Live-Blogging the Social Studies Debate III

A video Web cast of today’s Texas State Board of Education hearing is available here.

9:42 – The Texas State Board of Education is resuming its debate and consideration of amendments for social studies curriculum standards. They will focus on high school courses today.

9:44 – It looks like they’ll begin with high school U.S. history this morning. The high school course covers 1877 to the present.

9:47 – Don McLeroy wants to students to learn that the destruction of New Orleans a few years ago wasn’t caused by Hurricane Katrina but by the failure of the levy system. (In other words, it was government’s fault.)

9:54 – We’re getting a preview of the proposed amendments for the high school U.S. history course. Lots of nonsense. We’ll point that out as we move along.

10:07 – McLeroy wants to change the description of U.S. acquisition of new overseas territories in the late 1800s and early 1900s as “expansionism” instead of “imperialism.” The board’s far-right faction has bristled at the idea that the United States engaged in a form of imperialism at one time. But the historical record is pretty clear: we obtained a number of overseas territories and held on to them through the wars (such as in the Philippines). Recognizing this fact isn’t “anti-American.” It’s real history.

10:09 – Pat Hardy is angry that McLeroy wants to remove a reference to propaganda as contributing to U.S. entry into World War I and warns: “Guys, you’re rewriting history now!” We share Hardy’s frustration at the ignorance on display here. It’s appalling.

10:10 – McLeroy debates whether Margaret Sanger should be in the standards. Board member Terri Leo worries that students might learn she had a positive impact on American society. Really. The board votes to exclude Sanger.

10:27 – McLeroy doesn’t want students to learn about the “Red Scare” after World War I. Amazing. This is blatant censorship. McLeroy withdraws his suggestion after opposition from Pat Hardy.

10:35 – Pat Hardy’s growing frustration is easy to hear every time she speaks. (She later says that board members on the right are almost making her look anti-American because she’s opposing McLeroy’s absurd amendments. She notes that her opposition is to bad history. Indeed.)

10:40 – McLeroy offers an amendment that drops “opportunities and obstacles for women and ethnic minorities” from a standard about the home front and patriotism in World War II (although he adds the Tuskegee airmen). Big push back from Bob Craig and Mary Helen Berlanga. McLeroy relents and suggests putting “opportunities and obstacles for women and ethnic minorities” back in.

10:54 – The board is taking a short break to regroup. We’d prefer that they simply go home.

11:18 – Here goes McLeroy, suggesting that Joseph McCarthy has been vindicated. In a standard on McCarthyism, he proposes to require that students learn “how the later release of the Venona Papers confirmed suspicions of communist infiltration in U. S. government.” His justification: “Leftists historians bias history by ignoring that government was infiltrated with communists during the McCarthy era.” As we have noted in the past, the Venona Papers did not vindicate McCarthy and McCarthyism, as McLeroy’s amendment implies. McLeroy’s amendment is adopted.

11:23 – McLeroy says he will hold off on major revisions to the standards about the civil rights era until the board’s March meeting. But we have those proposed amendments and will post them later. They take this nonsense to absurd levels.

11:25 – McLeroy wants students to learn about “Reagan’s leadership in restoring national confidence,” with Reaganomics and his foreign policy (“Peace Through Strength”) as required examples. Will students learn about the massive budget deficits that Reaganomics saddled the country with? You know the answer to that.

11:28 – McLeroy proposes this standard: “Describe the causes, and key organizations and individuals of the conservative resurgence of the 1980s and 1990s, including Phyllis Schlafly, the Contract with America, the Heritage Foundation, the Moral Majority, and the National Rifle Association.” His justification: “These standards are rife with leftist political periods and events: the populists, the progressives, the new deal, and the great society. Including materials about the conservative resurgence of the 1980s and 1990s provides some political balance to the document.” Barbara Cargill: “There were other time periods that were more liberal dominated,” so the standards should address conservative dominance in the 1980s. The amendment passes. Appalling.

11:38 – McLeroy wants students to learn about the “Klondike gold rush.” Pat Hardy asks: When was that? McLeroy: “Don’t know.” Amendment fails on a tie vote. (Lowe, as chair, is not voting on these amendments.)

