Saturday, March 13, 2010

Very Scary: NYT's Article Discusses Highly Partisan Revision of Texas Social Studies Curriculum

An article in the New York Times describes a disturbing list of possible revisions to the social studies curriculum in Texas public schools. The Texas Board of Education ("TBE") approved the changes, which, after a public comment period, could face possible revision before final approval.

Highly Partisan Process
The article describes contentious discussions among Democrats and Republicans within the Republican-dominated TBE. All members are elected.

Ultimately, the TBE approved the changes with a strictly partisan 10-5 vote. A conservative member of the TBE says that the changes will add "balance" to the curriculum.

Highlights With a Caveat
Although the New York Times article is clearly slanted against the proposed changes, some of them sound quite disturbing on their face (regardless of the overall slant of the article). It is unclear, however, to what extent the TBE also accepted favorable improvements to the curriculum and to what degree the proposals listed in the article represent extreme outliers.

Here are some of the details from the article.

One board member said the following:
“I reject the notion by the left of a constitutional separation of church and state,” said David Bradley, a conservative from Beaumont who works in real estate. “I have $1,000 for the charity of your choice if you can find it in the Constitution.”
This view represents the same bankrupt notion that the Constitution spells every right out with particularity. The Ninth Amendment directly refutes that concept, as does the word "liberty" in the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. Nonetheless, social conservatives continue to hawk this folly as solid constitutional interpretation.

This view also ignores the role of the Supreme Court to interpret the meaning of the Constitution. Conservatives might disagree with Court rulings, but students should understand that they are binding on matters related to the Constitution. Texas would do a severe disservice to its students if it does not teach them about the responsibilities and powers of each branch of government.

Another conflict centered around race:
Efforts by Hispanic board members to include more Latino figures as role models for the state’s large Hispanic population were consistently defeated, prompting one member, Mary Helen Berlanga, to storm out of a meeting late Thursday night, saying, “They can just pretend this is a white America and Hispanics don’t exist.”

“They are going overboard, they are not experts, they are not historians,” she said. “They are rewriting history, not only of Texas but of the United States and the world.”
Some changes represent blatant efforts to boost the reputation of the Republican Party. For instance:
[Conservatives] made sure that textbooks would mention the votes in Congress on civil rights legislation, which Republicans supported.

“Republicans need a little credit for that,” [Dr. Don McLeroy] said. “I think it’s going to surprise some students.”
I do not mind students learning about the Democrats' or the Republicans' racial past; in fact, I teach these issues in my law school courses. But students should also learn that, as President Johnson accurately predicted, the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 cost the Democrats an entire generation of Southern whites. The Republican Party was more dominant in Northern states at the time (as it was historically). Now, due to a dramatic political realignment, its power is concentrated primarily in the South and among whites.

Also since the passage of the Civil Rights legislation, no Democratic presidential candidate has ever won a majority of white voters nationwide, due primarily to "white flight" from the Democratic Party. Republicans and Democrats deserve full "credit" for their decisions.

Even Thomas Jefferson could not escape the conservative knife:
Cynthia Dunbar, a lawyer from Richmond who is a strict constitutionalist and thinks the nation was founded on Christian beliefs, managed to cut Thomas Jefferson from a list of figures whose writings inspired revolutions in the late 18th century and 19th century, replacing him with St. Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin and William Blackstone. (Jefferson is not well liked among conservatives on the board because he coined the term “separation between church and state.”)
No Historians, Sociologists and Economists Consulted
Perhaps the worst aspect of the process of curriculum reform in Texas is that "[t]here were no historians, sociologists or economists consulted at the meetings, though some members of the conservative bloc held themselves out as experts on certain topics" (emphasis added). Playing with the minds of young people for partisan gain is reprehensible. Students deserve access to a wider variety of information. Curtailing knowledge cannot serve good ends.


Anonymous said...

This is just insane. I think we've officially entered The Twilight Zone. A bunch of right-wing ideologues, none of them educators, is allowed to decide the curriculum content for the whole nation? Welcome to the Soviet Union 2.0. It's sick, perverted, and it should not be allowed. Isn't there a legal way to challenge this nonsense?

RealityZone said...

The Xtian Evangelical Crusades march to the KKK drum.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Elizabeth: States have virtually full autonomy to design curricular coverage. In Texas, the TBE apparently has complete authority. Until voters take these decisions out of the electoral process, I cannot imagine what would prevent it from getting worse than this.

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