Critics urge state board to delay new social studies curriculum

AUSTIN -- Critics of changes in Texas social studies curriculum standards assailed the State Board of Education on Wednesday for not mentioning Barack Obama as the nation's first African-American president and called on the board to postpone its May meeting, scheduled to formally adopt the revised standards.

The tentatively approved standards mention the 2008 election twice, in one case referring to the "first black president," but do not mention Obama by name. They do not mention Obama's predecessor, George W. Bush, in a reference to the 2000 election.

"These kids are going to be reading about the 2008 election with no mention of Barack Obama," said Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, chairman of the 13-member Legislative Black Caucus. "That should not be acceptable to any person in the state of Texas."

More than 25 witnesses appeared during a daylong hearing sponsored by Turner's group and the 44-member Mexican-American Legislative Caucus, most of them denouncing revisions of the social studies standards.

Many witnesses urged postponement of the standards' final approval to allow more time to reconsider the changes.

"What we are learning here today is there is no urgency to adopt these standards in May," said Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, co-chairman of the hearing.

The board is updating the social studies curriculum standards, which will affect what the state's more than 4.7 million children in public schools are taught. Its actions -- including taking Thomas Jefferson out of a world history section and replacing references to capitalism with free enterprise -- have drawn attention nationwide. Critics accuse the conservative Republicans on the board of trying to inject their political beliefs into the curriculum.

Jonathan Saenz of the Liberty Institute, an organization of social conservatives, issued a statement reiterating the organization's support for the changes and opposing calls for a delay.

"We are concerned that a small vocal minority, including the ACLU, is now pressuring the [State Board of Education] to throw out these standards," Saenz said. He applauded the board for resisting recommendations by a review panel that he said was applying its own brand of politics to the process.

Teachers, academics and advocacy groups spoke out against the revisions, echoing earlier assertions that the new Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills standards will dilute the role that African-Americans have played in both national and Texas history.

The state board tentatively approved the new standards in March.

"The board refused to name Barack Obama in the history TEKS," Rita Haecker, president of the Texas State Teachers Association, said in written testimony. "Students will learn about 'the election of the first black president' but the conservative wing just cannot bring itself to place President Obama in our nation's history."

Martinez Fischer called the omission of Obama's name "troubling, at best."

Board member Pat Hardy of Fort Worth, a moderate Republican and a former longtime schoolteacher, said board members generally applied a standard of naming presidents if there was a particular historical event or a historical "body of work" from their administration.

Board members acknowledged that the 2008 election was "monumental" because "it broke the race barrier," Hardy said, but they apparently felt that Obama had not been in office long enough to make a historical contribution as president.

Woodrow Wilson, for example, was mentioned because of the nation's involvement in World War I, Hardy said. Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Allied commander during World II, is mentioned in a military context but not for his two terms as president during the 1950s.

DAVE MONTGOMERY, 512-476-4294