Live-Blogging the Social Studies Debate

3:27 – The Texas State Board of Education is beginning its discussion and debate on new social studies curriculum standards.

3:47 – Oh, this is gonna be a lonnnggg afternoon…

3:53 – Board member Barbara Cargill has offered a variety of relatively minor amendments.

3:54 – To save our fingers, we’ll probably avoid recapping each amendment offered by board members unless it appears particularly significant or we’re bored. Or both.

3:55 – Board member Terri Leo wants kindergartners to learn how Christopher Columbus and John Smith helped shape Texas and America. The current standard lists just Stephen F. Austin and George Washington.

4:03 – Board member Mary Helen Berlanga wants students to learn about Jose Antonio Navarro. We expect this will be the first of a number of additions of Hispanic names to the standards at Ms. Berlanga’s request. The motion passes.

4:06 – Barbara Cargill wants first-graders to learn about Richard Allen, an African-American minister who lived from 1760 to 1831. The motion passes.

4:09 – Cargill wants to change a definition of good citizenship for first-graders that includes “responsibility for the common good” to say “responsibility in their daily lives.” Seems odd. What’s wrong with the common good? She also wants the definition to include “holding public officials to their word.” The latter suggestion is bringing debate, with some board members worried things are getting far to specific. One board member: How is a first-grader going to hold a candidate to his or her word? (None of the folks making objections to Cargill’s motion object to holding public officials to their word. They do seem to be concerned that board members are going to burden the standards with scores of small, specific changes.)

4:17 – We’re sorry. But is this the level of detail we really need in curriculum standards? Does anyone think public officials shouldn’t be held to their word? But is it necessary to add to first-grade standards? Really? We don’t object to the addition. But this is another example of board members who are so mired in minutiae they they lose focus on the big picture. If this is the level of debate we can expect this evening, then someone needs to roll in cots for rest periods.

4:26 – By the way, Cynthia Dunbar is missing again today. Very odd that the super-patriot is missing from a debate over social studies curriculum standards.

4:28 – Terri Leo wants to strike a first-grade standard about folktales and legends “such as Aesop’s fables.”  Here’s the standard: “explain the way folktales and legends such as Aesop’s fables reflect beliefs, customs, language, and traditions of communities.” Some board members object to deleting this. Leo says students will learn about folktales and legends in a later grade. Not sure what her problem is.

4:34 – We can’t resist: Why the “war on Aesop’s fables”?

4:35 – Leo’s amendment fails. Aesop’s fables win! (This is so silly.)

4:37 – On to second grade. Board member Bob Craig wants to know why Barbara Cargill wants to drop “justice” and “equality” from the characteristics of “good citizenship.” Cargill says both are an outcome, not a characteristic. Uh huh. Right. Craig isn’t buying it.

4:40 – “Equality” stays in.

4:43 – Regarding Dunbar’s absence again today, which is a little surprising. You might recall that she wrote a book — “One Nation Under God” — all about the importance of getting religion back in school classrooms. You would think she would be leading the charge today to sanctify the social studies curriculum.

4:46 – Observation: Suggested amendments are coming primarily from the board’s far-right faction.

4:49 – Board member Pat Hardy is objecting to a number of amendments, noting that many are simply not grade-appropriate.

4:51 – Board member Don McLeroy wants second-graders to learn about W.E.B. DuBois. McLeroy says he never knew who DuBois was until he was approached by a woman who educated about him about the cvil rights leader. The motion carries.

4:57 – On to Grade 3.

5:00 – Terri Leo wants to add four military chaplains to a standard on heroes third-graders would learn about. Check out a Web site about the chaplains. David Barton — one of the so-called “expert” reviewers — wanted this addition. The motion passes.

5:14 – Board members continue to add names to the standards, drawing objections from Pat Hardy that the laundry list of names is getting too long. She makes a good point, but it’s hardly slowing down other board members. (Note: Hardy actually has experience in the classroom and is a curriculum specialist in a Texas school district.)

5:35 – More names added, but Henry Cisneros doesn’t make the cut for fourth grade.

5:56 – Terri Leo wants to delete a standard referring to economic motivations for the settlement of Texas. Leo thinks students will think economic motivations are the only reason Europeans colonized the Americas. This is absurd. David Barton pushed this argument, saying that religion and other motivations were also important. In fact, those other motivations are included in the standards.

6:24 – This is a dreadful way to make education policy.

6:30 – Board member Geraldine “Tincy” Miller moves to delete Dolores Huerta from a Grade 3 standard on good citizenship. Miller argues that she should be deleted from the standard because she was a socialist. The motion carries.

6:46 – Terri Leo wants to add “religious revivals” to a list of “causes and effects prior to and during the American Revolution.” The motion failed.

7:12 – Barbara Cargill wanted Thomas Paine listed in Grade 5 as an important patriot hero. We wonder if she’s read this line in Wikipedia: “Only six people attended (Paine’s) funeral as he had been ostracized for his criticisms and ridicule of Christianity.” (Source)

7:17 – The board approves a Cargill motion to require that students memorize the names of the 50 state capitals. (The republic is saved.)

