One of the most heated exchanges during Friday’s debate by Texas State Board of Education members over new social studies curriculum standards came during discussion on a standard about women and ethnic minorities working to overcome discrimination in the past.
The proposed standard for high school U.S. history read: “Explain actions taken by people from different racial, ethnic, gender and religious groups to expand economic opportunities and political rights in American society.” Board member Don McLeroy, R-College Station, moved to strike the words “racial, ethnic, gender and religious,” arguing that they were redundant because the standard already said “various groups.”
The Texas Tribune provides an excellent recap of what happened:
“It’s not redundant to me,” retorted board member Mavis Knight (D-Dallas), who is African-American. “Because the racial and gender groups you are trying to strike overcame great obstacles to make great contributions. … This board is rewriting history, wanting to sanitize anything that might reflect negatively on our country.”
When board member Barbara Cargill (R-The Woodlands) backed McLeroy, arguing that such exploring of minority groups detracted from teaching students about “the melting pot,” Knight was momentarily speechless. “I need a moment … I need to gather myself,” she told chair Gail Lowe (R-Lampasas), who thanked her for her decorum.
“You would have us think we’re in some kind of Utopia that didn’t exist,” Knight continued, after a pause. “Look at what ‘groups’ in society do to keep other ‘groups’ from achieving.You made laws. You burned down something called ‘Black Wall Street’ because you didn’t want them to achieve. … I’m sorry. I have to stop.”
McLeroy’s amendment failed on a 7-7 tie vote. Lowe, a member of the board’s far-right faction along with McLeroy and Cargill, chaired the meeting and declined to vote on amendments. She later told a reporter, however, that she will vote when failed and new amendments are reconsidered at a future meeting.
Efforts to put a conservative slant on racial issues in American history didn’t stop with McLeroy’s amendment. Board member Cynthia Dunbar, R-Richmond, moved to strike early-20th century black activist Marcus Garvey (along with Clarence Darrow, the pro-science attorney in the Scopes Monkey Trial) from the standards. When challenged by other board members about her desire to remove Garvey, Dunbar argued that he had been born in Jamaica and was eventually deported from the United States. Dunbar’s motion failed as well.
David Bradley, R-Beaumont Buna, also seemed upset by efforts of fellow board member Mary Helen Berlanga, D-Corpus Christi, to include the names of more Latinos in the standards. “If Ms. Berlanga, whose only criteria is skin color, had the votes, she would name us ‘the Hispanic Education Agency,'” he told one reporter.
And then there was a dustup over whether hip hop should be included in a standard on various musical genres that have been popular during different eras in American history. Far-right board members and other opponents demanded that hip hop be removed, suggesting that it is characterized largely by offensive “gangsta rap.” Board member Lawrence Allen, D-Houston, who is African-American, wondered if board members knew what they were talking about: “What do you think hip hop is? Maybe you are deleting something that you know nothing about.”
McLeroy’s motion to replace hip hop with country and western music failed on another 7-7 tie vote, with Lowe choosing not to vote.
Friday’s fireworks came two days after the board voted narrowly to end a public hearing on the new standards just after 6 p.m. on Wednesday even though many people who had traveled to Austin to testify still had not been able to speak before the board. Many of those who had not been able to testify were Latinos, including veterans from the American GI Forum. Berlanga and the board’s other Democrats stayed in the board room after the conclusion of the hearing to listen to testimony from the remaining speakers.