Texas education board still evaluating social studies curriculum

AUSTIN — The Texas State Board of Education was expected to return this afternoon to the topic of who and what the state’s more than 4 million school children should study in social studies class, with a tentative vote on draft curriculum expected by the end of the week.

The 10-year update of social studies Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills will influence what textbooks include. It started this spring, when committees made up of board-nominated educators and community members began work on changes.

Along the way, board-appointed expert reviewers and the public have spoken out on issues like the inclusion of Hispanic figures and the role that Christianity played in the nation’s development. Those topics and more filled more than six hours of public testimony Wednesday at their meeting in Austin.

Patricia Hardy, a board member who represents part of Tarrant County and Parker, Johnson and Ellis counties, said she was taken aback by how many speakers, when questioned, admitted they hadn’t read the part of the draft they were discussing.

“That’s sort of like coming to class without doing your homework,” Hardy said. “Don’t tell me you don’t have time to read that, but you have time to come down here and testify on it.”

Some speakers urged board members to approve the draft as is. Others said they must take action to change it.

Harsimram Singh, a 15-year-old high school sophomore, asked the board to add some study of Sikhism to quell misunderstandings and even harassment based on his religion.

“I would like other people to know I’m not Osama Bin Laden or any other racist remarks ... I know a little bit about Christianity. I’d like other people to know about my religion as well,” he said.

Other issues that have attracted attention -- like whether Christmas would be included in a list of holidays studied -- seemed unlikely to draw much debate.

Board Chairwoman Gail Lowe assured the public Wednesday that the holiday would be included and labor and civil rights leader Cesar Chavez wouldn’t be stripped from the curriculum, according to the Associated Press.

The social studies curriculum is divided into several areas, including economics, world geography and history, U.S. history and government, sociology and others. In past curriculum updates, board members have gone through the draft page-by-page, suggesting amendments as they go.

A final vote on the draft will come in March.

Hardy said she hopes this afternoon’s amendments take into account that teachers need a structure that allows them to relay concepts and context, rather than just dates and names. She taught world history and world geography for 30 years.

“If we just turn around today and just do a litany of lists then I think we’re doing a disservice to the kids,” she said.