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A Case of Abuse of Power in Texas

The state's proposed measures for public school curriculum could insert subjective ideas and flat-out falsehoods into lessons.
Frank Knaack,
Executive Director, ACLU of South Carolina
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May 13, 2010

Today, the ACLU of Texas released its report analyzing the new curriculum standards proposed by the Texas State Board of Education. The report finds the board’s ability to insert members’ own ideological and religious beliefs into the public school curriculum a “systemic abuse of discretion,” and advises the state legislature to check this abuse of power.

Over 50 years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court reminded us, in Brown v. Board of Education, that “education is perhaps the most important function of state and local governments.” Unfortunately, the recent actions of the Texas State Board of Education, the government body charged with adopting policies and setting standards for Texas’ public schoolchildren, demonstrate that it is incapable of fulfilling this mandate. From manipulating textbook content to inserting personal ideological beliefs into Texas’ curriculum standards, the board has repeatedly shown that it places its activist agenda ahead of the educational well-being of Texas’ schoolchildren.

Next week, the board is scheduled to vote on social studies curriculum standards that will govern, for 10 years, what information students must learn in order to progress in public school. If the board gets its way, students and parents in Texas can look forward to a curriculum that will transform subjective beliefs into objective facts, stifle debate, risk leaving students underprepared for college-level coursework, and exacerbate Texas’ already unacceptable dropout rate (approximately four out of every 10 students do not graduate). As the Texas affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers stated, the board proposed “substandard standards.”

This problem is even bigger than the Lone Star State. Texas’ size and buying power has made it uniquely powerful within the textbook industry. As Jim Kracht, Associate Dean and Professor in the College of Education and Human Development at Texas A&M University, has remarked, when it comes to the content of textbooks “Texas governs 46 or 47 states.” As a result, the personal beliefs of some board members may soon be imposed in classrooms and homes of students across the U.S.

As the ACLU of Texas’s report (PDF) states, “The Texas State Board of Education: A Case of Abuse of Power,” board members’ ability to insert their ideological agenda into the curriculum standards stems from their near total control over the curriculum review process. While the legislature was clear that it intended the board to craft the required curriculum, textbooks, and assessment instruments in a way that would “prepare and enable all students to continue to learn in postsecondary educational, training, or employment settings,” it failed to insert statutory requirements to ensure that its intent was realized. As a result, the board has initiated a process that enables the achievement of its ideologically driven goals.

If the board succeeds, students will be spoon-fed what it views as the “correct” historical narrative. In this narrative, the U.S. and its allies have consistently acted with benevolent intentions. Historical events and policies that conflict with some board members’ view of the “proper” role of government are ignored or minimized. Board members’ favorite leaders, organizations, and policies are discussed in strictly positive ways, while others are thoroughly analyzed for their pros and cons. And, the impact of historical events unfavorable to some board members’ ideological views are minimized/revised.

For example, students must “describe how McCarthyism, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), the arms race, and the space race increased Cold War tensions and how the later release of the Venona Papers confirmed suspicions of communist infiltration in U.S. government.” By adding the Venona Papers to this requirement, the Board has attempted to, according to one Board member, “vindicate[]” U. S. Senator Joseph McCarthy’s shameful witch hunts. In another example, when covering the “economic effects of World War II and the Cold War … ,” students are required to “identify actions of government and the private sector such as the Great Society, affirmative action, and Title IX to create economic opportunities for citizens and analyze the unintended consequences of each … .” [Emphasis added] In addition to this requirement’s failure to discuss the reason for these programs, it also insinuates that these programs have only had negative results. In doing so, it ignores the historians and analysts who argue that these policies have been critical to efforts in achieving a truly equal society.

As a government entity, the board’s role is not to transform members’ personal views into facts. Instead, its role is to act in the best interest of its most important constituents: Texas’ children. Fortunately, the board’s proposed curriculum has yet to be approved. The board’s proposal is currently open for public comment through May 19. Anyone, not just Texans, can let the Board know about their concerns. Please visit the ACLU’s action center to learn how you can take action. Together, we can halt this assault on history!

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