Once again, Texas educators are pushing back against efforts to politicize the state’s public school classrooms. Texas Freedom Network’s reviews of the first drafts of proposed new social studies curriculum standards revealed some encouraging signs. In most cases, the teachers, academics and other community members on the curriuclum writing teams refused to bow to far-right pressure to inject political agendas into history, geography and other social studies classrooms.
We reported last month that far-right political activists appointed by Texas State Board of Education members to a so-called “expert” panel had demanded that the new social studies curriculum standards link American government to fundamentalist Christianity and censor discussions of progressive historical figures like César Chavez and Thurgood Marshall. Social conservatives on and off the state board also have sneeringly attacked “multiculturalism” and a supposed “overrepresentation of minorities” in the social studies standards.
Writing teams, however, appear largely to have resisted those demands in crafting their first drafts of the new standards. Chavez, Marshall and others on the far right’s “blacklist” are in the drafts. In addition, while the standards rightly address the role of religion in the nation’s history, writing teams refused to promote the “Christian nation” agenda that’s openly hostile to separation of church and state. And the teams refused to back away from having students study and understand the contributions that people from various ethnic groups and cultural backgrounds have made to the nation and its history.
Discussions were heated at times when the writing teams met at the end of July to finish their first drafts. One member of the writing team for high school U.S. history, for example, criticized “multiculturalism,” attacked women’s rights organizations and their role in promoting equality, and even wanted to require that students learn about Rush Limbaugh as a historical figure.
He got little support. On the other hand, he succeeded in getting the writing team to include a standard calling on students to “identify significant conservative advocacy organizations and individuals, such as Newt Gingrich, Phyllis Schlafly, and the Moral Majority” when discussing the nation’s transition to the 21st century. There is no similar requirement that “significant liberal organizations and individuals” be studied in the same context. That kind of blatant political bias has no place in social studies classrooms, and we suspect the writing team will revisit that standard during the revision process.
Overall, however, the writing teams have done an admirable job working under pressure from far-right activists and state board members. Of course, we have seen this before. Writing teams made up of educators and specialists proposed solid standards for language arts and science in the last two years. But the state board’s far-right faction undermined their work before adopting the final standards for those disciplines.
The state board will hear from their social studies “experts” and from writing team members at a September meeting. The board has tentatively set — for January — just one full public hearing on the proposed standards. In contrast, the board held mulitple public hearings on proposed science and language arts curriculum standards. A final vote on the social studies standards is expected in March.