Texas State Board of Education Continues Debate Over Standards for Social Studies

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the Dallas Morning News

Texas State Board of Education Continues Debate Over Standards for Social Studies

by
Terrence Stutz

Diana Gomez, left, and Garrett Mize, along with other University of Texas students, rally before a State Board of Education meeting in Austin, Texas, on Wednesday, March 10, 2010. A group of 40 students marched to the public hearing to ask "the far-right, conservative faction of the state board to not inject their political agenda into the social studies and history curriculum." (AP Photo/Jack Plunkett)

AUSTIN - State
Board of Education members resumed their volatile debate over social
studies standards Wednesday as the panel neared its first vote on what
Texas students will be taught in U.S. history, government and other
classes over the next decade.

The board
postponed the consideration of several U.S. history proposals expected
to divide members, working instead on a long list of amendments to the
curriculum standards for other social studies subjects written by teams
of teachers and academics.

The board is expected to take a preliminary vote on new standards this week and adopt the changes in May.

Board member Don McLeroy, R-College Station, said he would seek board
approval today for several amendments to the U.S. history standards,
including one that would highlight Judeo-Christian values in American
history.

Minority board members, who have called for the
inclusion of more blacks and Hispanics among the historical figures to
be covered, lost one vote Wednesday when the Republican majority deleted from the list an archbishop from El Salvador. Oscar Romero was assassinated in 1980 for speaking out against the country's repressive government.

Romero was included in the standards for world history until the board decided otherwise, saying he was not significant enough.

Earlier, board members listened to testimony from dozens of people
trying to persuade them to make additions to the U.S. history standards
- including more coverage of religious influences and important
minority figures.

State legislators even tried to sway the board
as the Texas Conservative Coalition - made up mostly of Republican
lawmakers - and the Mexican-American Legislative Caucus presented their
competing recommendations for U.S. history.

"We must not censor
the history of Judeo-Christian faiths in our country," said Rep. Wayne
Christian, R-Center, representing the conservative caucus. The group
supports more emphasis on the role of religion in the founding of the
nation.

Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, representing the
Mexican-American caucus, urged the board to consider the growing
minority population in Texas and the importance of Hispanics in state
and national history.

Rodriguez voiced concerns about the absence of important Hispanic figures and groups in the history standards.

Various civil rights groups also called on the board to avoid
sanitizing the curriculum by sidestepping the often-violent conflicts
that led to improvements for minorities.

"To make the claim that
the gains in civil rights were granted by the majority, not earned by
the courageous efforts of women and minorities, is painful and
disrespectful to those who fought and suffered for those rights," said
Yannis Banks of the Texas NAACP.

"Many people were battered,
bruised, harassed and died just so I can have the rights I enjoy
today," he said, objecting to efforts by some conservatives to give
less emphasis to the civil rights movement.

Other witnesses
complained that liberal individuals and groups are overrepresented in
the standards. One said that to balance required coverage of the
election of President Barack Obama last
year, the history standards should also cover the backlash against the
president and the Tea Party movement in Texas and the United States.

Board Chairwoman Gail Lowe, R-Lampasas, told board members that nearly
14,000 e-mails have been received from people and groups wanting to
have a say on the new standards.

Curriculum standards adopted by
the board will remain in place for the next decade, dictating what is
taught in government, history and other social studies classes in
elementary and secondary schools. The standards also will be used to
write textbooks and develop state tests for students.

Texas
standards often wind up in thousands of schools in other states as
textbook publishers tailor their books to those standards, then market
those learning materials across the nation.

McLeroy, whose bid
for another board term failed this month with a GOP primary loss,
proposed most of the U.S. history standards considered by the board at
an earlier meeting in January.

Among his amendments that were
adopted was a requirement that Texas high school students learn about
leading conservative groups from the 1980s and 1990s - but not about
liberal or minority-rights groups.

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