Archiving the Texas School Debate

The following reports by Zahira Torres from the Austin bureau of the El Paso Times are the best we’ve seen when it comes to alertness in reporting on the cultural history known as the Texas school curriculum debates.–gm

AUSTIN — Tension and bitterness continued to divide the State Board of Education on Thursday (March 11, 2010) as more conservative Republicans on the board wielded their voting power to tweak social studies curriculum for about 4.7 million public school children.

The majority of white Republicans on the 15-member board shot down measures on race relations that upset some Hispanic and African-American members of the board.

They also voted down a measure that would have taught children the significance of the separation of church and state.

Then they won battles to insert religion into more areas of the curriculum, deleted a reference they believed would allow students to learn about people with alternative lifestyles and replaced the word “Democratic” with the phrase “constitutional republic” in references to U.S. government.

The board for months has debated social studies curriculum and should reach a preliminary vote today. The board then will accept public comments, add more amendments and take a final vote in May.

The curriculum will guide what children in Texas public schools learn over the next decade. It has a broader-reaching effect because Texas is one of the largest purchasers of textbooks and often publishers use similar criteria to craft books for other states.

On Thursday, members labored into the evening over phrases, historic figures and what reflected socially accepted ideals. They removed and added Hispanics on the list of figures to study.

While there were moments of agreement, Democrats in the minority often expressed frustration over what they considered the “whitewashing” of history.

Those tensions boiled over when the board added Lawrence Sullivan “Sul” Ross and John Nance Garner IV as figures who influenced Texas history.

Board member Mary Helen Berlanga, D-Corpus Christi, walked out of the meeting, saying that she no longer felt her voice would be heard.

“We can just pretend that this is White America and Hispanics don’t exist,” she said as she walked out.

Earlier in the meeting, Berlanga proposed adding two Hispanics and an African-American as examples of Medal of Honor recipients to world history, but that motion failed. Members agreed to revisit the issue when they discussed U.S. history.

A similar motion passed later that evening. It called for students to learn about Medal of Honor recipients of all races, then offered the names of a Hispanic man, a black man and a white man as examples.

The board deleted an item in sociology courses that required students to “explain how institutional racism is evident in America.”

They removed references to “Tejano leaders” who died at the Alamo. And in a separate measure they added a reference to Hispanics involved in the fight at the Alamo but did not make it a requirement.

David Bradley, R-Beaumont, said he heard “the one Tejano leader who was there left before the fight.”

They struck hip-hop from a list of genres of music through a proposal by outgoing conservative Republican board member Don McLeroy, a dentist from College Station.

The genre had made the cut in January despite efforts to remove it from the list after board members argued that, like it or not, it influenced society.

They also argued over another amendment proposed by McLeroy.

That amendment sought to insert wording requiring students to “analyze the effectiveness of the adversarial approach taken by many civil rights groups versus the philosophical persuasive tone of Dr. Martin Luther King.”

Lawrence Allen, D-Fresno, questioned what defined a group’s approach as adversarial. He requested that someone on the board give examples documented in history.

He asked whether they were considered adversarial “because they did not take the philosophy of ‘I’ll let you hit me and I won’t hit you back’?”

Eventually the word “adversarial” was replaced with “groups such as the Black Panthers.” Another part of the amendment that mentioned minorities’ “unrealistic expectations for equal outcomes” was deleted after a board member raised concerns.

Democrats slightly gained ground.

El Paso astronaut Danny Olivas and Raymond L. Telles, an El Pasoan who was the first Hispanic mayor of a major city, were added at the recommendation of board member Rune Nuñez, D-El Paso.

Board member Mavis Knight, D-Dallas, successfully lobbied to add Rosa Parks as a leader who influenced the civil-rights movement.

Knight lost another battle that would have required the curriculum to examine the reasons “why the founding fathers protected religious freedom by barring the government from promoting or disfavoring any particular religion above all others.”

Her motion was shot down after Cynthia Dunbar, R-Richmond, argued that it was historically inaccurate.

“One of the things we keep getting pounded about is injecting religion into the curriculum, and we’re not,” Dunbar said. “We don’t want our religious history to be painted and drawn from a viewpoint that is not historically accurate.”

Despite protests from the minority members on the board, Republican member Barbara Cargill also won support for her proposal to delete a passage that required students to “differentiate between sex and gender as social constructs and determine how gender and socialization interact.”

