Race an Issue as Texas Education Board Adopts Social Studies Criteria

USA Today, March 12, 2010

The Texas State Board of Education agreed to new social studies standards on Friday after the far-right faction wielded its power to shape the lessons that will be taught to millions of students on American history, the U.S. free enterprise system, religion and other topics.

In a vote of 10-5, the board preliminarily adopted the new curriculum after days of charged debate marked by race and politics. In dozens of smaller votes passed over the three days, the ultra-conservatives who dominate the board nixed all but a few efforts to recognize the diversity of race and religion in Texas.

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As part of the new curriculum, the elected board–made up of lawyers, a dentist and a weekly newspaper publisher among others–rejected an attempt to ensure that children learn why the U.S. was founded on the principle of religious freedom.

But, it 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.

They also agreed to strike the word “democratic” in references to the form of U.S. government, opting instead to call it a “constitutional republic.”

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Conservatives beat back multiple attempts to include hip-hop as an example of a significant cultural movement that already includes country music.

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Over the past three days, the board also argued over how historic periods should be classified (still B.C. and A.D., rather than B.C.E. and C.E.); whether or not students should be required to explain the origins of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and its impact on global politics (they will); and whether former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir should be required learning (she will).

Numerous attempts to add the names or references to important Hispanics throughout history also were denied, inducing one amendment that would specify that Tejanos died at the Alamo alongside Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie.

A day earlier, longtime board member Mary Helen Berlanga accused her colleagues of “whitewashing” the standards and walked out of the panel’s meeting in frustration. Berlanga voted against the standards on Friday.

Berlanga also bristled when the board approved an amendment that deletes a requirement that sociology students “explain how institutional racism is evident in American society.”

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In Texas alone, the board’s decisions will set guideposts for teaching history and social studies to some 4.8 million K-12 students during the next 10 years. In almost six hours of public testimony on Wednesday, the board heard repeated pleas that the Christian heritage of the U.S. be reflected in the new standards as well as other requests that students learn more Hispanic examples of prominent historic figures.

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