Blogging the Social Studies Debate IVby
9:20 – The State Board of Education will resume debate and amending proposed new social studies curriculum standards for Texas public schools this morning. Board members are getting a short lesson on parliamentary procedure right now.
9:27 – The board is taking up remaining amendments on the high school world history course.
9:30 – Board member Cynthia Dunbar wants to change a standard having students study the impact of Enlightenment ideas on political revolutions from 1750 to the present. She wants to drop the reference to Enlightenment ideas (replacing with “the writings of”) and to Thomas Jefferson. She adds Thomas Aquinas and others. Jefferson’s ideas, she argues, were based on other political philosophers listed in the standards. We don’t buy her argument at all. Board member Bob Craig of Lubbock points out that the curriculum writers clearly wanted to students to study Enlightenment ideas and Jefferson. Could Dunbar’s problem be that Jefferson was a Deist? The board approves the amendment, taking Thomas Jefferson OUT of the world history standards.
9:40 – We’re just picking ourselves up off the floor. The board’s far-right faction has spent months now proclaiming the importance of emphasizing America’s exceptionalism in social studies classrooms. But today they voted to remove one of the greatest of America’s Founders, Thomas Jefferson, from a standard about the influence of great political philosophers on political revolutions from 1750 to today.
9:45 – Here’s the amendment Dunbar changed: “explain the impact of Enlightenment ideas from John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, Voltaire, Charles de Montesquieu, Jean Jacques Rousseau, and Thomas Jefferson on political revolutions from 1750 to the present.” Here’s Dunbar’s replacement standard, which passed: “explain the impact of the writings of John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, Voltaire, Charles de Montesquieu, Jean Jacques Rousseau, Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin and Sir William Blackstone.” Not only does Dunbar’s amendment completely change the thrust of the standard. It also appalling drops one of the most influential political philosophers in American history — Thomas Jefferson.
9:51 – Dunbar’s amendment striking Jefferson passed with the votes of the board’s far-right members and board member Geraldine “Tincy” Miller of Dallas.
9:56 – Here is what the Library of Congress says about Jefferson’s influence: “Recognized in Europe as the author of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson quickly became a focal point or lightning rod for revolutionaries in Europe and the Americas.” The Library of Congress notes, in particular, Jefferson’s influence on revolutionaries in France (including on the Declaration of the Rights of Man), other European nations, South America and Haiti.
10:06 – Dallas board member Mavis Knight, who is African-American, speaks with passion about suggestions by some board members that social studies classrooms should emphasize how race relations in the United States have improved. Those other board members, Knight says, haven’t lived her 64 years as an African-American woman in this country and have no idea what that has been like. Her comments come in a discussion about whether a standard noting Congressional Medal of Honor winners should include a list of possible examples of medal recipients. Board member Mary Helen Berlanga of Corpus Christi had proposed an ethnically diverse list of medal recipients. The board’s conservatives oppose such a list.
10:21 – Board members vote to reject a list of possible names of Medal of Honor recipients.
10:56 – At this pace, we’ll be surprised if the board finishes its debate of the standards before mid-afternoon (or even later).
11:16 – The board is taking up high school U.S. government now.
11:21 – Board member Barbara Cargill wants to insert a discussion of the right to bear arms in a standard that focuses on First Amendment rights and the expression of various points of view. This is absurd. If they want students to study the right to bear arms, at least try to find an appropriate place in the standards for it. This is yet another example of politicians destroying the coherence of a curriculum document for no reason other than promoting ideological pet causes. Republican board member Bob Craig of Lubbock is suggesting a better place for such a standard. But the amendment passes anyway. The board’s far-right faction is simply impervious to logic.
11:30 – Board member Pat Hardy notes that elsewhere the standards already require students to study each of the freedoms and rights guaranteed by the Bill of Rights. No one seems to care.
