Policy Brief

History Heartburn Expected in Texas

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Texas educators have drafted new K-12 social studies standards, and they—and the state education board members who will vote on them—expect that the U.S. history strand could be contentious.

Texas board members have a reputation for being polarized ideologically. Revisions of standards for science and English-language arts in recent years have been fractious. ("Texas Board Feud Stirs Up Legislators," April 29, 2009.)

What the state incorporates into its standards can have nationwide significance because publishers often look to Texas, as well as California, when writing textbooks.

Gail A. Lowe, the chairwoman of the state board of education, said its discussion last month focused mostly on the U.S. history portion of the overall social studies standards. “I think that’s what people think of when they think of the history we teach in schools,” she added.

Even before the new standards were drafted, a wide range of views emerged among the six experts appointed to submit written recommendations on what changes should be made.

Peter Marshall, the president of Peter Marshall Ministries, for instance, said he objected to a 5th grade “citizenship” standard that called for students to be able to identify Cesar Chavez, a Latino civil rights and labor leader, as someone who modeled active participation in U.S. democracy.

At the same time, Jesus Francisco de la Teja, a history professor at Texas State University-San Marcos, recommended that Chavez be added to a list of historical figures in one particular standard “who have influenced the community, state, and nation.”

Cesar Chavez was not removed from the standards.

Standards are important because “you want to have some order out of the chaos,” said Bronwen Choate, a world history teacher at Graham High School in Graham, Texas, who is on the high school writing team. “There are the non-negotiables that you have to cover.”

The state board is to hear public testimony on the standards in September. A final vote is expected in March.

Vol. 29, Issue 01, Page 15

Published in Print: August 26, 2009, as History Heartburn Expected in Texas
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