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State Board of Education nears vote on social studies revisions

Posted Thursday, Mar. 11, 2010  comments  Print Reprints
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AUSTIN -- The State Board of Education neared the finish line on its revision of social studies curriculum standards Wednesday, but not before hearing from several people urging it to retain references to Judeo-Christian influences on the Founding Fathers, while others accused it of ignoring minority contributions.

Board members began making amendments to the proposed Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills about 6 p.m. and continued until about 9 p.m.

The changes will not only determine what the state's more than 4.7 million schoolchildren are taught, but will also influence what's included in textbooks that are marketed nationwide.

Work on the standards has gained national attention, with critics accusing conservative board members and the teachers on the reviewing committees of trying to insert their own slants.

The review committees were made up mostly of teachers recommended by board members.

The 15-member elected panel took five hours of public testimony on the curriculum Wednesday. Teachers, parents, history buffs, political activists and state legislators spoke out on various issues that have characterized the debate -- including how many and which Hispanic and African-American figures students should be required to study.

The merits of the free-enterprise system is another topic that's come up.

The board plans to take a first vote on the amendments Friday; it will take a final vote in May.

In one of their first notable discussions Wednesday night, the board members returned to the subject of who should and shouldn't be included for study.

Board member Pat Hardy sought to add a list of notable women under the world history category. Queens Elizabeth I and Victoria, Mother Teresa, Indira Gandhi and Margaret Thatcher were on her list. Board member Terri Leo, of Spring, wanted to add Golda Meir, the prime minister of Israel in the early 1970s.

"She was very significant in that era along with the other women. She was a trailblazer in many regards," Leo said.

But member Rick Agosto of San Antonio objected, saying the board wasn't being consistent because it had just removed Archbishop Oscar Romero on the grounds that he wasn't widely known. Romero was assassinated during the civil war in El Salvador in 1980.

"As far as I'm concerned, we just took out another Hispanic earlier, so this is not, it just doesn't smell right," he said.

The entire list, including Meir, was approved by a board majority.

Also on Wednesday night, member Barbara Cargill of The Woodlands suggested that students should have to explain "pro-free market factors contributing to European technological progress" during medieval times.

Hardy, a longtime history teacher, said that just wasn't historically accurate.

The amendments failed by a vote of 6-7. Cargill came back with two other amendments: one on the pro-free market factors in Europe's Commercial Revolution and one on the benefits of free enterprise on the Industrial Revolution. Those passed.

Much input

Between September and the beginning of Wednesday's meeting, the board had heard 116 speakers, taken 17 hours of public testimony and received more than 14,000 e-mails on the review, according to Chairwoman Gail Lowe.

Forty people weighed in Wednesday with a wide range of views. Among the more extreme were those from a man who asked that the board include information on John F. Kennedy being murdered by his political enemies and those from a woman who said children must be prepared to deal with a majority-Islamic, nuclear-armed European Union. Many, however, focused on an issue that seemed tame by comparison: inclusion of ethnic minorities.

Joe Flores, a representative of the League of United Latin American Citizens from San Antonio, asked the board to switch minority historical figures in the "such as" categories to the "including" categories in the curriculum standards, which would give them more emphasis.

He said having more inclusive learning environments might help with the state's high school dropout problem and other challenges.

"I would venture to say that a large part of the lack of interest of the students today could very well be that there is no relevance in history to their surname," Flores said. "There is no relevance of historical figures to then develop the intellectual curiosity to say, 'If they can do it, I can do it too.'"

Speaker Lanell Haynie touched on what has also been a hot-button issue: the inclusion of Christianity's role in the nation's founding. Earlier in the day, Rep. Wayne Christian, representing the state House's Conservative Coalition, urged the board not to "censor the historical import of Judeo-Christian faiths."

Haynie, who has worked as a teacher, agreed that references to the Judeo-Christian values must not be omitted.

"Every time we remove just one of those things, we have done an injustice not just to the children, millions of them throughout the United States, but it's an injustice to the parents as well who have put their children in our care," she said.

Christian also congratulated the board on turning back an attempt to replace references to "American expansionism" with "American imperialism." They said the word imperialism had the wrong connotation.

Post-election

This is the first board meeting after controversial member Don McLeroy, of College Station, was defeated in the March 2 GOP primary. The ousting of McLeroy, a former board chairman who has become well-known for his creationist views, was seen by some as a rejection of the Christian conservative bloc that has been influential on the board through its debate of other TEKS revisions, such as science.

He told The Associated Press this week that his impending exit from the board won't affect his approach to the social studies TEKS.

Another conservative board member, Ken Mercer of San Antonio, won at the polls. When describing the social studies process Wednesday, Mercer said board members have had to fight against "political revisionism."

Mercer later commiserated with a mother of three who testified that she thought teachers would be lying to children if they didn't include information on the Judeo-Christian values in founding documents.

"I agree with you. I agree with you 100 percent," Mercer said.

TRACI SHURLEY, 817-390-7641

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