Social Studies

Texas Board Back for Last Round in Social Studies Debate

By Erik W. Robelen — May 19, 2010 2 min read
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206. That’s how many people have signed up to testify today before the Texas state board of education about proposed new social studies standards, according to the Associated Press.

Yes, indeed, the Texas board, no stranger to controversy, is aiming to wrap up debate this week on the revised standards, which have attracted national attention. A final vote is scheduled for Friday.

Led by a bloc of staunch conservatives, the state board in April gave tentative approval to the standards on a party-line vote of 10-5, with all Democrats opposed.

Among those scheduled to testify before the board today is none other than former U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige, who was the superintendent of the Houston Independent School District before being tapped in 2001 for President Bush’s cabinet.

“The history of our nation and the history of the state should not be handmaidens to carry political ideology for either party,” Paige was quoted as saying by the San Antonio Express-News. He told the newspaper that the board appears to be too involved in establishing what details of history students should learn.

“Let history speak its authoritative voice through the qualified historians and educators,” he said.

NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous also is expected to testify today. Jealous told the News-Express that the proposed standards don’t mention Texas’ secession from the Union to fight with the Confederacy during the Civil War, and it doesn’t require students to learn about the NAACP.

The newspaper explains that while the standards don’t mention secession, they do mention the Civil War 18 times and instruct students to understand “how events and issues shaped the history of Texas during the Civil War.”

For background on the Texas situation, here are some links that may be useful.

First, I blogged last month when the board released the latest revisions to the draft standards, so you can read them for yourself.

Second, one reason the Texas standards have received so much attention is that they not only guide the development of new textbooks and related instructional materials in the Lone Star State, but are widely seen as shaping the materials used in many classrooms outside the state. In this story, I more closely examine the extent to which Texas standards and textbooks really do have national reach, and how recent changes in Texas could diminish that influence over time.

Third, in another story, I examine recent efforts to revise social studies standards not only in Texas, but also in North Carolina and Ohio. Suffice it to say, it’s a topic that tends to generate plenty of debate, from what gets taught to when.

Finally, to help make sense of what’s going on in Texas, you might want to check out TEKSWatch, which is hosted by the Center for History Teaching & Learning at the University of Texas at El Paso. Amid all the passion and rhetoric inspired by the Texas debate, the site provides what appears to be a fairly even-handed look at the facts and the background. (For example it notes that while Jefferson has been removed from a list of figures influencing 18th-century revolutions, in 10th grade world history, he remains in the treatment of the American Revolution, in 8th grade U.S. history.)

TEKSWatch also provides a handy set of links to a long list of news stories and commentaries about the situation.

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