7:20 – The board is taking a dinner break and will reconvene at 8:30. We will resume blogging at that time.

39 thoughts on “Live-Blogging the Social Studies Debate

  1. Yesterday I wrote

    Ron Wetherington Says:

    I suggest everyone read Lorenzo Sadun’s point once more. He is,unfortunately, right on track: standards should be conceptual with examples, not detailed without concepts.

    Pat Hardy should understand this. She should also understand that so long as people think that history is just “one damn thing (name, date) after another,” it’s not surprising if they don’t see Social Studies as a subject that deserves the attention that she keeps calling for.

    She just made exactly that point.

  2. Columbus was the father of the 15th century European desire for big bucks. I’m not sure kindergarten folks would understand that. I don’t like John Smith. Pocahontas is much more interesting.

  3. Do you think Leo will tell the rest of us the ways that Columbus helped shape Texas? I mean, in addition to lending his name to the town in Colorado County? He was about three centuries too early to do much else, if my learnin’ was correct.

  4. “Common good” sounds a lot like “commu nist” to her, I guess. But good on her for Bishop Allen.

  5. But good on her for Bishop Allen.

    But she included him as an example of “individualism.” His organizing and leadership is anything but individualism.

  6. That is odd!!! Rightist ideologue and former U.S. Secretary of Education William Bennett is really BIG on the importance of Aesop’s Fables. This borders on heresy to the conservative cause.

  7. Maybe they could put all of these 100s of famous people in a categorized table in an appendix to textbooks?

  8. The 4:17 comment about senseless detail is exactly what I was talking about yesterday. There IS a case to be made for detailed curricula, but the TEKS aren’t supposed to be curricula. They are supposed to be goals for learning, which teachers then work to achieve with sensible curricula, and which good textbooks help them achieve. These curricula should be tailored to the talents and tastes of the individual teachers, and to the needs and interests of the different communities across the state. One teacher might have a great way of explaining life in the colonial period through the life of Ben Franklin, while another will do better presenting online materials from Williamsburg. But they don’t have that freedom any more. If something is in the TEKS, teachers pretty much have to build a lesson plan around it, and if it isn’t in the TEKS, there isn’t any time for it. That sort of one-size-fits-all education, constructed by the SBOE, doesn’t do anybody any good.

    It wasn’t always this way. Not that long ago, teachers actually had the freedom to teach in innovative and creative ways, focusing on different facts to build up an understanding of the whole. Unfortunately, the high stakes testing craze has made it imperative that teachers drill (and drill, and drill) whatever is on the TAKS, and that the TEKS be written in a way that directly translates into test questions. In other words, the TEKS have become de-facto curricula, and all sides understand that control of the TEKS translates to control of the schools. Where we once might have found vague compromise language to settle disputes, leaving it to each school to work out the details, now we fight to the death over every detail at the SBOE, with the result that there are way, Way, WAY too many details.

    Unfortunately, this will be true no matter who gets elected to the SBOE. Better members will mean better outcomes to each fight, but we’ll still be stuck with one-size-fits-all. The only place to get relief is at the Legislature, and in the Governor’s office.


  9. McLeroy wants Du Bois in our schools??!! The Du Bois that was in the Communist Party, USA? The Du Bois that ran for Senator with the American Labor Party?

    That is hilarious! I wonder if McLeroy is really a stealth pinko commie? Ya think?

    Coragyps, who knows a little bit about Du Bois, really does think he might belong in the curriculum. But he’ll bet that Dr. Mc will retract his support if he bothers to look ol’ W.E.B. up.

  10. Oh – and there was a W E B Du Bois Club for young radicals such as myself back in the late 1960’s. J Edgar Hoover, everyone’s favorite FBI director, noted that that sounded like “Boy’s Club” and said that it was a “classic example of communist deception and duplicity.” That nearly made me seek out a chapter of the WEB version to join.

  11. Cisneros should be replaced with Alberto Gonzales. Powerful man. He has been at Texas Tech for less than six months, and they have already fired their football coach over torture.

    1. We don’t smell any, fortunately, Tony. But many of us in the audience want to deputize someone to make a beer run.

  12. Is it just me or is the biggest contribution of the “Four Chaplains” simply the fact that they were all religious? I mean, not to denigrate four soldiers who died for their country, but why would they be singled out for attention above and beyond all those other soldiers who also died for their country who don’t get a mention?

  13. I don’t understand what the problem is with “one-size-fits-all.” Isn’t that another way of saying what we want, such as equality? Multiculturalism? A level playing field?

    Once upon a time teachers had more freedom, that’s true. Yeah, freedom to teach that American history is just one long list of stunning accomplishments by white western-European Christian men (preferably protestant Christian men) who could do no wrong.

    And what’s so wrong with drilling? Drilling is a useful tool for teaching concepts that just can’t be learned any other way than without that dreaded word: memorization. The multiplication tables, for instance. Is it possible to learn them by endlessly discussing them? Perhaps but probably not. Memorization is the only way to do it. Whether we like it or not, the multiplication table is something we’ll use all our lives. Not all of us have a calculator surgically sown to our hands.