Cargill said she was concerned after using “the Google” to search the phrase. She said it could lead to students learning about “transvestites, transsexuals and who knows what else.”

Allen and Knight argued that students should be able to learn about what is happening around them and that hiding it from them would be naive.

“It is no secret to them so you might as well bring it out into the open and discuss it,” Knight said.

Earlier this month McLeroy and Geraldine Miller lost their Republican primary elections.

McLeroy and other conservatives have vowed to leave their mark on the curriculum.

He said that they have been unfairly labeled as against the inclusion of minority groups.

“We want to get a good balance that includes significant people into history books of all ethnicities,” he said.

Berlanga disagreed.

“You have a little bloc of right-wingers who lost their races and are bitter,” she said, adding that “a dentist,” a “housewife” and an “insurance guy” were rewriting history.

She said that if things did not improve, the Legislature should dissolve the board.

“We have lost it,” she said. “Lost the real history. Lost the true history.”

AUSTIN — Texas schoolchildren could soon be learning a more conservative version of history.

The State Board of Education took a preliminary vote Friday on changes to curriculum that will guide instruction for Texas’ 4.7 million public school children over the next decade.

Ten of the board’s Anglo Republican members voted to approve revisions to proposed curriculum standards after three days of squabbling over race relations, religion in schools, and sex and gender in social studies classes.

That left the five Hispanic and African-American Democrats on the board feeling frustrated and deflated.

Right-wing conservatives on the board needed only to sway one of the more moderate Republicans to pass measures that called for students to identify reasons for limiting the role of government, incorporating more mentions of religion into the curriculum and replacing the words “Democratic republic” with the phrase “constitutional republic” in references to U.S. government.

The conservative faction handily defeated an amendment that would have required children to learn the significance of the separation of church and stat
and rejected several attempts to include more minorities in the curriculum.

The board will have to accept more public comments and could make additional changes through amendments before members take a final vote in May.

From there, the approved curriculum will be used to develop textbooks. This could have a national impact because publishers at times use similar criteria to craft books for other states.

The process to replace textbooks every six years costs the state hundreds of millions of dollars whether the curriculum standards are new or old, officials said. Texas Education Agency officials still do not know how the state’s budget crunch will affect their purchasing power.

Friday, conservative members shot down two final attempts to reinsert references to minorities that were deleted by board members the previous night.

So Democratic board mem bers Mavis Knight, Mary Helen Berlanga, Lawrence Allen and Rick Agosto cast protest votes.

“I cannot go back to my community and say to them that I participated in perpetuating a fraud on the students of this state,” Knight said as she explained why she voted against the measure.

Knight, D-Dallas, said the board allowed the battle between conservatism and liberalism to take over.

She said board members “manipulated” the curriculum to offer changes without thinking about the effects on students.

Rene Nuñez, El Paso’s representative on the board, first voted in favor of approving the revisions to the curriculum because he had won inclusion for El Pasoans Danny Olivas, an astronaut, and Raymond L. Telles, the first Hispanic mayor of a major city.

He later changed his vote to show solidarity with other Democrats on the board.

“The Democrats lost this round,” Nuñez said. “We made some gains, but in the big picture of things, we lost.”

On the other end, conservative Republicans claimed victory for their constituents and said they performed a service that kept the state independent of national standards.

Conservatives on the panel replaced the word “capitalism” in textbooks with “free enterprise system,” and they successfully argued that sixth-graders need to identify reasons for limiting the power of government. Limited governments are often a rallying cry for conservative members of the GOP.

The faction voted down a proposal from Berlanga, D-Corpus Christi, to include world history lessons that focused on other acts of terrorism not related to Muslims.

She said she wanted students to know that Native Americans died at the hands of the U.S. calvary and that Mexican-Americans were targeted by the Texas Rangers.

Democrats and some moderate Republicans said the board was steering away from the initial advice of teachers and experts.

But Terri Leo, R-Spring, said experts could debate both sides.

“Just because a few — and I mean a few — of your amendments did not pass, then all of a sudden you are going to throw out this entire document,” she said.

The majority on the board did not give up ground even when more-moderate members of their party attempted to compromise on issues.

In one instance, Democrats tried to bring back references to hip-hop. They said the Beat Generation, which remained in the curriculum, could also be considered offensive.

Some Republicans on the board said they would support the inclusion of both genres.