11:45 – McLeroy wants students to learn the effects of governmental actions on “Fifth Amendment property rights.” This is in a standard that follows a discussion of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Endangered Species Act. It passes.

11:54 – The board’s far-right faction has won many votes but is obviously frustrated that a few proposals have gone down on a tie vote. They want the board chair, Lowe, to vote, but she declines to do so.

12:01 – In a standard on the economic effects of World War II on the home front, McLeroy wants to delete a reference to effects on women and minorities and simply note additional opportunities. (The point of the standard, of course, was that the war brought economic advantages to previously disadvantaged people.) McLeroy withdraws his amendment after hearing opposition.

12:06 – Instead of having students learn about how the role of government change during times of significant events, such as World War I, the Great Depression and 9/11, McLeroy wants students to study constitutional issues that arose as a result of government policies that changed because of those events. He argues that government changes limited constitutional rights. He withdraws the amendment for further revisions.

12:09 – McLeroy wants students to debate the pros and cons of U.S. participation in international organizations and treaties. The amendment passes.

12:12 – McLeroy wants to add the following standard: “Evaluate Constitutional ‘change’ in terms of strict constructionalism versus judicial interpretation.” Bob Craig: You’re getting into a constitutional law course here that is beyond the scope of high school. Amendment passes.

12:15 – McLeroy offers the following amendment but asks that the board delay a vote on it until March:

(22) Citizenship. The student understands the concept of American exceptionalism; the idea that the United States and its people differ from other nations. The student is expected to:

(A) describe United States citizens as an association of people who came from numerous places throughout the world but who hold a common bond in standing for certain self-evident truths, like freedom, inalienable natural and human rights, democracy, republicanism, the rule of law, civil liberty, civic virtue, the common good, fair play, private property, and Constitutional government.

(B) describe how United States citizens have different states of mind, different surroundings, and different political cultures than other nations.

(C) describe how citizens pursue the American dream and the slow yet continuous journey of the people of the United States, sharing a nation and a destiny, to build a more perfect union, to live up to the dreams, hopes, and ideas of its founders, so that “these dead shall not have died in vain – that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from this Earth.”

His justification: “The concept of American Exceptionalism was first documented by Alexis de Tocqueville in his 1830s book, Democracy in America. The United States is an exceptional nation. Most Americans would not regard that as a controversial statement. And there is a good reason for that: it is true. The U.S. is the world’s oldest and most stable capitalist liberal democracy, older even than Great Britain, which did not become a mass democracy until the late nineteenth century.”

12:16 – McLeroy wants to add a laundry list of conservative names to a standard on the contributions of significant political and social leaders. The list already included conservatives such as Barry Goldwater and Phyllis Schlafly (as well as liberals such as Hillary Clinton and Thurgood Marshall, among others). He wants to strike Schlafly and add Jeane Kirkpatrick, William F. Buckley and Newt Gingrich. Rick Agosto wants to add the late Ted Kennedy. Republicans object to Kennedy’s inclusion. Kennedy doesn’t get in. Mavis Knight suggests “the Kennedy family.” While we don’t necessarily oppose including the Kennedy family, this whole debate (including the effort to add Buckley, Kirkpatrick and Gingrich) has become a prime example of how the board is more interested in promoting personal political biases rather than good education standards. In any case, the board votes against including the Kennedy family. And then McLeroy’s original amendment fails on a tie vote.

12:34 – McLeroy moves to replace “hip hop” and with “country and western music” in a standard about “the impact of significant examples of cultural movements in art, music, and literature on American society.” Lawrence Allen asks whether McLeroy even knows what hip hop is. Rick Agosto backs up Allen’s comments. And now we’re hearing a debate over the positive and negative effects of hip hop.

12:42 – Barbara Cargill: Hip hop = gangsta rap, so leave it out.

12:45 – Terri Leo: Hip hop has a negative impact on students: “I’m sorry. It’s degrading.”

We can see the right’s campaign now if hip hop stays in — fliers and ads about liberals pushing for students to learn about drugs, rape and cop-killing in music. You just know that’s where things will go.

12:47 – Lawrence Allen reminds board members that rock and roll was considered “satanic” by some people at one time. (Heck. Some still think that.)

12:49 – The amendment to strip out hip hop fails on a tie vote. Bob Craig votes to simply add country and western music. That motion passes.

