A Teachable Moment for the Texas State Board of Education

by Dan Quinn

Four American presidents are coming to Austin this week for the Civil Rights Summit at the LBJ Presidential Library on the University of Texas campus. The event, which lasts from Tuesday to Thursday, celebrates the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

This anniversary year is, as educators say, a teachable moment. Students will have an opportunity to learn more about how African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, women and others have worked long and hard to win the same rights and privileges as white men in this country. This might also be a teachable moment for the Texas State Board of Education, which this year will consider the adoption of proposed new social studies textbooks for public schools.

The struggles for civil and equal rights in America were a big part of the debate over new curriculum standards for social studies classes in 2009-10. That debate exposed the incredible ignorance among some board members about how those movements succeeded. So let’s look back at what one board member at the time, Don McLeroy, wanted students to learn about civil rights:

Here’s what we had to say at the time:

So the countless civil rights workers who put their lives on the line and women who marched and lobbied for voting and equal rights – all of those generations of Americans who demanded that our country live up to its promise of justice and equality for all — have ”the majority” to thank for finally granting them the rights they should have always had?

Look, Don McLeroy is a very nice man, and he is not a bigot. But he’s not a historian either. Yet he and too many of his equally clueless colleagues on the State Board of Education think they are. And they are putting their bizarre and politically distorted beliefs about history ahead of the expertise of true historians in deciding what millions of Texas children will learn in their public school classrooms.

McLeroy lost his bid for re-election to the state board in 2010. But what students learn about the movements for civil and equal rights in America will almost certainly be a big part of the debate over the adoption of new social studies textbooks this year.

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