Texas SBOE Puts Politics Ahead of Truth in Curriculum Standards

by Dan Quinn

The State Board of Education had the chance this week to #TeachTheTruth in revised social studies curriculum standards for Texas public schools. But from Moses to the Civil War, board members once again decided to substitute their personal beliefs for facts and accurate history. We just sent out the following press release.

TEXAS SBOE PUTS POLITICS AHEAD OF TRUTH IN CURRICULUM STANDARDS

From Moses to the Civil War, Board Members Again Substitute Personal Beliefs for Facts

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 13, 2018

AUSTIN – The State Board of Education on Wednesday moved to keep false and misleading claims about “states’ rights,” Moses, separation of church and state and other topics in social studies curriculum standards for Texas public schools.

Board members did let stand a number of important improvements to the standards proposed by official curriculum teams made up of teachers and scholars. But often on party-line votes, a majority rejected proposed revisions to standards that since 2010 have included misleading and historically inaccurate claims, said Carisa Lopez, political director of the Texas Freedom Network.

“They clearly couldn’t restrain themselves,” Lopez said. “From the Civil War to Moses and separation of church and state, board members substituted their personal beliefs for what scholars and teachers have been telling them is important to teaching the truth. Once again, we see why politicians rewriting curriculum standards for public schools is just a bad idea. You end up with history based on majority vote rather than on facts.”

The board this year is supposedly “streamlining” – or shortening – deeply politicized and controversial socials studies curriculum standards the 2010 board adopted. But the decisions on Wednesday added back hours of instructional time and restored a number of historically inaccurate claims that official curriculum teams had corrected after months of work.

Scholars were particularly concerned by the board’s decision to perpetuate the myth that the defense of “states’ rights” was a cause of the Civil War. The board did change the standards to emphasize slavery’s central role in causing the war, but including “states’ rights” as a contributing factor is historically inaccurate, said Dr. Shirley Thompson, a historian at the University of Texas at Austin who has extensively researched slavery and its legacy in this country.

“’States’ rights’ is a fundamental aspect of the ‘Lost Cause’ myth that was promoted in the late-19th and early-20th century to erase the African-American experience and historical memory of slavery and the Civil War,” Thompson said. “This pro-Confederate interpretation of history also went hand-in-hand with and helped to authorize Jim Crow segregation, the disenfranchisement, lynching and terroristic violence, and the relegation of African Americans to second-class citizenship. This relic of early 20th-century thought has long been discredited by the historical profession.”

Dr. Daina Ramey Berry, also a UT-Austin historian and expert on slavery and African-American history, warned that the decision to keep the “states’ rights’ language “leans toward an historical distortion popular in some circles but not at all supported by trained scholars in the academy.”

“An entire generation of Texas schoolchildren are entering college classrooms with a narrow understanding of the American past,” Berry said.

Throughout the debate on Wednesday, the board also reversed a number of proposed revisions on standards dealing with religion and religious influences. Even conservative scholars have criticized the standards for grossly exaggerating those influences on American government and laws. Among the board’s changes:

  • Restoring Moses to a list of major influences on the American founding documents
  • Restoring language suggesting that separation of church and state isn’t a key constitutional protection for religious freedom
  • Restoring language in multiple standards that exaggerate “Judeo-Christian” influences on the origins of democratic-republican government and the American legal system

“It clearly wasn’t good enough that the proposed revisions for all grades included at least 49 entirely appropriate references to religion and its profound influence in our history and society,” TFN’s Lopez said. “The board’s changes echo claims you might hear in Sunday school classrooms and certain political venues these days, regardless of what teachers and scholars say is accurate and appropriate for public school classrooms.”

The board must formally approve Wednesday’s changes on first reading this Friday. Board members will consider the changes again and take a final vote on second and final reading in November.

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The Texas Freedom Network is a nonpartisan, grassroots organization of religious and community leaders who support religious freedom, individual liberties and public education.

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Still amendments left but the board has voted to call it a day. We'll be back tomorrow. #TeachTheTruth

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