12:50 – McLeroy moves to change the following standard: “explain actions taken by people from racial, ethnic, gender, and religious groups to expand economic opportunities and political rights in American society.” He wants to strip out “from racial, ethnic, gender, and religious groups.” He calls the inclusion of those categories “redundant.” This changes the meaning of the standard entirely. McLeroy has argued in the past that “majorities” give rights to minorities. The point of the standard is how disadvantaged groups worked themselves for equal rights. The amendment passes.

12:55 – McLeroy moves to change this standard: “explain how the contributions of people of various racial, ethnic, gender, and religious groups shape American culture.” He wants to remove “various racial, ethnic, gender and religious groups.” He argues that the standard is in a section talking about the contributions of “various groups” of people and suggests listing categories is “redundant.” Mavis Knight: “It’s not redundant to me.” “You are sanitizing the difficulties people from these groups have had to overcome” to win equal rights. Mary Helen Berlanga also speaks strongly against the motion.

1:02 – The board’s Republicans support the amendment. Barbara Cargill worries aloud about standards that don’t emphasize the unity of our country. Mavis Knight (who is African-American) is visibly and audibly angry. This proposed amendment may be one of the most emotionally divisive so far for board members. Knight stops to compose herself in mid-sentence.

1:05 – Republican Bob Craig appears to oppose McLeroy’s amendment. And the amendment fails to pass.

1:08 – McLeroy says he will offer amendments on science (oh dear) at a later time and then offers this amendment: “discuss the meaning and historical significance of the mottos E pluribus unum and In God We Trust.” It passes.

1:09 – It’s important to note here that the board’s far-right faction has been voting almost entirely as a bloc. Deciding votes have tended to be cast by Republicans Bob Craig, Pat Hardy and, to a lesser extent, Geraldine “Tincy” Miller, none of whom are part of the far-right faction.

1:15 – Mary Helen wanted students to learn about a variety of Latino civil rights groups, but that motion fails.

1:21 – Dunbar wants to delete Clarence Darrow (she says the attorney from the Scopes trial “tends to be a very controversial person”) and Marcus Garvey from a standard on significant people from the 1920s. She says she wants to limit the number of controversial figures. She says Garvey was deported and that there are better examples of people students should learn about. Bob Craig, as usual, introduces common sense to the discussion: they were significant figures, regardless of their backgrounds (or, we might suggest, controversy about their positions on issues). Dunbar’s motion fails (although the far-right faction votes again as a bloc, this time in favor of the Dunbar amendment).

1:31 – Dunbar moves to make discussions of landmark court decisions such as Plessy v. Ferguson and Brown v. Topeka Board of Education not required to be taught so that teachers have the ability to pull in other “landmark” cases they might otherwise not have time for in the classroom. Like what? She suggests Wisconsin v. Yoder, a 1972 U.S. Supreme Court case that found that Amish children could not be placed under compulsory education past 8th grade because such a requirement violated their parents’ freedom of religion. In any case, Dunbar’s amendment fails.

1:35 – Rick Agosto wants to list Sonia Sotomayor in the standards. Dunbar counters by moving that Benjamin Cardozo be listed instead, saying that he was the first Hispanic Supreme Court justice. Cardozo, appointed by President Hoover, was of Portuguese descent. Dunbar argues that Sotomayor hasn’t done anything of significance yet. Dunbar eventually withdraws her motion. But Terri Leo speaks out against listing Sotomayor. She thinks Clarence Thomas would be better (but doesn’t offer that as an amendment). The motion to add Sotomayor fails.

1:45 – Betty Friedan gets cut from a standard on the Civil Rights movement. Then the board breaks until 2:10.

36 thoughts on “Live-Blogging the Social Studies Debate III

  1. I’m afraid he’s got you there. If the USACE levies had held, the impact would have been much less than it was.

  2. Hurricane Katrina should be taught almost as its own separate course. There is so much vitally relevant information to be covered.
    First of all, the debate about the failure of government will have to include the engineered failure of government by Bush/Cheney, by means of putting hacks and cronies in charge in order to scuttle as many agencies as possible.

    New Orleans is a good laboratory for understanding why we have to have government. Local, regional, state, federal, multi-state flood control and waterway management authorities, coastal and off-shore entities, etc.

