Report: It’s Time to Take Politics Out of Texas Classrooms

by TFN

Current social studies curriculum standards in Texas promote the right-wing agenda of politicians who sat on the State Board of Education in 2010. With the state board this year set to revise those standards, a new report from the TFN Education Fund documents the problems and makes recommendations for how to get politics out of public school classrooms. Check out our press release and report.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 22, 2018

AUSTIN – Curriculum standards for Texas public schools distort instruction on slavery and the Civil War, civil rights, religion and other hot-button topics, according to a new report from the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund.

The report, Taking Politics Out of Classrooms, reexamines key issues in the deeply controversial revision of standards for history, government and other social studies courses by the State Board of Education in 2010. The board is set this year to revise the standards, which guide instruction in the state’s public schools.

Even the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute has called the current standards a “politicized distortion of history” filled with “misrepresentations at every turn.”

“What happened eight years ago was a political circus and a travesty, and state board members were the ringmasters,” said Kathy Miller, president of the TFN Education Fund. “It was chaotic and embarrassing, undermining the education of our kids and turning Texas into the butt of national jokes. But this year’s board can send a strong message that the education of millions of Texas schoolchildren isn’t a playground for politicians pushing ideological agendas.”

Report contributor Edward Countryman, a professor of history at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, took particular aim at the way the current standards cover slavery, the Civil War and civil rights.

“The recommendations in this report aren’t about hiding or erasing our history,” Countryman said. “They’re about telling the truth. Politicians dishonor our nation when they lie about its history to promote an agenda. And in too many places throughout these standards, that’s exactly what the state board did eight years ago.”

Emile Lester, an associate professor of political science and international studies at the University of Mary Washington in Virginia and also a report contributor, was particularly concerned by how the standards deal with religion.

“It’s important that students learn about the profound influence religion has had on American history, ” Lester said. “But we shouldn’t exaggerate or simply make things up. Classroom discussions about the importance of religion in our history should rest on sound scholarship. Doing otherwise makes students’ understanding of American history a casualty of the culture wars.”

The TFN Education Fund report documents how the current standards promote factual inaccuracies and distort history, including:

  • History standards outrageously list Confederate General “Stonewall” Jackson alongside abolitionist Frederick Douglass as models of “leadership in a constitutional republic.” They also promote the myth that the Civil War was fought over the issue of states’ rights and downplay the role of slavery in causing the war. One board member in 2010 defended this approach by calling slavery a “side issue” in the Civil War.
  • Government standards list Moses alongside great political and legal thinkers such as John Locke and Charles de Montesquieu as major influences on the American founding. They also suggest that separation of church and state is not a key constitutional principle.
  • History standards imply that the civil rights movement’s success in gaining “increased participation of minorities in the political process” and other advances may have had negative consequences for society. They also falsely portray opposition to civil rights as coming only from southern Democrats. In fact, Republicans – including 1964 presidential nominee Barry Goldwater and Sen. John Tower of Texas – were among the opponents of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
  • Various standards portray international treaties as a conspiracy to undermine U.S. sovereignty, suggest that the infamous red-baiting of McCarthyism was justified, and promote conservative arguments about government, taxation and regulation.

These and other examples in the report show how members of the Republican-dominated board sought to use the curriculum standards to promote a deeply political and even partisan agenda, Miller said.

“Our kids’ classrooms aren’t the place for elected officials to grind political axes,” Miller said. “State board members should be helping our kids become informed citizens, not indoctrinating them with political propaganda.”

Curriculum standards guide instructional and textbook content for Texas public schools. Because the state’s market is so big, publishers write textbooks to conform to the Texas standards and often sell those textbooks to schools in other states as well.

Curriculum work teams made up of Texas educators began meeting last week in Austin. The state board will hold public hearings and debate drafts of the revised standards later this year, with a final vote expected in November.

The TFN Education Fund report is available at tfn.org/TEKSreport.

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The Texas Freedom Network Education Fund conducts research and promotes civic engagement in defense of religious freedom, individual liberties and public education.

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