Texas board adopts new social studies standards

Conservative influence reflected in curriculum

By April Castro
Associated Press / March 13, 2010

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

In a vote of 10-to-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 rejected all but a few efforts to recognize the diversity of race and religion in Texas.

Decisions by the board, which has been long led by the social conservatives who have advocated ideas such as teaching more about the weaknesses of evolutionary theory, affects textbook content nationwide because Texas is one of publishers’ biggest clients.

As part of the new curriculum, the elected board rejected an attempt to ensure that children learn why the United States 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 US history that requires students to explain major political ideas.

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

In addition to learning the Bill of Rights, the board specified a reference to the Second Amendment right to bear arms in a section about citizenship in a US government class and agreed to require economics students to “analyze the decline of the US dollar including abandonment of the gold standard.’’

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

“We have been about conservatism versus liberalism,’’ said Democrat Mavis Knight of Dallas, explaining her vote against the standards. “We have manipulated strands to insert what we want it to be in the document, regardless as to whether or not it’s appropriate.’’

Republican Terri Leo, a member of the powerful Christian conservative voting bloc, called the standards “world class’’ and “exceptional.’’

Over the past three days, the board also argued over how historic periods should be classified (still BC and AD rather than BCE and CEG ); whether 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 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 yesterday.

The three-day meeting that began Wednesday was the first since voters in last week’s Republican primary handed defeats to two veteran conservatives, including former board chairman Don McLeroy, who lost to a moderate GOP lobbyist. Two other conservatives, a Republican and a Democrat, did not seek re-election. All four terms end in January.