11:33 – Bob Craig tries, once again, to talk some sense into these folks. Board member Cynthia Dunbar argues that the original standard’s focus on the rights of “petition, assembly, speech, and press in a democratic society” unfairly emphasizes the First Amendment over others. She suggests taking that out altogether if the Second Amendment isn’t included. Board member Ken Mercer argues that the right to bear arms is too important not to include here. But it IS included in the standards. The purpose of the original standard is to have students understand the rights to free expression in a democratic society. The right to bear arms is not relevant to that purpose.
11:40 – We wonder why they wouldn’t include the freedom of religious expression in this amendment instead of the right to bear arms.
11:44 – Actually, the formal vote on including the right to bear arms in this amendment is occurring now. The earlier vote was on a different version.
11:45 – It passes.
11:46 – These board members clearly haven’t got a clue how to craft a curriculum document that’s streamlined, coherent and focused. They are far more interested in seeding the standards with whatever ideological pet causes they have. Pity the students and teachers of Texas for the foolishness they must endure.
11:59 – Board member Ken Mercer suggests this standard: “understand how government taxation and regulations can serve as restrictions to private enterprise.” Bob Craig points out that the amendment is misplaced. It is — the section in which it would be inserted deals with government policies on “science, technology and society,” not “private enterprise.” Moreover, would Mercer object to a standard that discusses how taxation and regulation can be a benefit in some circumstances? We doubt it. Perhaps he doesn’t consider that when he drinks an unpolluted glass of water.
12:03 – Mercer moves his movement to a section on the economy. It passes.
12:04 – The current standards draft currently refer to the economic system that exists in the United States as “free enterprise (capitalist, free market).” Mercer offers an amendment to strike out “(capitalist, free market)” in the standards and leave just “free enterprise.” The board’s far-right members have repeatedly complained (absurd) that “capitalism” is a negative term and, in any case, that state statute requires students to learn about the “free enterprise system.” Scholars on the curriculum teams had argued that “capitalism” and “free market” are commonly used terms in economics courses and everyday discourse. But Mercer and his allies on the board have this bizarre fetish with the words “free enterprise” over all others. Terri Leo: “I do think words mean things. . . . I see no reason, frankly, to compromise with liberal professors from academia.” The woman is shameless. How dare she attack someone whose politics she doesn’t even know.
12:08 – Pat Hardy notes that the scholar who recommended that “capitalism” and “free market” be used in the standards teaches at Texas A&M and is a Republican. He is “not some kind of crazy liberal,” she says.
12:11 – One is tempted to climb to the top of the Texas Education Agency building and shout: “These people have lost their minds.”
12:12 – Pat Hardy is calling out the board for its silliness and the suggestion that “capitalism” is a “nasty word.”
12:13 – Ken Mercer: I think capitalism is a good word, but academics don’t. Really? And where does he get that? This is a classic example of how some board members attack and smear without any facts.
12:15 – Guess what? It passes. The Texas State Board of Education has stricken from the standards references to “capitalism” and “free market” because the board’s right-wingers think “capitalism” is a negative term. The only permitted term for such an economic system will be “free enterprise.” We wouldn’t believe this if we hadn’t just watched it happen. This is so stupid it makes our head hurt.
12:28 – Board member Mavis Knight offers the following amendment: “examine the reasons the Founding Fathers protected religious freedom in America by barring government from promoting or disfavoring any particular religion over all others.” Knight points out that students should understand that the Founders believed religious freedom was so important that they insisted on separation of church and state.
12:32 – Board member Cynthia Dunbar argues that the Founders didn’t intend for separation of church and state in America. And she’s off on a long lecture about why the Founders intended to promote religion. She calls this amendment “not historically accurate.”
12:35 – Knight’s amendment fails on a straight party-line vote, 5-10. Republicans vote no, Democrats vote yes.
12:38 – Let the word go out here: The Texas State Board of Education today refused to require that students learn that the Constitution prevents the U.S. government from promoting one religion over all others. They voted to lie to students by omission.
Here was the amendment again: “examine the reasons the Founding Fathers protected religious freedom in America by barring government from promoting or disfavoring any particular religion over all others.” And this board, on a vote of 10-5, said they don’t want Texas students to learn about this basic protection for the religious freedom of everyone in America.