By Frank Knaack, ACLU of Texas Legal Advocacy Coordinator
The following could soon be overheard in a Texas public school near you:
“Today, children, we are going to learn how Senator Joseph McCarthy has been vindicated! … And later this week we will be studying the prominent role of religion in our government.”
Huh, what alternate universe am I living in? How could public school curriculum paint a one-sided picture of such a controversial figure? How could public school curriculum ignore the constitutional separation of church and state?
The answer: the majority on the Texas State Board of Education took it upon themselves to create a new history, one that weaves a narrow, ideologically driven historical narrative into Texas’ public school curriculum (this narrative also includes the Board’s own constitutional “modifications”). This new curriculum, adopted last month, was released Friday.
The new social studies curriculum attempts to morph highly contentious historical debates into universally accepted truths, and does so through the Board’s abuse of the power granted to it by the Texas legislature (see a PDF of our recent report, The Texas State Board of Education: A Case of Abuse of Power, for greater detail). The Board’s May meeting, where this curriculum was adopted, offered numerous examples of this abuse. Despite the fact that Board members personally selected the “experts” and review committee members appointed to update and recommend changes to the previous TEKS, Board members still felt the need to offer and accept a plethora of last minute amendments. Among the many factually questionable and/or ideologically-driven last-minute amendments approved by the Board was a requirement that students “evaluate efforts by global organizations to undermine U.S. sovereignty through the use of treaties.” Those Board members who voted for this amendment may want to check out the U.S. Constitution before this requirement makes it to the classroom. This is especially important given these members’ (stated) great reverence for our country’s Founders and our Constitution. For it was our Founders who wrote, in our Constitution, that “ … all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land.” (We stuck with one example because of our desire to keep this blog post below book length, which would be required to give these amendments, and the curriculum as a whole, the critique it deserves.)
By accepting these last minute amendments, the Board not only further clarified their agenda (it does not appear that ensuring the future for Texas’ children was anywhere near the top), but also made it impossible for the “experts” and review committee members to have the opportunity to review the amendments. (Let’s remember that it was the Board itself that established the process in the first place.)
Fortunately, all is not lost. While this flawed curriculum may have passed, it will not have any practical impact on Texas’ public school students until new textbooks are created to reflect this new history, a process many months in the making. It is also important to remember that while the Texas legislature may have granted the Board the authority to create the curriculum, it also has the power to revoke the Board’s authority over curriculum at any time. With a new legislative session quickly approaching, it is about time for the legislature to exercise their power by ensuring that only subject matter experts play a role in the development of curriculum for Texas’ public school students.
Stay tuned to the Liberty Blog to learn how you can take action to halt the Board’s abuses! And sign up to get Action Alert emails on the SBOE as well as other issues.