On Friday, the Texas Board of Education approved new social studies standards for their state. This might not sound all that important, but Texas is the second largest textbook buyer in the country, and since the largest market (California) has no money, it disproportionally affects what our nation’s students learn in their history classes.
After experts write proposed standards, the Board can amend them by majority vote. Seven of the 14 members make up a seriously conservative bloc and they have passed more than 160 amendments to the standards. The NY Times Magazine wrote a story on the board last month, and noted that one of the prominent conservative members
moved that Margaret Sanger, the birth-control pioneer, be included because she “and her followers promoted eugenics,” that language be inserted about Ronald Reagan’s “leadership in restoring national confidence” following Jimmy Carter’s presidency and that students be instructed to “describe the causes and key organizations and individuals of the conservative resurgence of the 1980s and 1990s, including Phyllis Schlafly, the Contract With America, the Heritage Foundation, the Moral Majority and the National Rifle Association.
Most of the amendments passed. Sad to think that for many students across the country, history is being shaped and rewritten by a bloc of members on the Texas Board of Education.
Among other changes, according to the nonpartisan (although anti-religious right) Texas Freedom Network:
- The board rejected a proposed standard requiring students to “examine the reasons the Founding Fathers protected religious freedom in America by barring government from promoting or disfavoring any particular religion over all others.” That means the board opposes teaching students about the most fundamental constitutional protection for religious freedom in America.
- Even as board members continued to demand that students learn about “American exceptionalism,” the board stripped Thomas Jefferson from a world history standard about the influence of Enlightenment thinkers on political revolutions from the 1700s to today. In Jefferson’s place, the board’s religious conservatives succeeded in inserting Thomas Aquinas and John Calvin. They also removed the reference to “Enlightenment ideas” in the standard, requiring that students should simply learn about the influence of the “writings” of various thinkers (including Calvin and Aquinas).
- The board removed the word “capitalism” from the standards, mandating that the term for that economic system be called “free enterprise” throughout the standards. Board members such as Terri Leo and Ken Mercer charged that “capitalism” is a negative term used by “liberal professors in academia.”
- The board removed Santa Barraza from a Grade 7 Texas history standard on Texans who have made contributions to the arts because board conservatives objected to one of her (many) paintings, which included a depiction of a woman’s exposed breasts. Some of Barraza’s works had been displayed in the Texas Governor’s Mansion during the gubernatorial administration of George W. Bush in the 1990s.
- Board members added Friedrich von Hayek to a standard in the high school economics course even though some board members acknowledged that they had no idea who the influential Austrian-born economist even was.
- In a high school government standard about “the importance of the expression of different points of view in a democratic republic,” board conservatives added a requirement that students learn about the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms.