AUSTIN – Members of the State Board of Education on Wednesday signaled their intentions to move forward with a final vote on revised social studies curriculum standards this week, rebuffing calls for a delay during a marathon hearing that spotlighted the deep divisions over the changes.
Former Education Secretary Rod Paige was among those voicing opposition to the new standards, urging board members not to let personal ideology determine "what is taught to our children."
The revisions, which were tentatively approved in March, have drawn nationwide attention amid allegations that conservative Republicans on the board are attempting to alter history and trying to inject their political beliefs into the curriculum.
Minority groups contend that the standards have also diminished the historical role of African-Americans and Hispanics.
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Supporters defend the changes as balanced and accurate, contending that the controversy has been distorted in the media. The board will consider amendments on Thursday and has scheduled a final vote on Friday.
But critics of the changes, including Hispanic and African-American legislators and the national head of the NAACP, urged board members to postpone the vote because of the public outcry against the new standards. "If the textbook that we give to our children is not fair, we are hurting our children," said Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus. "Delay the process and let's do what's best in the interest of the children."
But several Republican members of the GOP-dominated board, including Pat Hardy of Fort Worth, opposed a delay, saying the board needs to approve the changes to get the new curriculum into classrooms for the 2011-2012 school year. The revised standards, which will also help shape new textbooks, will be used by 4.7 million students and will remain in effect for more than a decade.
"I do think we do have a time-restraint," said Hardy, a former long-time school teacher. "In order to get this done, we need to go forward."
The curriculum revisions have been in the works for nearly two years. "By delaying this process," said member Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, "we're doing nothing but increasing the amount of disagreement."
Satellite trucks parked outside underscored the nationwide interest in the debate. A standing-room-only crowd of more than 200 lined the board room. Others watched the proceedings from a spill-over room.
Signs that sprouted from dueling rallies during a lunch break underscored the differing points of view.
"Don't Mess with Textbooks" and "Don't Make Texas Schools a National Joke" were among the messages at a rally sponsored by the Texas Freedom Network, which opposes the changes.
Dozens attended an opposing gathering sponsored by the Liberty Institute, which backs the new curriculum standards, wielding banners reading, "It's Legal to Love America" and "Stop Liberal Revision of American History."
A diverse lineup of 207 witnesses signed up to testify, but little more than a dozen had taken the podium by early afternoon as speakers became entangled in questions by board members. Board officials had projected that the hearing could extend to midnight, even without any delays.
Scheduled witnesses included pastors, teachers, parents, and an array of advocacy groups.
'History is what it is ...'
Terry Ann Kelly of Grapevine, a mother of five who was up until 4 a.m. working on her testimony, applauded the board's efforts to support the country's founding principles despite "great pressure from a very small but very loud group" of opponents. "Good for you," she told members.
Placido Salazar, a 71-year-old Vietnam veteran who was awarded the Bronze Star, was seated in a motorized wheelchair waiting his turn to testify. Salazar, a member of the GI Forum, said he wanted to protest the "gross misrepresentation of minorities" in the new standards.
"They want to pretend that Texas history began with the arrival of Sam Houston and Davey Crockett, and they were the first illegal immigrants," Salazar said, noting that the Mexicans and Native American tribes were present long before Anglo settlers reached Texas from the United States.
Rev. Stephen Broden, an African-American minister from Dallas, said he supports the revised standards and warned that it would be a "gross misrepresentation" to make any changes that would exclude the nation's Judeo-Christian heritage. He also said that it would be a "very false charge" that minorities have been excluded in the new standards.
But Paige, the first African-American to serve as education secretary, called on the board to "take another look" at how minorities and the civil rights movement are portrayed.
"History is what it is, whether it's fair or unfair," he said. "Those personalities and events that developed our nation are part of our history and should be explained."
Benjamin Jealous, president and CEO of the NAACP, also expressed concerns about the portrayal of African-Americans in the standards.
"We are concerned about quality - not quotas," he said. "We want our kids to learn the whole truth - not half of it."
He said his organization has received numerous emails from people "concerned about the impact on the children."
Jealous, the first NAACP national president to appear before the state school board, echoed calls for the board to delay action on the standards.
"Let's slow down, back up and then move forward together," he said.
In a statement before his appearance before the board, Jealous said, "Texas will become the national symbol for radical, ideological-driven curriculum, sending our schoolkids backwards" if the new standards are approved.