The Battle over History and Education

by TFN

We have seen a series of stories in the last few days about the coming debate at the State Board of Education this week on proposed new social studies curriculum standards in Texas public schools. The Austin American-Statesman yesterday looked at efforts by conservative evangelicals to require that students learn that the United States was founded as a Christian nation based on biblical principles. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram also previewed this week’s meeting here.

But one of the best overviews of the looming fight comes in the Texas Tribune today. The piece offers an excellent examination of the right-wing political extremism that has infected the curriculum revision process and who is behind it. (Go ahead. Guess.)

Two of the truly expert reviewers — Prof. Jesus Francisco de la Teja at Texas State University and Prof. Jim Kracht at Texas A&M — involved in the curriculum revision process summarize the problem well:

“The board really monkeyed around with the English standards” after committees of educators had spent months crafting them, said de la Teja, the Texas State history professor. “It injects a lot of politics. When you get down to it, it doesn’t give the experts in the field the ability to do what they’ve been trained to do and have experience in doing.” Texas A&M’s Kracht compared the standards adoption process to “trying to herd 40 cats in a blue norther.”

Some of the most revealing parts of the piece focus on the efforts of far-right extremists, like Bill Ames of Dallas, to turn the social studies standards into a political screed despite strong opposition from the educators and academics on the curriculum writing teams:

(T)he board’s veto power over the yearlong, word-by-word grind by curriculum-writing committees remains in effect. That gave great comfort to Ames, who walked out of his committee experience anything but defeated. He wrote of the upcoming state board meeting: “Item-by-item, motions will be made and passed to accept the changes. Textbook publishers, bound by the standards, will publish pro-America textbooks that are used, not only in Texas, but also across the country. The process will be the history revisionists’ worst nightmare. How can one be so confident of the outcome? Because the SBOE seems able to win every curriculum battle. The left always loses in Texas.”

Make no mistake: the debate this week at the State Board of Education — beginning with a public hearing on the standards Wednesday — is critical to the future of public education in Texas. At its core, the debate is about whether promoting political agendas is more important than expert scholarship in social studies classrooms and whether Texas schoolchildren will get the sound education they deserve or ideological indoctrination promoted by too many board members and their allies on the right.

TFN Insider will live-blog from the hearing on Wednesday and provide live updates from the board debate Thursday.