Live-Blogging the May Social Studies Hearing

by TFN

A live video webcast of today’s hearing is available through the Texas Education Agency website.

9:10 – Public testimony on the proposed new social studies curriculum standards just began. First speaker: the Rev. Stephen Broden, who’s arguing that social studies students must learn the Judeo-Christian heritage of the nation. His testimony is right out of the WallBuilders playbook.

9:16 – Board member Lawrence Allen asks Rev. Broden whether he thinks a focus on Judeo-Christian values in the standards would be representative of all faiths practiced in America. Rev. Broden says he does. Really? Hindus? Muslims? People of other faiths?

9:19 – Rev. Broden also argued that the standards currently under consideration — as revised in January and March by the board — appropriately cover the contributions of minorities in America. (Rev. Broden is African-American.) Board member Rick Agosto asks whether Rev. Broden has actually read the standards. Rev. Broden: in a “cursory” way. We should note, by the way, that Rev. Broden is a Republican candidate for Congress in Dallas.

9:26 – Rod Paige, former education secretary under the second President Bush, is up.

9:27 – Paige: “We have allowed ideology to drive and define the standards of our curriculum in Texas. It has swung from liberal to conservative.” (We’re waiting for evidence that the Republican-dominated board and then-Gov. Bush’s education commissioner in 1998 adopted “liberal” curriculum standards.) The swing has been too broad, Paige says.

9:29 – Paige wants the board to reconsider how the standards cover the history of slavery and the civil rights movement: “I’m of the view that the institution of slavery and the civil rights movement are dominant elements in our history and shape who we are today.”

9:30 – Paige acknowledges comments from board members that the standards should be “fair” (“balanced,” we have heard). Yet, he says, history isn’t fair; it is what it is. The standards should teach the facts, he says.

9:37 – In making decisions about which historical figures to include in the standards, Paige says rely on established historians.

9:37 – Board member Terri Leo: Did you read the standards? Paige: Yes. Leo suggests that complaints about who is or isn’t in the standards is based on liberals who don’t think enough “progressives” are in the standards.

9:42 – Paige suggests that board member remember that not all events that have shaped our nation were positive. “Some,” he says, “were negative.” Of course, many board members have argued that social studies classes too often focus on negative aspects of American history. (One of Don McLeroy’s proposed standards tomorrow, for example, would have students compare positive portrays of America by immigrants with the views of Progressive Era reformers who saw serious problems challenging the nation, including racism, inhumane working conditions and the inability of women to vote.)

9:45 – Paige calls for the board to delay final adoption of the standards and continue work on the revision.

9:45 – Two members of the Texas House are now up. State Rep. Dan Flynn and state Rep. Wayne Christian. They oppose postponing adoption of the standards and support the current draft as revised by the board. Flynn and Christian are members of the Texas Conservative Coalition in the Legislature.

10:09 – Flynn and Christian are still at the podium answering various questions from board members. They both continue to call on the board to adopt the standards on Friday and “respect the process.” Their argument is that the process so far has been just fine and that the board should finish its work on schedule. But the process hasn’t been fine. The board has essentially jettisoned the work of educators and scholars who spent a year carefully crafting the new standards. The question is whether standards should be based on the work of educators and academic experts or handful of politicians on the state board. The board should delay adoption and appoint a new panel of teachers and scholars to review the scores of changes board members have made throughout the curriculum. That’s just common sense.

10:23 – Ron Wetherington, a professor in anthropology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, is up. He argues against the board’s decision in March to remove the Enlightenment and Thomas Jefferson from a proposed world history standard on the influence of Enlightenment thinkers on political revolutions from 1750 to the present. He also suggests removing theologians Thomas Aquinas and John Calvin from the same standard, which the board added in March.

10:27 – Board member Terri Leo argues that standards in other states don’t mention Jefferson as an Enlightenment figure. Wetherington counters that many states mention no names at all in their standards on the Enlightenment. Texas does.

10:34 – Wetherington and Cynthia Dunbar are arguing about the inclusion of Aquinas and Calvin in the standard. Dunbar: Aquinas conceived of the concept of the “laws of nature” (which she believes is an influence on American government and law).

10:39 – Wetherington: the board numerous, error-riddled and haphazard revisions have created a “patchwork quilt,” changing what had been a coherent document. Teachers need standards that provide key concepts that students should master, not a laundry list of names and facts that undermine their ability to teach effectively.

10:40 – Board member Barbara Cargill says she and other board members have relied on their own experts to help them craft the changes they have suggested over the last few months. But she ignores the fact that other board members haven’t had the opportunity to hear from scholars and teachers about those revisions offered by colleagues before having to vote on them. That’s why some board members insisted (unsuccessfully) last fall that teachers and scholars be invited to guide the board at the January and March meetings.

10:46 – Dan Bonevac, a conservative professor of philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin, gushes with praise for the board’s proposed standards. He argues that academia — specifically in history departments — is made up overwhelmingly of “left-wing thinkers,” which has biased the social studies curriculum over time. The board has brought balance, he says. Bonevac, by the way, signed an open letter from the anti-evolution Discovery Institute in 2003 calling on new biology textbooks in Texas to teach the so-called “weaknesses” of evolution.

10:55 – Benjamin Jealous, national president and CEO of the NAACP, is up now:”We are concerned about quality,not quotas. We are concerned about the whole truth. We want our kids to learn the whole truth, not half of it.” He notes that Texas students will be competing with students from across the country and the world for seats in our best colleges and universities: “These TEKS [standards] threaten their ability to compete.” He argues that the standards downplay the civil rights struggles and wants the board to slow down and delay final adoption of the standards.

10:59 – David Bradley takes the opportunity to bash national standards. This has nothing to do, of course, with the debate today over Texas standards.

11:00 – Board member Terri Leo takes a hostile approach, demanding that Jealous give her specific standards that he wants changed. Jealous offers to meet with her and go over his suggestions, but Leo dismisses that. The board has been working on specifics for months, she says, miffed that someone has the temerity to suggest more changes at this stage. What she’s not saying, of course, is that most people had few problems with the standards before the board began to vandalize the work of curriculum teams in January and March. She shouldn’t be surprised that people are approaching the board with their concerns right now.

11:05 – Board member Ken Mercer seems to be suggesting that students taking the SAT won’t be tested on social studies — as if that’s an excuse to adopt bad standards because that won’t hurt Texas students’ to compete with kids from other states. Bizarre.

11:12 – Jealous specifically notes that the revised standards change a reference to the slave trade to the “triangular trade,” obscuring or downplaying the transportation of slaves to the Americas. Board member David Bradley says he sees no such reference in the standards. We do: eighth-grade U.S. history includes a standard that lists as one of the reasons for the growth of the planation system “the Atlantic triangular trade.” The originally proposed standard said “growth of the slave trade.” The standard still mentions “the spread of slavery.”


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