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What Did You Learn in School Today? (The Texas Version)

Craig Studer

Millions of Texas students head back to school this week confronted by a dramatically altered, state-mandated social studies curriculum.

The contentious hearings of the Texas State Board of Education received considerable attention in the spring of 2010, but seem to have fallen out of the public consciousness as the new school year begins. The new curriculum, officially called the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, deserves renewed attention, as it will undoubtedly surprise most Texans.

The fiercest battle during the board's hearings was fought over the 11th-grade history curriculum, which in Texas is "United States History since 1877." The exception to that timeline is the new state-mandated "Celebrate Freedom Week," during which students will learn about our founding fathers. That sounds simple enough, except that the only founding fathers included in the curriculum are Benjamin Rush, John Hancock, John Jay, John Witherspoon, John Peter Muhlenberg, Charles Carroll and Jonathan Trumbull Sr. What about George Washington, Thomas Jefferson or John Adams? They are nowhere to be found in the new high school TEKS. Students apparently learned everything they need to know about them in eighth grade.

As part of the board's effort to emphasize the positives in American history, students will no longer learn about "American imperialism." Instead students will discuss "American expansionism" and come to understand how "missionaries moved the United States into the position of a world power." The board eliminated mention of our government's use of propaganda during World War I, and instead of analyzing Truman's decision to use the atomic bomb at the end of World War II, students will now analyze the development of the bomb. Additionally, students will now "evaluate efforts by international organizations to undermine U.S. sovereignty."

Perhaps you have heard something about a labor movement in the 20th century? No longer will your children. The only reference to a 20th-century labor movement will come when learning about Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta. No mention of the Fair Labor Standards Act or the National Labor Relations Act. No mention of strikes or any labor dispute. The words "labor movement" were taken out of the TEKS. Perhaps there is not enough time because students must now "understand how the free enterprise system drives technological innovation ... such as cell phones, inexpensive personal computers and global positioning products."

Students will learn about the contributions of Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority. Maybe the students will read Falwell's claim that feminists and homosexuals were partially responsible for the 9/11 attacks. Phyllis Schlafly, the Heritage Foundation and the NRA are all included. Students will also be required to "discuss the meaning of ‘In God We Trust.' "

History in Texas classrooms will be decidedly different from when we were students. I never learned "both the positive and negative impacts of ... country and western music" in my high school history class. Where would you rate Estée Lauder in terms of historical importance to our country? If you think she is one of the 68 most important historical figures, you agree with the board. Yes, the board included her in the state curriculum, but not George Washington.

I also never learned that the findings of the House Committee on Un-American Activities were confirmed, perhaps because it is not true. It puts teachers in an awkward position by asking them to teach something that is historically inaccurate. I will not have to deal with that issue in some of my classes because my Advanced Placement U.S. History classes are not required to follow the state curriculum. I am guessing that the Texas Education Agency realizes that students could never pass national exams while learning the state-mandated curriculum.

During the next decade, we should not be surprised when university professors lament that Texas students are not prepared for college. Malcolm X once said, "Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today." You might remember a historical figure named Malcolm X, but your children won't. Malcolm X is not in the social studies curriculum in Texas. Now if you will excuse me, I have to do some research on Estée Lauder. She was not mentioned in any of my graduate history courses, either.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

Craig Studer

Craig Studer is a public school teacher in Austin, TX. He has a master's degree in curriculum and instruction and a master's degree in U.S. history.

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