    We need to understand the failure and dysfunctionality of our federal/state/local partnership.

    We need to understand the effect that corruption of local officials and unaccountability of private contractors had on the disaster.

    Regardless of the science of global warming, there are lessons to be learned about the impending dangers of careless building in flood-prone areas, rising sea levels, population growth and the overpopulation of cities.

    Like we’re seeing in Haiti, we need to understand the fact of lingering institutional racism and indifference to the poor that led to this man-made disaster.

    We need to understand the challenge of restoring our wetlands and other environmental challenges of the 21st century.


  3. 10:09 – Pat Hardy is angry that McLeroy wants to remove a reference to propaganda as contributing to U.S. entry into World War I and warns: “Guys, you’re rewriting history now!”

    Leo countered that since propaganda was not in the previous TEKS, it’s the writing team that was rewriting history.

    She thinks that “history” is what’s in the TEKS. That’s like Ames’ saying “I believe it is time for the State Board of Education to define a uniform vision of the history that you are trying to create.”


  4. 10:27 – McLeroy doesn’t want students to learn about the “Red Scare” after World War I. Amazing. This is blatant censorship. McLeroy withdraws his suggestion after opposition from Pat Hardy.

    McLeroy is showing himself to be a wreckless and dangerous little man.

  5. Out of order:

    It should be noted that before they resumed working on the TEKS, the SBOE adopted a resolution supporting Perry and Scott opting out of “The Race to the Top,” and generally condemning federal involvement in education as unconstitutional.

  6. The Texas TEKS development process:

    1. Get teams of teachers and academics to spend a year or so writing the standards.

    2. Hire some evangelical preachers as “experts” to review the work of the writing teams.

    3. Conduct marathon public hearings to get input from the public. Give 3 minutes each to those who know something about the subject, and engage those who agree with your agenda in extended colloquy (they need not have any real knowledge — see

    4. Turn the documents over to a fundamentalist dentist for final revisions.

  7. Is there a chance that the far-right SBOE members have already selected future text books and they are adding specific amendments to justify selecting those text books in the future? Or are they just going down the list that was provided by their irrational experts trying to get as many amendments in as possible?

  8. Here we go again!

    This is the same BS, oh, pardon my French, I meant “merde,” that we saw with the science standards. Amendments made on the fly by ignoramuses like McLeroy. Why have writing committees at all?

    My one hope in all this is that our first line of defense, the teachers, will use their professionalism to teach what is right regardless of the standards. Recall in Dover it was the science teachers citing their professional oath to teach what was known to be true that prevented “intelligent design” from being introduced into the biology curriculum, forcing the school administration to violate the exclusion clause which led to the Kitzmiller decision.

  9. 11:54 – The board’s far-right faction has won many votes but is obviously frustrated that a few proposals have gone down on a tie vote. They want the board chair, Lowe, to vote, but she declines to do so.

    Her motives are far from noble or in the interest of fairness. Gail Lowe wants to be able to say that she didn’t vote for those requirements without having to formally vote against them and alienate the far right. She knows the criticism is going to be withering. The state and national press will skewer them.

  10. I am getting the feed now. Before it came back, I got a look at our local paper:

    Delaware schools: Education board OKs changes to rules — Steps needed for Del. to compete for funds
    … “Because of the courage of this administration and the state board, Delaware is now better positioned for the much-needed funding dollars for our education reform,” state Secretary of Education Lillian Lowery said of the measure’s passage.

    I’m glad to be reminded that it’s not like Texas everywhere.

  11. Do you have the written version? Does it actually say “constructionalism”? (even this comments box flags that as an improper word) And Cynthia Noland Dunbar, Esq. voted for that?

  12. How did Texas get in this situation? There are writing teams comprised of educators and experts in the field but they are ignored and the standards are modified in seconds by a handful of extremists pushing their personal beliefs.

    I don’t think the purpose of the SBOE is to replace information from qualified experts with whatever they feel like putting in at the time. Do the board members even understand what they are voting on or just going along with McLeroy?

    It looks like the standards are being decided by one person (a person that actually believes the earth is 6,000 years old), and a handful of followers that can’t think for themselves and agree with any stupidity that McLeroy suggest.

