Low-lights in Social Studies

As we reported Monday, a new report prepared for the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board slams the State Board of Education (SBOE) for their politicized, factually challenged re-write of social studies curriculum standards last year. The report is worth a read to see just how extensive the damage was to those standards — and to Texas students’ college readiness. But if you don’t have a time to read the whole thing, here are a few of the highlights low-lights:

On listing “states’ rights” as the first cause of the Civil War (p. 23):

Historical Analysis: When Texans seceded from the Union they did not talk about states’ rights. What reasons did they give in their 1861 “Declaration of Causes”? Why would modern members of the State Board of Education cite a reason that historical Texans did not?

And the odd omission of religion in discussion of the Civil War, particularly since religion is so prominently featured elsewhere in the standards (p. 24):

Thinking about omissions: What role did religion play in debates over slavery and in the quest to understand the meaning of the Civil War?”

On the puzzling decision to identify only “Hiram Rhodes Revels” among freed slaves (p. 26):

Thinking about omissions: Why do the TEKS identify only one of the four million freed African Americans? Is it significant that Revels eventually supported white “redeemer” government in the South?”

On the thin coverage of Native American issues in the standards (p. 21):

Thinking about omissions: Native Americans have not been mentioned in the standards until now. Where have they been all along? What strategies did they employ to cope with removal? [NCHS.US.4.1B]”

On the SBOE’s decision to remove references to American “imperialism” throughout the standards (p. 29):

“TEKS controversy: The review committee characterized these actions as “imperialism” but the state board of education decided to use “expansionism.” Did the United States behave as an empire? [CCRS.I.A.6]”

On the efforts by the board to shoe-horn “Christian America” revisionism into the standards (p. 29):

Analyzing the Narrative: The story of a “Christian America” finds its most explicit expression in the public religiosity, laws, and social actions of this period—from the social gospel to statements by the courts to the president’s justification for the Spanish-American War. How does the treatment of natives, immigrants, and minorities fit within this narrative?”

And this (p. 28):

Thinking about omissions: How did religion influence the way that Protestant Americans thought about arriving Catholic and Jewish immigrants? [CCRS.I.A.4; NAEP.6.1; NCHS.US.6.2A]”

Correcting the problematic treatment of church-state separation in the standards (p. 18):

Comparison and context: How does the U.S. Constitution compare with the various state constitutions? When seen in this context, why might the founders have included the prohibition against a religious test for office (Article IV) and the religious establishment clause (Amendment 1)? [Govt.c.7.G; NCHS.US.3.2A]”

On the uncritical praise of the free enterprise system and big business(p. 27):

TEKS exemplar: Analyze the pros and cons of big business [11.c.3.B; CCRS.I.D.1]; Boom-and-bust business cycle of Texas industries [TX.b.7.B]

TEKS exemplar: Describe the costs and benefits of laissez-faire government [11.c.15.B; CCRS.I.D.1]

Thinking about omissions: How did corporations fit into this environment characterized by free enterprise and entrepreneurship? [CCRS.I.D.1.a]

Debating about history: Did the philanthropy of the industrialists justify the exploitation of labor? Should men like Carnegie and Dole be viewed as “captains of industry” or as “robber barons”? [NAEP.6.3; NCHS.US.6.1A]

When you step back and look at the big picture, as this new report does, it really is breathtaking to contemplate the dramatic revision of American history the SBOE perpetrated last year. And these standards will be in place for a generation of students.

Kudos to the authors of the report for providing some help to the poor history teachers who have to make sense of these standards.

12 thoughts on “Low-lights in Social Studies

  1. It is not my main goal to downplay how poorly the SBOE does its job; their performance is generally abyssmal. However, I would point out that the standards they generate represent the minimum that must be covered. Good teachers do not stick to just these standards but go way beyond them, and even point out their deficiencies and errors when appropriate. The biggest problem with public education in places such as Texas is not the inferior curriculum standards; it is the inferior standards imposed on teachers to demonstrate their suitability to teach their subject.

  2. btw: boosting the standards for teacher certification would have an immediate detrimental effect, however. All of a sudden there would be an enormous gap between the number of teachers needed and the number qualified to be in the classroom.

  3. Zu der Brat: Yes, these may be only the minimum. However the issue should be: It is the way these minimums leave openings for educators to address these points in a way that crams mis-information into childrens’ heads.

  4. There are two sides to this issue neither of which should use up the precious attention span of our young children. It’s too short as it is.

