Tackling History in Texas

By Sean Cavanagh — September 17, 2009 1 min read
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If you’re worried about the ongoing ruckus over social studies standards in Texas devolving into a “Chavez vs. Franklin"-style battle, you might have legitimate concern, judging from this summary in the Associated Press.

The Texas state board of education is slated to discuss the proposed standards at a hearing today. Known as the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, the standards guide textbook content and testing. Earlier this year, an expert panel working on the standards recommended that the attention paid to labor-rights activist Cesar Chavez be minimized and former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall be reduced, relative to figures like Ben Franklin, according to the AP. My colleague Mary Ann Zehr weighed in on the Texas debate last month.

The state board is considering changes to the proposed standards that would refer to the United States as a republic instead of a democracy and require students to be able to “identify prominent conservatives such as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Eagle Forum President Phyllis Schlafly,” the AP says. The story suggests that some advocacy groups and others are counting liberal and conservative historical figures, in gathering evidence that one side or another is getting ignored.

“Liberals overwhelmingly outnumber those who are publicly known as conservatives,” David Barton, a Republican activist on the board-appointed advisory panel, wrote in board documents about the proposals, according to the AP. The story says that he “counted 16 liberals in classroom lessons, including former President Bill Clinton, farmworkers’ advocate Dolores Huerta, and feminist Betty Friedan, to seven conservatives, such as former Presidents Ronald Reagan and Teddy Roosevelt and former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.”

Earlier this year, the board approved new science standards after a prolonged fight over the teaching of evolution. Not long afterward, Texas legislators voted to change the leadership of the state board of ed, a move aimed at reducing what some of them saw as an overly narrow focus on divisive cultural issues.

Wonder what those legislators are thinking now.

Photo of Cesar Chavez by Joel Levine

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.