Conservatives Take Another Swing at Social Studies

Curriculum vote pushed to March

Conservatives Take Another Swing at Social Studies
Illustration by Leah Lovise

The debate went on and on and on ... so long, in fact, that ultimately nothing was decided.

Members of the State Board of Education last week heard from the public and argued among themselves about revisions to social studies curriculum standards for Texas public schoolchildren, and it was every bit as inane and infuriating as the previous battle over science standards – once again featuring the educational establishment fighting against loud hyperconservatives who seem to think they know more than professionals who have dedicated their lives to studying their respective disciplines. The board's self-appointed moralists managed to push through several amendments to the standards, though the lengthy debate foiled its effort to deliver a first-round vote on the overall curriculum. That vote was put off until March, and the final vote originally scheduled for then was moved to May.

As we've previously reported, the seven-member arch-conservative bloc (on the elected board of 15) has pushed hard for a bigger emphasis on the role of religion in our nation's history, which critics see as part of the bigger push by the religious right to further the notion that America's founders intended for the United States to be a Christian nation. The bloc has sought to override the recommendations of academic writing teams in favor of board-appointed "experts," some of whom are simply self-anointed "historians."

This time around, there was also a push from the tea-party crowd making tinfoil-hat charges of socialism in our educational system and calling for the teaching of "American exceptionalism." One sign at a rally outside the meeting read: "Stop Leftist Revision. The American Dream Dies When our History is forgotten!"

There were too many highlights to recount here (the archived video at www.tea.state.tx.us makes for hours of head-slapping fun), but among them:

One Bonny Brogdon testified that she moved from Arizona to Texas because it "has yet to be changed by a liberal agenda." She objected to language referring to citizenship in a global society because, "I am hypersensitive to any type of global anything. ... I have a problem with teaching our children that we have responsibilities to a global society when we don't have commensurate rights within that society."

Bryan dentist Don McLeroy – whose chairmanship of the board was rejected by the Texas Senate last spring but who still represents District 9 – unsuccessfully objected to an examination of the cultural influence of certain artistic movements, including hip-hop, which he wanted removed and replaced by country music, apparently because hip-hop has a "negative" influence. (Perhaps McLeroy has never heard any cheating or drinking songs.)

At another point, McLeroy introduced – and successfully passed – an amendment to insert language basically saying that Joseph McCarthy's infamous red-baiting in the 1950s was vindicated by history.

The Texas Freedom Network, an activist organization dedicated to countering the influence of the religious right in Texas, complained afterward that the revisions passed last week "gut a year's worth of work by teachers and scholars who drafted new curriculum standards for Texas public schools." TFN said the board passed "a variety of proposals that would promote partisan political positions ... removed a specific requirement that students learn about the efforts of women and ethnic minorities to gain equal rights," and "adopted a standard that specifically promotes the views of conservative icons such as Phyllis Schlafly, the Con­tract With America, the Heritage Foun­dation, the Moral Majority and the National Rifle Associ­a­tion, while deliberately ignoring progressive political figures," among its more egregious actions.

"When partisan politicians take a wrecking ball to the work of teachers and scholars, you get a document that looks more like a party platform than a social studies curriculum," said TFN President Kathy Miller in a press release. "The video archive of this week's meeting would be a great primer for parents and lawmakers on how politics is undermining the education of Texas schoolchildren."

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