Statement on Texas Curriculum Debacle

Texas Freedom Network President Kathy Miller released the following statement after a divided State Board of Education gave preliminary approval to new social studies curriculum standards for Texas public schools:

“Some board members themselves acknowledged this morning that the process for revising curriculum standards in Texas is seriously broken, with politics and personal agendas dominating just about every decision. We could probably choose a handful of names at random from a phone book and find folks who demonstrate more competence and responsibility in deciding what nearly 5 million Texas kids learn in their public school classrooms.”

During meetings in January and this week, the state board made numerous changes to standards proposed by teachers, scholars and other curriculum writers over the past year. Among the decisions made by the board this week:

  • The board rejected a proposed standard requiring students to “examine the reasons the Founding Fathers protected religious freedom in America by barring government from promoting or disfavoring any particular religion over all others.” That means the board opposes teaching students about the most fundamental constitutional protection for religious freedom in America.
  • Even as board members continued to demand that students learn about “American exceptionalism,” the board stripped Thomas Jefferson from a world history standard about the influence of Enlightenment thinkers on political revolutions from the 1700s to today. In Jefferson’s place, the board’s religious conservatives succeeded in inserting Thomas Aquinas and John Calvin. They also removed the reference to “Enlightenment ideas” in the standard, requiring that students should simply learn about the influence of the “writings” of various thinkers (including Calvin and Aquinas).
  • The board removed the word “capitalism” from the standards, mandating that the term for that economic system be called “free enterprise” throughout the standards. Board members such as Terri Leo and Ken Mercer charged that “capitalism” is a negative term used by “liberal professors in academia.”
  • The board removed Santa Barraza from a Grade 7 Texas history standard on Texans who have made contributions to the arts because board conservatives objected to one of her (many) paintings, which included a depiction of a woman’s exposed breasts. Some of Barraza’s works had been displayed in the Texas Governor’s Mansion during the gubernatorial administration of George W. Bush in the 1990s.
  • Board members added Friedrich von Hayek to a standard in the high school economics course even though some board members acknowledged that they had no idea who the influential Austrian-born economist even was.
  • In a high school government standard about “the importance of the expression of different points of view in a democratic republic,” board conservatives added a requirement that students learn about the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms.

The board decided in November to proceed on its revision of the standards without further formal input from scholars and classroom teachers. As a result, board members cast their votes in January and this week without any guidance from classroom teachers or experts in the social sciences.

8 thoughts on “Statement on Texas Curriculum Debacle

  1. Coming as an outsider, I have to believe that maybe I’m not understanding something here. I mean, it can’t really be that your board of education is just making up the curriculum as they go, can it? Really?

    How do you even have a system where the BoE can just arbitrarily define curriculum? Didn’t anybody ever look at it and go, “gee, maybe that’s not such a hot idea”? Which of course makes me wonder if that isn’t the same in other states, and it’s just not as obvious.

    Anyway, this is horrifying, and I’m really worried for the great state.

  2. The SBOE and the manner in which we adopted curriculum standards area joke. As a member of the 11th grade U.S. committee I can tell you that most of us approached the task with the students’ best interest at heart, not with any sort of political agenda. We are thoroughly heart broken and disguested with what has happened.

  3. Following this week’s meeting was incredibly distressing. Far more than in the science standards debate, the board majority simply ignored any issue of effective teaching, and just tried to score ideological points. The goal isn’t education — it’s indoctrination, pure and simple. Sadly, much of the board minority was just as intent on making their own (far more reasonable) ideological points, mostly about respect for minorities and their struggles. The standards that emerged are a total hash, with no respect for accuracy or expert input, and the textbooks that result will be incoherent. I pray that teachers will have the courage and ability to teach real history despite this travesty, but it won’t be easy.

    I have argued for a long time that an elected SBOE, despite it’s faults, is a necessary part of our democracy, and that citizens have the right, through their votes, to determine the values that guide our children’s education. After this week, I’m not so sure.

  4. It’s time to call in Michael Moore for a documentary about the Texas Sicko SBOE. And SNL for some serious satire. And Colbert for a few tongue in cheek interviews. The Texas SBOE influences textbooks nationwide. Does anyone have any connections to make some high level publicity possible? The NYT did a nice serious piece, but I think we need to add some spices, a good dose of parody and satire… At the very least we can get some good, really good, laughs from our Texan education idiocy.

  5. Lorenzo Sadun Says:

    I have argued for a long time that an elected SBOE, despite it’s faults, is a necessary part of our democracy, and that citizens have the right, through their votes, to determine the values that guide our children’s education. After this week, I’m not so sure.

    Making SBOE elections non-partisan could help a lot. The 7 say they’re representing their constituents, but one of them (Bradley, I think) argued against non-partisan SBOE elections because he said it would exclude viewpoints that could not win majority support within the districts (!)

    Is that what they mean by this being a republic, not a democracy?

    Their next move will be to insist that Texas law requires that the textbook reviews be done by panels representing a cross-section of Texans. Their point man on this is Bill Ames, who was appointed to one of the writing teams by Bradley; but Board members themselves have echoed his (false) argument. See

  6. Lorenzo said:

    “I have argued for a long time that an elected SBOE, despite it’s faults, is a necessary part of our democracy, and that citizens have the right, through their votes, to determine the values that guide our children’s education. After this week, I’m not so sure.”

    Alexander Hamilton would have said “NO.”

  7. It looks as if David “Critical thinking is gobbledegook” Bradley, Buna is trying to re-emerge as a bullyboy leader of the regressive religious right on the SBOE. I don’t think we want the students of Texas schools learning about his brand of 3R’s. Let’s try to make sure he is the leader of a very small pack by supporting the rational candidates for SBOE in November’s elections. Remember that three of the worst will not be returning to the board. It is up to Texans and concerned contributors from elsewhere to give good candidates all the help that we can.

  8. Didn’t Orwell write about changing history to suit those currently in power? I hope that the teachers will ignore these guidelines and continue to teach students to think critically, look at all sides of an argument, do their research and ignore pundits and talking points before making a decision. Critical think is paramount to overcoming narrow minded bigotry and stupidity