This week the State Board of Education is set to finish its revision of social studies curriculum standards for Texas public schools. So we’ll soon know whether the board is going to fix distorted, politicized history on a number of topics in the standards — from slavery and the Civil War to civil rights and Moses. Meanwhile, nearly 200 scholars have signed an open letter to board members, calling on the board to fix the standards, take out the politics and #TeachTheTruth. Read our press release.
NEARLY 200 SCHOLARS FROM ACROSS THE COUNTRY CALL ON TEXAS STATE BOARD OF EDUCATION TO CORRECT HISTORICAL DISTORTIONS IN CURRICULUM STANDARDS
Open Letter Criticizes Standards for Promoting ‘States’ Rights’ Myth, Distorting Civil Rights History
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 12, 2018
AUSTIN – As the Texas State Board of Education prepares to finalize revised curriculum standards for social studies, nearly 200 historians and other scholars from across the United States have signed on to an open letter calling on the board to correct standards that distort the history of the Civil War and civil rights.
“As they are currently written, the [curriculum] standards promote a gross misrepresentation of history and leave Texas students ill-prepared to succeed in college level history courses,” write scholars from the University of Texas at Austin who authored the letter. “Perhaps more importantly, they deny our students a basic understanding of the historical roots of the most pressing contemporary problems. The morally unconscionable institution of slavery and the systematic denial of equal rights are difficult and shameful aspects of our collective past, but to minimize them in the historical education of Texas’ children is to hamstring our collective future.”
In particular, the letter warns that the current draft standards for social studies promote the myth that southern states seceded and fought for “states’ rights” during the Civil War. The current draft also doesn’t correct a standard passed by the Republican-dominated board in 2010 portraying southern Democrats as the only opponents of the civil rights movement. In fact, a number of leading Republicans, including Texas Sen. John Tower and GOP presidential nominee Barry Goldwater of Arizona, also opposed the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964.
“The standards resurrect the ‘Lost Cause’ myth, a long-discredited version of history first promoted in the late-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to glorify the Confederate past and reinforce white supremacist policies such as the disenfranchisement of African-Americans and Jim Crow segregation,” the scholars write.
The letter and list of signers are available here. As of Monday morning, 195 scholars had signed on to the letter. Many are from Texas colleges and universities, but many others teach at institutions of higher education in every region of the country.
The board is missing an opportunity to correct the historical and partisan political distortions purposely passed by the 2010 board, said Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network.
“Meeting the challenges that continue to divide Americans today is much harder if we don’t teach students the truth about the origins of those challenges,” Miller said. “This board has the opportunity to rise above the partisan divide today and teach the truth, warts and all.”
Aireka Sadler, a student at Huston-Tillotson University, a historically black institution in Austin, said she worries about students getting a distorted or superficial education about African-American history.
“If you don’t know you who are, people will tell you who you are,” said Sadler, a student leader in TFN’s Texas Rising program. “It’s concerning for someone not to be educated about their history. If you know where you come from and your history, it will empower you for your present and your future.”
Scholars in recent months have also pointed to other distortions in the current standards. In particular, they have criticized the inclusion of the biblical figure Moses as a major influence – alongside political thinkers like John Locke and Charles de Montesquieu – on the American founding documents. The standards also suggest that separation of church and state isn’t a key constitutional principle.
The board is set to consider the standards at its meeting on Tuesday. Board members will take a final vote on the standards Friday.
Texas Freedom Network is a grassroots organization of religious and community leaders who support social and economic justice. Texas Rising, sponsored by TFN, brings together young, diverse, politically engaged activists working to build a grassroots movement for Texans under 30 through community organizing, electoral politics and public policy advocacy.