Texas Approves Curriculum Revised by Conservatives

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the New York Times

Texas Approves Curriculum Revised by Conservatives

James C. McKinley Jr.

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, Tex. - After three days of turbulent meetings, the Texas Board of Education on Friday voted to approve a social studies curriculum that will put a conservative stamp on history and economics textbooks, stressing the superiority of American capitalism, questioning the Founding Fathers' commitment to a purely secular government and presenting Republican political philosophies in a more positive light.

The vote was 11 to 4, with 10 Republicans and one Democrat voting for the curriculum, and four Democrats voting against.

The board, whose members are elected, has influence beyond Texas because the state is one of the largest purchasers of textbooks. In the digital age, however, that influence has been diminished as technological advances have made it possible for publishers to tailor books to individual states.

In recent years, board members have been locked in an ideological battle between a bloc of conservatives who question Darwin's theory of evolution and believe the Founding Fathers were guided by Christian principles and a handful of Democrats and moderate Republicans who have fought to preserve the teaching of Darwinism and the separation of church and state.

Since January, Republicans on the board have passed more than 160 amendments to the 120-page curriculum standards affecting history, sociology and economics courses from elementary to high school. The standards were proposed by a board of teachers.

Efforts by Hispanic board members to include more Latino figures as role models for the state's large Hispanic population were consistently defeated, prompting one member, Mary Helen Berlanga, to storm out of a meeting late Thursday night, saying, "They can just pretend this is a white America and Hispanics don't exist."

"They are going overboard, they are not experts, they are not historians," she said. "They are rewriting history, not only of Texas but of the United States and the world."

The curriculum standards will now be published in a state register, opening them up for 30 days of public comment. A final vote will be taken in May, but given the Republican dominance of the board, it is unlikely many changes will be made.

The standards, reviewed every decade, serve as a template for publishers of textbooks, who must come before the board next year with drafts of their books. The board's makeup will have changed by then because the leader of the conservative faction, Dr. Don McLeroy, lost in a primary to a more moderate Republican, and two others - one Democrat and one conservative Republican - have announced they are not seeking re-election.

There are seven members of the conservative bloc on the board, but they are often joined by one of the other three Republicans on crucial votes. There were no historians, sociologists or economists consulted at the meetings, though some members of the conservative bloc held themselves out as experts on certain topics.

The conservative members maintain that they are trying to correct what they see as a liberal bias among the teachers who proposed the curriculum. To that end, they made dozens of minor changes aimed at calling into question, among other things, concepts like the separation of church and state and the secular nature of the American Revolution.

"I reject the notion by the left of a constitutional separation of church and state," said David Bradley, a conservative from Beaumont who works in real estate. "I have $1,000 for the charity of your choice if you can find it in the Constitution."

They also included a plank to ensure that students learn about "the conservative resurgence of the 1980s and 1990s, including Phyllis Schalfly, the Contract With America, the Heritage Foundation, the Moral Majority and the National Rifle Association."

Dr. McLeroy pushed through a change to the teaching of the civil rights movement to ensure that students study the violent philosophy of the Black Panthers in addition to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s nonviolent approach. He also made sure that textbooks would mention the votes in Congress on civil rights legislation, which Republicans supported.

"Republicans need a little credit for that," he said. "I think it's going to surprise some students."

Mr. Bradley won approval for an amendment saying students should study "the unintended consequences" of the Great Society legislation, affirmative action and Title IX legislation. He also won approval for an amendment stressing that Germans and Italians were interned in the United States as well as the Japanese during World War II, to counter the idea that the internment of Japanese was motivated by racism.

Other changes seem aimed at tamping down criticism of the right. Conservatives passed one amendment, for instance, requiring that the history of McCarthyism include "how the later release of the Venona papers confirmed suspicions of communist infiltration in U.S. government." The Venona papers were transcripts of some 3,000 communications between the Soviet Union and its agents in the United States.

In economics, the revisions add Milton Friedman and Friedrich von Hayek, two champions of free-market economic theory, among the usual list of economists to be studied, like Adam Smith, Karl Marx and John Maynard Keynes. They also replaced the word "capitalism" throughout their texts with the "free-enterprise system."

"Let's face it, capitalism does have a negative connotation," said one conservative member, Terri Leo. "You know, ‘capitalist pig!' "

In the field of sociology, another conservative member, Barbara Cargill, won passage of an amendment requiring the teaching of "the importance of personal responsibility for life choices" in a section on teen suicide, dating violence, sexuality, drug use and eating disorders.

"The topic of sociology tends to blame society for everything," Ms. Cargill said.

Even the course on World History did not escape the board's scalpel.

Cynthia Dunbar, a lawyer from Richmond who is a strict constitutionalist and thinks the nation was founded on Christian beliefs, managed to cut Thomas Jefferson from a list of figures whose writings inspired revolutions in the late 18th century and 19th century, replacing him with St. Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin and William Blackstone. (Jefferson is not well liked among the conservatives on the board because he coined the term "separation between church and state.")

"The Enlightenment was not the only philosophy on which these revolutions were based," Ms. Dunbar said.

Mavis B. Knight, a Democrat from Dallas, introduced an amendment requiring that students study the reasons "the founding fathers protected religious freedom in America by barring the government from promoting or disfavoring any particular religion above all others."

It was defeated on a party-line vote.

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