Public Hearing: Tell the Texas SBOE to #TeachTheTruth

by Dan Quinn

The State Board of Education’s revision of its politically biased curriculum standards for social studies classes in Texas public schools is moving into a new and important phase. On Tuesday (June 12) the board will hold a public hearing on proposed revisions drafted over the past several months by teams of scholars and educators. Now the focus turns to whether state board members will put political agendas aside, listen to the concerns of educators and #TeachTheTruth.

What do the current standards teach Texas students? Moses was a major influence on the Constitution. The roots of our nation’s legal and political systems are found in the Bible. Slavery wasn’t the primary cause of the Civil War. Confederate General Stonewall Jackson is a role model for students. McCarthyism was justified. International treaties are an anti-American conspiracy. And plenty of other misleading standards push right-wing political arguments. In fact, even reviewers for the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute have called the current standards a “politicized distortion of history” filled with “misrepresentations at every turn.”

Working with scholars, we identified numerous concerns about these standards and proposed changes in a report released in February. You can read that report and learn more about our campaign to #TeachTheTruth here. You can register here to testify at the June 12 public hearing. Tell the state board: Take out the bad history, keep politics out and #TeachTheTruth.

So where do things stand on revisions the board is set to discuss at the public hearing on June 12? You can read the official draft revisions on the Texas Education Agency website here. (The documents from Work Groups C and D show the proposed revisions. Work Groups A and B established guidelines for the revision process.) Following is a summary of key revisions involving some of the most problematic issues in the current standards. Note: This analysis of the proposed revisions is preliminary — we just got to see the most recent batch of proposed revisions, less than a week before the public hearing.

Distorting Civil War and Civil Rights History

It appears the curriculum teams punted on how to fix the board’s distortions of the history of slavery and the Civil War in the current standards. This is obviously an issue the board will have to address during the coming months. The current standards promote the myth that the Confederacy fought the Civil War over “states’ rights.” Scholars have made clear that slavery was the primary, underlying cause of secession and the war that followed. On the other hand, the proposed revisions drop Stonewall Jackson from a standard about “effective leadership in a constitutional republic.” This deletion is an important step toward ending the unjustified glorification of Confederate “heroes” in Texas classrooms.

The curriculum teams also struggled to fix the state board’s distortions of civil rights history. Board members sought in 2010 to use the curriculum standards to suggest that Republicans were the champions of civil rights while Democrats were the only opponents. Students should learn the truth — that support and opposition to civil rights crossed party lines. In fact, majorities in both parties supported the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (which was signed into law by a Democratic president). And southern Democrats were joined by conservative Republicans — including Republican Sen. John Tower and GOP congressmen from Texas — in opposing it. But the proposed revisions still don’t make this clear. On the other hand, the revisions do improve another standard that suggested a downside to efforts to promote equal opportunities for all.

Pushing a Religious Agenda

It’s important that students learn about the profound influence religion has had in American history and society, but even the Fordham Institute’s reviewers sharply criticized the current standards for exaggerating and even inventing religious influences on the American founding. The proposed revisions make major improvements. For example, curriculum writers have proposed removing requirements suggesting that biblical law and even Moses were major influences on the American founding and government.

Promoting an Ideological Agenda

State board members in 2010 inappropriately used the standards to promote a variety of other politically biased viewpoints as well. Curriculum teams have proposed fixing or removing entirely a number of those problematic standards. Some examples:

  • Curriculum writers fixed a standard that had suggested separation of church and state is not a key constitutional principle.
  • They revised a standard that shockingly tried to justify McCarthyism’s reckless red-baiting and smears that destroyed reputations and careers in the 1950s.
  • The proposed revisions drop a standard that suggested global organizations and international treaties are part of a conspiracy to undermine U.S. sovereignty.
  • Curriculum teams also made revisions to a number of biased standards that board members had rewritten in 2010 to portray government, regulation and taxation consistently in a negative light.

What Happens Next?

Following the June 12 hearing, the board could direct curriculum teams to make further revisions (or reverse some changes already made). Then the board will hold another public hearing in September. Board members will also be able to vote on changes to the standards and proposed revisions at that September meeting. A final vote on the revised standards is set for November.

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