Democrats Protest Proposed School Standards

Gary Scharrer, Express-News (San Antonio), January 15, 2010

Conservative rallying points like the Heritage Foundation, Moral Majority and National Rifle Association made it into a preliminary set of new curriculum standards for Texas public school students, but an effort to include other groups in the political arena–like ones that fight discrimination–failed Friday, causing some to question the effect of the partisan balance on the State Board of Education.

After two days of wrestling over what to teach lower grades, the board postponed a first-round vote until March because it could not finish a review of proposed social studies standards for high school students. The March vote will produce curriculum standards for a public hearing in May, when final action is expected.

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So far, conservative groups are generally pleased with the early look at the new standards that will influence a decade of school textbooks for more than 4.7 million Texas public school children.

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The board restored Christmas as an example of a significant religious celebration, overturning a much-criticized expert recommendation, and explorer Christopher Columbus is slated for more mention than businesswoman Mary Kay Ash.

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But board member Mary Helen Berlanga, D-Corpus Christi, was not happy after colleagues rejected her amendment that would have exposed students to the historic significance of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, League of United Latin American Citizens, GI Forum and Raza Unida.

“They obviously had the votes, so even if I protested, it wasn’t going to do much good,” Berlanga said later. “It is very obvious that they were carrying forward a political agenda.”

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Berlanga also failed to get U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor listed as an example of someone with significant historical accomplishment and achievement. Republican members offered the late Supreme Justice Benjamin Cardozo, who was of Portuguese descent.

“That didn’t satisfy her agenda,” Bradley said. “She rejected him. The other guy was not a liberal Hispanic. He’s Portuguese. That wasn’t brown enough.”

Hispanic children now make up the majority of students in the public school early elementary grades and soon will become the majority of the entire K-12 enrollment. White children make up 34 percent of the public school enrollment.

Social studies experts last year recommended that high school students evaluate the contributions and significance of political and social leaders such as Andrew Carnegie, Billy Graham, Barry Goldwater, Hector P. Garcia, and Thurgood Marshall among others.

Don McLeroy, R-Bryan, wanted to add: Jeanne Kirkpatrick, Oveta Culp Hobby, Newt Gingrich, William Buckley, Hillary Clinton and Clair Booth Luce to the list. The addition of such Republican conservatives as Kirkpatrick, Gingrich, Buckley and Luce influenced Democratic members to push for the inclusion of the late Sen. Edward Kennedy. The board voted down Kennedy and also an effort to include the entire Kennedy family.

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McLeroy also lost an effort to replace “hip hop” with country music on a list of significant examples of cultural movements in art, music and literature for Texas high school students to study.

The experts last year recommended such examples as Tin Pan Alley, the Harlem Renaissance, the Beat Generation, Rock and Roll, the Chicano mural movement and hip hop.

McLeroy tried to replace hip hop with country music, arguing with other social conservatives that hip-hop and related “gangsta rap” uses foul language and often denigrates women.

“The words are degrading,” Terri Leo, R-Spring, said. “We don’t have to use words that students cannot use in school.”

Lawrence Allen Jr., D-Houston, said hip-hop is a major form of communication in the black community and should remain an option for teachers to use.

“What do think hip-hop is? Maybe you are deleting something that you know nothing about?” he suggested to his colleagues.

McLeroy’s country music-for-hip-hop amendment failed, 7-7, but could survive later along with many amendments that failed on tie votes when Lowe casts a vote.

The Texas Freedom Network, an Austin-based group that monitors the State Board of Education in support of religious and civil liberties, complained about “blatant politicization of social studies curriculum.”

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Miller’s group [Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network], in particular, objected to the board:

* Approving an amendment suggesting that 1950s McCarthyism had been justified.

* Adopting a standard that specifically promotes the views of conservative icons, groups or concepts–included by name were Phyllis Schlafly, the Contract with America, the Heritage Foundation, the Moral Majority and the National Rifle Association–while ignoring liberal politics and political figures.

* Removing a specific requirement that students learn about the efforts of women and ethnic minorities to gain equal rights, replacing it with vague language about “various groups.”

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[Editor’s Note: an earlier story on the Texas public-school curriculum vote can be read here.]

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