    And whether we like it or not, kids had better get used to being tested because it’s what they’ll face for the rest of their academic careers and beyond. Although I’m board-certified, I still get proficiency tested on the job every once in a while and will continue to be tested for as long as I’m still working. So it’s in their best interest for them to become accustomed to being tested.

  14. Coragyps, I too was stunned by McLeroy’s vote for W.E.B. DuBois. I liked the idea of keeping (or adding?) DuBois but it made me wonder: Does McLeroy even know who DuBois was??

  15. Dubois’ contributions and significance cannot be understood by students at the grade level where he was added, which suggests that McLeroy does not understand what he’s important for. It’s just adding the name of a minority member (which McLeroy is not against doing).

  16. McLeroy appears to be all for adding minority folks now – he is running for reelection, no?

  17. You don’t understand the strategy involved here. Cargill, McLeroy, and Mercer are more subtle than you think. They ask for freethinking, deistic, socialists to be put in the standards, then later they ask for ultra-religious right, fundamentalist, objectivists to be put in. If anyone objects to Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, or Ayn Rand, then they say, “Hey, look. You agreed to put in the atheist pinkos. Now you must put in our kind of people to balance the curriculum.” Gotcha! (Of course, Rand was as atheist as Susan B. Anthony, but don’t let Bradley know!)

  18. Coragyps Says:

    McLeroy appears to be all for adding minority folks now – he is running for reelection, no?

    Steven Schafersman Says:

    You don’t understand the strategy involved here.

    There’s also another game goint on now. Remember Barton said the more minorities, the better, and the earlier in our history we have them, the better.

    This is not what Ames or Morrison want. It’s a different game that Dunbar understands — it will be interesting to see if it plays out tonight in her absence.

    What’s important for Barton, Dunbar, Lynne Cheney, etc. is not that minorities be excluded, but that EVERYBODY be INCLUDED — without recognition of any differences or conflicts among Americans.

    They talk about how WE have made some “mis-steps” in OUR history, but WE have always corrected course and continued moving forward in the right direction. More free, more prosperous (and without mention of opposing interests among Americans, conflict and struggle among Americans).

    Civil Rights, labor rights, womens rights, etc. are all achievements of this “exceptional” American self-betterment, not results of some Americans struggling at great risk and cost against other Americans who struggled against changes.

  19. I’ll bet Barbara Cargill hasn’t really studied Thomas Paine, if she’d read “The Rights of Man” she’d never have suggested him. He advocated a 100% inheritance tax among other things the right would find anathema.


    Yes, she liked to help people who needed a helping hand. Deaf, dumb, and blind kids should exhibit “personal responsibility” and teach themselves that there is a thing called a “word” and that there is a different one for all those things they can touch. There is also a word for people who call Helen Keller a socialist, but I can’t use it here. Let’s just say it’s not “water.”

  21. Charles,

    Actually, Helen Keller WAS a socialist — adamantly so. i realized after I posted it that I should have punctuated differently or something to make my point clear.

    I posted that after Miller (GOP, but not one of the extremist fringe) moved to remove Dolores Huerta because despite her accomplishments and leadership, she’s disqualified because she’s a democratic socialist … she said better substitutes like Helen Keller could be found. But Helen Keller WAS a socialist. Why should history filter the facts so that students will not be exposed to the truth?

    What they’re doing is what I sometimes refer to as a prophylactic curriculum.

    The SBOE righties want to teach “American Exceptionalism.” They don’t know this was created as a Marxist concept, until it was enlisted in the rhetoric of democratic socialists in the US in the sixties and seventies. One of them (Steve Kelman) is the author of American Government textbooks that have Texas versions that have been adopted for use in the Texas schools.

    This Board is just completely ignorant.

  22. Barton and McLeroy, etc. should simply be opposed on every amendment. These people aren’t interested in finding common ground. Don’t give them any.

    Reasonable people should just ask the question, “Do I want whack jobs to be in charge of educating the next generation?”

    If these idiots think they can improve education by cramming a bunch of names into the heads of first graders, well..
    The most important thing for kids is to have interesting stories so that they can get excited about reading and writing about people and history that matter.
    The culture is built up over time. The great stories are out there. It needs adjustment over time to reflect the importance of contributions that have been neglected, etc. It doesn’t need this Orwellian re-structuring.

    American “exceptionalism” manifested itself every time the center of the country shifted to the left.
    When colonists stood up against the king.
    When slavery was abolished.
    When farmers stood up against the robber barons.
    When organized labor created the American middle class.
    When we finally entered into WWII and saved the world from ultra-nationalism.
    When we ended segregation.
    When we started adopting environmental regulations.
    Conservatism is best when it operates as an anchor, to keep us from drifting too far to the left, not as a millstone around our necks.
    These whacks ain’t conservatives, anyway. Why they ain’t even “ol’timey”.