But when the issue came to a vote, the more conservative faction kept references to the Beat Generation and successfully lobbied against hip-hop music.

Leo tried to pass out explicit lyrics to a Ludacris song, while defending the Beat era.

She was asked to stop by the board chairwoman Gail Lowe, R-Lampasas, but, after the vote, walked around handing out copies and making her case.

Democrats on the board said that textbooks should include more references to minorities as the state’s demographics continue to change the makeup of Texas.

About 2.3 million Texas public school children are Hispanic, and the number is expected to keep growing.

Conservatives, though, eliminated Hispanics such as artist Santa Barraza. She was removed because conservatives disagreed with a painting they found on Google that showed a woman with bare breasts.

Berlanga walked out of the meeting Thursday night to protest the conservative faction on the board. She said it has “whitewashed” the proposed curriculum so that it does not truly teach students about their history.

Republicans on the board said they have included more minorities than ever before.

Berlanga and Nuñez proposed amendments that would have called for students to identify Tejanos who died at the Alamo. They were denied.

Board member Patricia Hardy, R-Fort Worth, said students should not be required to single out individuals who served as part of a larger group.

“They were just among the other people who died at the Alamo,” she said.

Berlanga asked what made Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie more important than Tejano fighters.

We also clip these passages from reports by Terrence Stutz at the Dallas Morning News–gm

Minority board members, who have called for the inclusion of more blacks and Hispanics among the historical figures to be covered, lost one vote Wednesday when the Republican majority deleted from the list an archbishop from El Salvador. Oscar Romero was assassinated in 1980 for speaking out against the country’s repressive government.

Romero was included in the standards for world history until the board decided otherwise, saying he was not significant enough.

Board Chairwoman Gail Lowe, R-Lampasas, told board members that nearly 14,000 e-mails have been received from people and groups wanting to have a say on the new standards.

Among the amendments proposed by social conservatives and adopted Thursday were requirements that students understand how taxes and regulations restrict private enterprise, and that students analyze the importance of the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms. Gun rights were given the same importance as free speech rights.

The board agreed to strengthen nods to Christianity by adding references to “laws of nature and nature’s God” to a section in U.S. history that requires students to explain major political ideas.

The Austin American-Statesman appended the following notes to a story by Kate Alexander–gm

The State Board of Education considered about 300 amendments during 22 hours of deliberation over social studies curriculum standards. Here is a roundup of some of the significant changes, additions and deletions to the standards:

Civil rights movement

Don McLeroy, R-Bryan, proposed a wholesale rewrite of the handling of the civil rights movement in the high school U.S. history course to reflect “both sides of the story as opposed to a single, politically correct view.”

Among his recommended revisions was a reference to the changes and events that resulted from the movement, “including increased participation of minorities in the political process and unrealistic expectations for equal outcomes.”

The board eliminated the “unrealistic expectations” phrase with McLeroy’s assent.

America is Exceptional

“The United States is an exceptional nation. Most Americans would not regard that as a controversial statement. And there is good reason for that: it is true,” McLeroy wrote to justify adding a section on American Exceptionalism.

The section in the high school U.S. government standards will explore why American values are unique from those of other nations and touch on Alexis de Tocqueville’s five values crucial to America’s success as a democratic republic.

Words Matter

In all grades, most references to “capitalism” were eliminated. The term has a negative connotation, said Ken Mercer, R-San Antonio. Instead, the U.S. econo
system is defined throughout as a “free enterprise” system.

The standards were once littered with references to the U.S. as a democracy. No more. In an early draft, the U.S became a “democratic republic” but now will be termed a “constitutional republic,” as suggested by Cynthia Dunbar, R-Richmond.

American “imperialism” in an early draft of the high school U.S. history standards became “expansionism” because the original term projected an inaccurately negative view of American policy, McLeroy said. He offered a similar explanation for striking the word “propaganda” in reference to America’s entry into World War I.

The Middle East

High school world history students will be expected to “explain how Arab rejection of the State of Israel has led to ongoing conflict” and no longer will be asked to “explain the origins and impact of the Israeli-Palestininan conflict on global politics,” per amendments from McLeroy.

The New York Times grabbed these details–gm

References to Ralph Nader and Ross Perot are proposed to be removed, while Stonewall Jackson, the Confederate general, is to be listed as a role model for effective leadership, and the ideas in Jefferson Davis’s inaugural address are to be laid side by side with Abraham Lincoln’s speeches.

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