This month, far-right culture warriors launched their newest effort to hijack the education of Texas kids with a fresh onslaught of lies and incendiary charges. But the Texas Freedom Network and our #TeachTheTruth campaign partners are already fighting back.
New Social Studies Overhaul
Teams of teachers and scholars spent months carefully drafting new standards to guide instruction in history, government and other social studies classes in Texas public schools. Their work is part of the State Board of Education’s first major overhaul of those standards since a highly controversial and politicized revision in 2010. (See below for a recap of what happened that year.)
So far, the teams’ initial drafts demonstrate important progress toward helping public schools teach about the experiences and contributions of the diverse communities that have shaped our state’s history. The drafts also veer away from much of the misinformation culture warriors on and off the state board forced into the 2010 standards.
Not surprisingly, far-right critics are already attacking the drafts. For example, at an August 1 public hearing, they falsely claimed that the drafts teach “critical race theory” – an academic and legal concept the right deliberately mischaracterizes in an effort to censor classrooms, whitewash the past, and stoke racial divisions.
They also claimed that the drafters demonstrated hostility toward Christianity by removing references to “Judeo-Christian” figures and traditions. In truth, the drafts reference Christianity, its principles and its influences in this country and around the world more than 30 times. But the culture warriors are angry that the drafts dropped the absurd claim – first inserted by Republicans on the state board in 2010 – that Moses from the Bible was a major influence on the U.S. Constitution.
Most shocking of all, one prominent extremist group sent state board members a letter quoting a Bible verse in a way that suggests the teachers and scholars drafting the standards deserve to be killed. The falsehoods in that letter were echoed repeatedly in testimony at the public hearing.
The big question now is how many Republican board members will cave to that pressure and vote to once again politicize social studies classrooms and distort the education of Texas students.
Board members are set to discuss the draft standards at their Aug. 30-Sept. 2 meeting. The board could hold a second public hearing and begin debating changes to the drafts in September, with a final vote in November.
The 2010 Overhaul: A past we should learn from, not follow.
This year’s overhaul of the social studies standards echoes the state board’s previous controversial revision in 2010, so much so that a prominent conservative education organization called those standards a “politicized distortion of history.” A reminder of our past will serve us in making sure we’re prepared this time to fight for a better outcome.
During the 2010 social studies TEKS revision, board members fought to keep lies in the standards based on nothing but their personal beliefs. That’s why we saw the work of expert educators, reviewers and historians overridden by the personal politics of dentists, lawyers, and realtors.
For instance, the author of a popular children’s book, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?, was initially banned from the 2011 standards after a board member concluded the author was a Marxist after conducting a hasty internet search. When board members weren’t fishing online for uncredited sources, theys were busy inserting outrageous mistruths in the standards to satisfy political bases and partisan talking points. Like calling slavery a “side issue.”
The last revisions also gave us the bizarre inclusion of confederate General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson in a citizenship standard alongside Frederick Douglass – the former a slavery defender, the latter a dogged abolitionist.
By equating these two leaders, the standards were not only revised to distort history, it sought to erase the contribution of Douglass and valorized the unpopularity of General Jackson’s slavery position.
In the past, the board cleverly distorted simple facts with the objective of leaving that information open to interpretation based on the teacher’s personal politics or religion. For instance, the standards were revised to insist that US laws and Government derive from Judeo-Christian tradition, leaving teachers scrambling between teaching all Judeo-Christian tradition or cherry-picking which parts to highlight. Both choices are horrible for public school students’ learning outcomes and a headache for lesson-planning from a teacher’s perspective.
The tricks by the Board don’t stop there. The chosen standards highlighted “states’ rights” and “sectionalism” above slavery as a central cause of the civil war, providing cover to confederate apologists who continue to bask in the false valor of the former rather than cower under the horrors of the latter.
This distortion was deliberate; just teaching that “states’ rights” was a major cause of the civil war without explaining that the states’ right in question was a demand to maintain and even expand the institution of slavery.
The board did their best to compare apples to oranges in the last revisions by suggesting America’s treatment of Italian and German immigrants were also mistreated like the Japanese, without mentioning the horrific use of U.S. concentration camps for Japanese-Americans. This is not just false; it is decidedly cruel to even suggest a similarity.
It’s easy to see how in the last standards revisions, we went from expertly-researched drafts to revised TEKs that elevated pet political causes and personal grievances of board members over facts and sound scholarship. Public school classrooms are not the place for SBOE members to grind political axes. Without a doubt, focusing on politicizing the curriculum standards has undermined the quality of the final approved document in previous revisions. We can’t let it happen again.
As you can see, the social studies TEKS revisions make it so easy for our stories to become distorted by the actions of bad actors. So it’s crucial we continue to insist that public schools teach the truth. We believe that students across the state of Texas deserve an accurate, honest, and quality education that allows them to see themselves represented, to access truthful information, and to learn from our past in order to build a better future for themselves and our country.
You can add your voice to our Teach the Truth campaign by signing up here. Feel free to send us your questions about how the SBOE works, how you can mobilize within your community, and how to stay informed about our #TeachTheTruth events at [email protected]. With your voice, we can ensure the new standards teach the truth and are inclusive of all Texans.