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Monday, November 19, 2018

State

Panel examines ‘reform’ of state’s social studies curriculum


The Center for Public History and The Houston Teachers Institute hosted a panel discussion Wednesday to address the controversial decision by the Texas State Board of Education to change the social studies curriculum to exclude the teaching of prominent characters in American history such as Thurgood Marshall and Cesar Chavez. | Newton Liu/The Daily Cougar

Next month, the State Board of Education (SBOE) will meet in Austin to consider revising the public school curriculum standards. A panel of five experts gathered in the Honors College Commons Wednesday to discuss the curriculum standards taught in Texas’ public schools and to debate the possible changes.

“Generally, the proposal calls for more discussion of patriotism and how to function in a free society,” UH history professor Michael Oberg said. “What ought to be taught to children is controversial, and that’s healthy, but this has become very politicized.

“The proposed standards present American history largely whitewashed, devoid of any controversies or complexities. One emphasis is on patriotism, but patriotism uninformed by an awareness of the past leads to intolerance,” he said.

The Texas Freedom Network believes that the SBOE is trying to push political and religious agendas through revisions in the school curriculum.

According to the fall edition of the TFN newsletter, they stand strong in their “fight to prevent the far right from using public schools to promote divisive political agendas.”

“The problem is that there is a significant faction of the Board — seven members that vote in a block — that have been pursuing a personal, political, and religious agenda through a number of subjects,” TFN President Kathy Miller said.

The revisions to the public school curriculum would make it so that historical figures such as Sen. Joseph McCarthy would be taught as a hero of America, yet other historical figures would fall by the wayside.

“Cesar Chavez and Thurgood Marshall were in the curriculum standards as civil rights heroes,” Kathy said. “It was suggested by two appointed experts that they are not quite the caliber of citizen that we want to promote.”

This year, the Texas State Board of Education will cast a vote on revised curriculum requirements for U.S. history, government, and any other social studies related courses in Texas school districts.

The controversy behind this decision involves religion, free society and the exclusion of certain civil rights leaders and other names in U.S. history.

“There are certain things in history to know and there are certain things in history to understand,” former president of the Texas Council for the Social Studies Sharon Pope said. “Rather than have Thurgood Marshall, Texas wants to replace him with such people as John Birch of the Ku Klux Klan and Lester Maddox, a segregationist.”

Debbie Pennington, coordinator of the social studies curriculum for the Conroe Independent School District, said that in the case of civil rights, the curriculum does not accurately reflect the struggles that were undergone by women and minorities.

“For every face of color that we teach, they want a conservative white face,” Pennington said.

The problems with the SBOE revisions however, stretch further than high school level history.

Angela Miller, director of the social studies curriculum for the Houston Independent School District, works with the SBOE to help write the curriculum for Texas public schools.

She said that as early as first grade, students are being taught about people who have little or no historical relevance. This makes the job of the teacher much harder when they want to teach the correct historical figures.

All members of the panel staunchly agreed that their focus is only on the students of Texas public schools.

Lawrence Allen, a member of the State Board of Education, District 4, said that his focus as a Board member is to obtain input from parents, students and the business community, among others, so that when the standards are set they will accurately reflect the opinions of the state.

“I don’t serve on the board to give you what I think and what I feel; I serve to be more inclusive of the students that I represent,” Allen said. “I try my best to add my voice but not to be just the voice.”

Kathy said that ultimately the job of educating rests in the hands of the teachers.

“Teachers in our classrooms and professors from Texas’ world class colleges and universities ought to be able to be the people who have the greatest influence on what is needed in our curriculum to ensure our students are ready to progress in their lives,” Kathy said. “This board is standing in their way.”

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