Today, the Texas State Board of Education released amendments to the state's social studies curriculum that essentially rewrite history to comport with the personal ideological and religious beliefs of some members of the board. As explained below, the proposed amendments depart drastically from accepted historical accounts. Indeed, as the New York Times Magazine has reported, they are so disturbing that at least one member on the board vehemently exclaimed, "burst[ing] out in seemingly embarrassed exasperation": "Guys, you're rewriting history now!"
If the changes are implemented as proposed, it could affect the education of students from kindergarten to 12th grade across the country for the next 10 years: because Texas is one of the largest purchasers of textbooks nationwide, the changes the board makes to its standards often end up in textbooks purchased by other schools districts around the country.
From a civil liberties point of view, among the more troubling recommendations are changes that minimize the importance of constitutional protections requiring the separation of church and state and that paint the country as rooted entirely in sectarian ideology, a claim that educators and historians dispute. For instance, the board eliminated a standard that would require 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."
Moreover, the proposed amendments intentionally distort the rights of minorities and women and minimize their roles as historical figures. For example, Archbishop Oscar Romero, an important leader in the Hispanic community, was removed from the curriculum.
Meanwhile, under the proposed amendments, Confederate leaders are painted in a positive light — elementary students are asked to "explain the growth, and development, and impact of the cattle industry…" including contributions made by Charles Goodnight and Richard King, both active supporters of the Confederate States of America. This pro-Confederacy bias may explain why civil rights — specifically those of African-Americans, Latinos and women — are given short shrift under the revised curriculum, in which such key advances are portrayed as the result of government actions and equality on paper equals equality in reality.
The proposed revised standards deserve close scrutiny. Some of the changes may seem relatively harmless at first glance, but it's important to remember that these changes will affect the education of a generation. If an entire generation of children grow up thinking that it's permissible for our government to favor one view of religion over others, what will the next generation believe? If these same children fail to understand the importance of the struggle for civil rights, how can we be sure that they will remain committed to correcting such abuses in the future?
The public has 30 days to comment on the proposed amendments to the curriculum released today. Rest assured we will be submitting ours and encouraging others to do so too.
But the real problem here is a process that gives board members the ability to place their personal beliefs above the need for superior academic standards. Public schools should be used to educate, not indoctrinate, students into political and religious belief systems, and decisions about curriculum should be decided by educators, not politicians.
To get an idea of how a few Texas School Board members are trying to impose their ideology on millions of public school students, take our Texas Textbook quiz.
We're reviewing the new textbook guidelines now. Check back here for more details on how to voice your concerns to the school board.