    Can anything be done to stop this madness, can any of this be undone, or is this how the standards will be decided for Texas children? This is truly an embarrassment for Texas and the public school system.

  13. “…..and 9/11, McLeroy wants students to study constitutional issues that arose as a result of government policies that changed because of those events.”

    He didn’t really want to go there, d’ya think?

  14. Besides misinforming children in the public school system, what do you think the broader implications are of the out of control SBOE? Will intelligent families not move to (or move away) from Texas since the public school system is a joke? Will students have a harder time getting into universities since they attended the Texas public school system?

    I think it’s reasonable to expect that universities and employers will judge each person on their merits instead of the misguided public school system they attended, but I also think the Texas education system is getting a very embarrassing reputation, which is not a good thing.

  15. Most of McLeroy’s suggestions are absurd, and their collective effect is a disaster, but a few actually make sense.

    Students SHOULD understand the meaning and history of the mottoes “In God we trust” and “E pluribus unum”. Hopefully, they’ll learn that a cold war Congress replaced the second with the first, about the same time that they inserted “under God” into the pledge of allegiance. Unity was out. Religion was in. Discuss!

    Students should also understand how our constitutional framework has changed in response to emergencies. For instance, Truman’s entering the Korean war without a declaration (on the theory that the Senate’s ratification of the UN charter gave him sufficient authority) was the first big step is shifting war-making power away from Congress and towards the president, a trend that has continued unabated, through presidents of both parties, to the present. That’s the sort of broad idea that’s worth studying, but that can’t easily be drilled or tested.

    If we had more standards like these, and fewer of the “read about the Verona papers and draw wildly incorrect conclusions from them” or “celebrate the contributions of the following 359,846 people, while ignoring anything that might embarrass us” standards, we’d be much better off.

  16. Actually, the differences in attitude of “E pluribus unum” and “In God We Trust” could be an interesting subject.

    There were three mottos originally chosen for the great seal:
    1) “E Pluribus Unum” (From many, one) on the front
    2) “Novus Ordo Seclorum” (A new order of the ages) on the upper back
    3) “Annuit Coeptis” (He [God] has Favored Our Undertakings)

    The first emphasizes the American paradox of both unity and diversity, while “In God We Trust” seems a more modern form of the last. (The middle seems to have lost emphasis as the novelty of the American Experiment has faded.)

    Unfortunately, I suspect McLeroy is only including the former so as to have the latter in the standards. I doubt it will be implemented well.

  17. Lorenzo Sadun: Students should also understand how our constitutional framework has changed in response to emergencies.

    While many of the amendments were changes from (perceived) emergencies, a few (20, 25, and 27) were more “administrivia”. More often, what changed was not the constitutional framework, but the interpretation of it, and thus rather the operational framework.

  18. I’ll tell you what I think the broader implications of this are because I have a teenager in high school:

    1) In class, most of the kids will not know one subtle historical difference from another and could care even less. Most of them are anywhere from dull to doggone stupid anyway. Has anyone seen a bell curve lately? Whatever goes in one ear will go immediately out the other one and stay out forever. “Wasn’t George Washington the father of Canada or something like that?”

    2) A small percentage of people who are smart and care about social studies (like the folks here at TFN) will take social science classes in college, realize they were short changed in high school, and revise their views to approximate historical reality. After hanging out on a college campus and doing social science there for 12 years, I know something about this.

    3) A small percentage of smart kids with Tea Party brains (oxymoron) will buy into what the conservatives on the SBOE are pushing today. However, most of them will be people who were headed in that direction anyway because of what they heard at home, in church, and in John Birch Society or Ku Klux Klan meetings with their parents. Overall, the most the radical righters on the SBOE will succeed in doing today is to ensure that the public schools are reinforcing for THEIR own children the radical right things they are teaching to their children at home. Put another way, the radical right members on the SBOE are working hard to preserve and retain the fruitcake Republican Party base in Texas. The spice must flow. The fruitcake must be preserved for the future.

    That’s what I think.

  19. Anyone watching this can see the far right is racist, sexist, biased, and fundamentally dishonest. It’s a sad commentary on these people who wear their Christianity on their sleeves for all to see.

    Clearly, its not about education. It’s all about indoctrination.