    One side is trying to sneak in a pre-Appomattox Confederte view of a union that they quit only to be refused reentry as promised until they accepted major changes to the Constitution, like the ones that prohibit slavery, guarantee due process of law and the equal protection of the law. These are seen as intrusions on the sovereignty of the Confederate states, which after Reconstruction was reinstituted in “sovereignty commissions” that kep the Dark out of the Light.

    The other side is trying to maintain the vestiges of the insurgencies, sabotage, and treason in the cause of advancing the cause of the Soviet Union by means both underground and above ground to weaken the resolve of the US to defend itself. The script of this effort is identical to those used in the early stages of the break down the will to resist Joe Stalin’s program in the take over campaigns of the twenties during the latter stages of the Russian Civil War, the revolts in the Thirties including the abortive one in Spain, and the final takeover of the Eastern European states at the end of WW2.

    The part that the Americans never quite got to was the creation of armed militias/workers that would rise up and toss the Capitalists out on the end of pitch forks and bayonets. The various terrorist acts of the early Seventies like blowing up a few bathrooms in public buildings just didn’t have the zip that it did in the other hemispheres.

    The pitchforks, shotguns, and fertilizer is back in the traditional anti-government hands in defense of bootlegging, pot, rock, and hell raising … where it belongs.

    The problem with trying to specify content by committee misses the net where anyone can fing whatever content one likes. The trick is to teach these restless minds on how to search, analyze, and combine.

  5. Wen: in my view the issue is about young people getting correct information regardless of what the standards contain. In my field (biology), the standards included expectations to know a taxonomic system that was more than 20 years out of date. Some topics were simply not covered by the TEKS. In cases such as these, in my opinion, an effective teacher would present the current and more complete picture. Many teachers do not do this, and I feel they are not doing the job properly. Some teachers do take advantage of the loose nature of the standards to introduce inappropriate material. Again, this is a failure to do the job they should be doing. The fact that so many teachers of that type are teaching shows the failure of the training and certification process.

    1. Zu der Brat: I understand your points and agree with your thesis.I am in a field that is closely related to yours (biochemistry). My point, perhaps not clearly stated, is that if one starts with a curriculum that contains false, misleading or totally irrelevant information, by the time a child gets through his high school experience he will find it hard to change his thinking and will always remember some of things he or she was taught in their formative years. I suggest your recalling the taxonomic system you were taught is an example of what I mean, although you obviously have overcome that by this time. “Teaching the test” is only an expedient for the near term – later there will be other tests that ask for different kinds of thinking, using information that should have been garnered in a sound education.

      1. I think we agree on a lot; we perhaps have a different perspective about the importance of the standards. Many teachers do not pay much attention to them. My main point is that the standards are rarely what cause problems; if the standards were the best possible (assuming such a thing could exist), poor teachers could thwart students’ chances at getting a good experience. Weak standards are fairly easily compensated for, if the teachers are capable of doing the job they should do. When teachers are required to teach to the test, even good ones may have difficulty doing what should be done. If there were an easy solution to all this, I expect we would not be discussing it.

  6. All points are well taken. I would point out something else here, based on an article i read in recent days in my local newspaper. The Texas TEKS may be a minimum standard, and I agree with Eric that much more than that minimum should be taught to give our kids a comprehensive and well-rounded education. However, in my state, the teachers are taking most of their time to teach the kids what they need to know to pass the annual state achievement test that is used to grade teacher performance. They call it “Teach the Test” around here. The not-so-bright kids (let’s face the fact that they do exist) are the most numerous and take up an extraordinary amount of teacher effort—leaving very little time to provide the kind of educational experience all of us here would like to see—especially for bright kids like yours and mine. I agree that Texas kids will suffer overall from the Texas SBOE nonsense—no doubt about that. The problem is that this nonsense is just the first course in a continuing meal, and the other courses contain just as much damaging nonsense as the first. By the time dessert is served, our kids may very well be living in a cave, wearing fur, and making chert tools.

  7. It should be fairly clear that in Texas, and probably several other places as well, one of the main legislative goals has been to weaken the public educational system so that the public widely demands a voucher system that will pay tax dollars to various private, usually religious-right schools. Throwing money blindly at the schools is not a reasonable solution, but without adequate money applied sensibly the conservatives plan to destroy public education in inevitable.

  8. Thinking about omissions: “What role did religion play in debates over slavery” would itself seem to be omitting an “s” from the end of the second word.