to learn the “unintended bad consequences” of President Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” social programs, affirmative action, and Title lX.
*Downgrading “imperialism” to the word “expansionism.”
The San Antonio Express News has criticized this effort to politicize the curriculum and make changes that are simply ignorant. These changes were made as some of the board members sat with their laptops and with little knowledge played with the education our children will receive over the next 10 years (standards are changed every 10 years). An Express News editorial called the new standards “terribly flawed and politically inspired.”
Columnist Cary Clack said the board “would rather deny history than learn from it, forgetting that we are made better each time we correct a wrong or give attention to people and problems we have neglected.” Other critics say that minorities have been neglected and “whited” out of the textbooks!
Since Texas is the largest purchaser of textbooks in the country, it is probable that not only Texas but also other states will be purchasing books written with these new guidelines.
Although not all the Republican members of the board vote as a block with the most conservative, the final vote on May 21 was split 9-5 (one not present) in favor of the new guidelines that include the changes mentioned above.
On May 19, hundreds of teachers, scholars and interfaith clergy as well as members of the NAACP, lawmakers including state Rep. Sylvester Turner of Houston from the Texas Legislative Black Caucus, and former U.S. Education Secretary Rod Paige had 2 minutes each to speak. They were the last opposition available to the public before the final vote was taken.
Mary Berlanga, a Democratic school board member from Corpus Christi, speaking against the new guidelines, said they will mean that “Hispanics will have to wait until they reach college before learning the real truth.”
TFN Communications Director Dan Quinn made it clear that the fight is not over. Efforts in the Legislature to rein in the power of the Texas State School Board of Education have been tried and failed in the past. But after this internationally publicized fight and some new electees waiting to take seats on the board, many Texans hope to get a much-needed change. Another solution proposed, abolishing the State Board of Education, would mean a very difficult change in the Texas Constitution.
Photo: Hundreds of Texans protest the right-wing politicization of the social studies curriculum, outside the building where the State Board of Education was meeting May 19, in Austin. (AP/Austin American-Statesman, Larry Kolvoord)