  20. Is there a forum / message-board where these issues can be discussed further? Posting replies to a blog is not the most effective and the TFN Facebook discussion page does not seem very active. I would like to discuss the actions taken by the SBOE and what we can do to limit, and hopefully overturn, the damage created by the SBOE.

  21. This is not the same Texas I grew up in! I went to public schools in Austin all the way through two degrees at UT and closely monitored my two grown children through college, and never encountered such disdain for history and science. Following this debate by the State Board of Education and listening to the debate by the gubernatorial candidates last night makes me think we have fallen into a parallel universe where up is down, the earth is flat, and facts are irrelevant. I was taught to seek the truth, not reinvent it. Texas is engaged in a race to prove which state is the most ignorant, backward, and proud of it.

  22. Bonnie. It looks dismal, but I think it might be okay. Over many years, I have noticed something important. When a person gets on towards 50 years old, an internal uneasiness starts taking over. That uneasiness comes from a growing concern that “…all of the things I was brought up to believe were important are going away.” For example, in a small southern town in the 1950s and 1960s, I was raised to have compassion and concern for my neighbors—along with a desire to help—and it was considered right for some of that help to come from government. I fear that this bedrock principle is going away forever. Something inside of me wants to fight for it because I know that my body will die and go away forever sometime soon. I want the world to stay forever as I once knew it and understood it when I was growing up. Otherwise my life and what I believe is right will have been nothing but vanity and futility.

    The radical right element on the SBOE probably feels the same way. For example, in a small southern town in the 1950s and 1960s, they were probably raised to think that a woman’s place is solely in the home, God only likes people of a so-called Bible-believing religious persuasion, and minorities are nothing but worthless troublemakers who upset an apple cart that is just fine the way it is. They fear that these bedrock principles are going away forever. Something inside of them wants to fight for them because they know that their bodies will die and go away forever sometime soon. They want the world to stay forever as they once knew it and understood it when they were growing up. Otherwise, life will have been nothing but vanity and futility.

    Trouble is, if you read the book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible, the writer (some think Solomon) notes that human life on this Earth is nothing but vanity and futility anyway.

    Here is what really happens. The only thing that is certain in this life other than death and taxes is CHANGE in the universe and the human condition. The challenges facing different generations will always be different because conditions will be different. Culture is man’s means of adapting to these changing conditions. Therefore, the culture will always change from one generation to the next. The generation that follows mine will confront different conditions from the ones we face today. Just like we did, they will have to face those unique conditions and adapt to them creatively in their own cultural way. Kids growing up in the face of those new adaptations will come to believe that they are right, eternal, unbending, and etched in stone. As they approach 50 years old, they too will reach out in despair to keep THE SAME all that is already well on its way towards changing.

    In short, perhaps other than Jesus for us Christians, our cultural ways on this Earth are doomed to relevance mostly in our own time and place. Thinking that we can keep everything always the same and forever young is, as Ecclesiates says, just vanity. Change will occur and the culture will always change with it.

  23. What’s happening here in Texas is the same thing that’s happening nationally with the media, as well as across the Internet. People believe truth is subjective and their for their choosing. The days were we valued hard effort to identify objective truth are receding. Who needs experts when you’ve got your own opinion? We’ve taken technological advancement for granted and now deny the very foundations that produced them.

  24. This is one of the most incredible juxtapositions of history in history. That is, the horror that is Haiti right now and how that horror could have been avoided or alleviated if the population (a wonderful vibrant culture in spite of its institutional handicaps,) had been sufficiently educated and empowered to demand proper building codes, etc. and adequate infrastructure, (clean water, etc.)
    Juxtapose this historical fact of life with the banal and pathetic attempts of the right wingers to create exactly an uneducated, un-empowered ” passive class”. The irony is astounding.
    Eventually, the parents of Texas will come to realize that these clowns are condemning their children to second class status in the competitive economy of the future.

  25. You all are more optimistic than I am. I live in TX, and I could not be more pessimistic about its future; in fact, the future of the entire country as it pursues its far-rightward shift exponentially. I see well-educated people jumping onto the tea party bandwagon, shouting NO SOCIALISM and totally embracing the “death panels” scare tactic propaganda. I predict that in 2012 we will have a Repubnic president who will be so conservative as to make Ronald Reagan look like a communist.

    I see no reason, no hope to think otherwise.