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State Board of Education Begins Meeting to Revise and Adopt Social Studies Standards

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Today is Thursday, May 20, in the Travis State Office Building in Austin, Texas. The State Board of Education (SBOE) will continue to revise and vote to adopt the new social studies standards. Yesterday, many people–including several Texas House members–testified and asked that the adoption of the social studies standards be delayed. Most asked for the delay to continue until January, 2011. Several more moderate Republicans and Democrats will be elected in November, 2010, and take office the following January. This would mean that the social studies standards would probably revert to the excellent and better ones originally written by the professors, teachers, and curriculum experts. Several legislators intimated that the Legislature will ignore standards adopted by this State Board and not fund purchase of social studies textbooks because they are unhappy with the standards and with the process by which they were adopted, specifically, the 300 amendments to the standards made by State Board members, many of which greatly degraded the quality, accuracy, and intent of the original standards. So of course the current Board will continue to revise and adopt the social studies standards with the final vote tomorrow on Friday. There will be a motion to delay the vote, but it will fail by the usual 10-5 (10 Republicans-5 Democrats) vote.

Readers can watch a live video webcast of the State Board meeting by visiting http://www.texasadmin.com/cgi-bin/tea.cgi. This video is also archived for a period of time after the meeting.

The meeting is called to order by Chairman Gail Lowe at 9:10 a.m. The Parliamentarian speaks briefly about procedure.

Member Rick Agosto suggests that the standards adoption process be delayed. Commissioner of Education Robert Scott responds that the social studies standards adoption process is already a year behind and it is not advisable to delay further. “Let’s get this process done.” He also complained about the bloggers who, in his opinion, distorted the Board’s work, such as the false claim that Thomas Jefferson and the Enlightenment was removed from the standards. As usual, Scott is confused and wrong, since Jefferson was indeed removed from that standard and the term “Enlightenment” was also removed so non-Enlightenment religious figures could be added. The intent of the malicious radical right Board members was to remove mention of the Enlightenment and the important role of Jefferson in it, and to include two religious authorities (Thomas Aquinas and John Calvin) who have nothing to do with the Enlightenment (indeed, they would have opposed it!). The purpose of the Board member who amended the standard to remove Jefferson and the Enlightenment also added Aquinas and Calvin because they were early writers about natural law. This was a duplicitous purpose because in context the writings of these two religious authorities about natural law were not influential in Enlightenment political philosophy as were, for example, the writings of John Locke and Montesquieu. Thomas Jefferson used natural law in the Declaration of Independence, but his sources came from Enlightenment philosophers as is amply documented.

As primary writer of the Declaration of Independence, an Enlightenment document, Jefferson was considered a major Enlightenment figure by philosophers in Europe. Several bloggers and journalists that Robert Scott slurs said simply that Jefferson had been removed from the standards without being specific (Jefferson remained in several other standards), but it is absurd for Scott and others–notably Gail Lowe who objected in a TEA document to the critics or Ken Mercer who complained in a published rant that the critics were “lying”–to try to spin the Board’s actions whose specific intent was clear: They want to keep Texas students ignorant of the history of successful human opposition to the conservative and authoritarian institutions that then governed citizens in an ignorant, venal, dehumanizing, and destructive way–monarchy, aristocracy, and the Church–much in the same way citizens are governed by ignorant, venal, dehumanizing, and destructive authorities in Texas today. The present conservative and authoritarian SBOE members would never want young Texas citizens to learn that it is possible to change their leaders and improve their lives and prospects by making society support them rather than a few privileged plutocrats and autocrats.

To a question by Pat Hardy, Scott says that his intention was that digital or electronic open source materials, whose content and adoption are under his control, meets the curriculum standards specified by the State Board for traditional paper textbooks. He has proposed new Commissioner’s rules to specify this intent that are currently available for public comment in the Texas Register. The intent of the Legislature is opposite of Scott’s intent. The Legislature wanted to remove State Board authority over electronic or digital instructional materials since the SBOE has been doing such a bad job with traditional textbooks by using the standards process–which they control by majority vote–to put their own political, religious, and ideological stamp on them. Scott, who is sympathetic with these efforts–and why wouldn’t he, since he is appointed by Governor Rick Perry, a politician who shares the radical right political, religious, and ideological beliefs of the majority of SBOE members. Commissioner Scott also discussed a request for opinion from the Texas Attorney General to clarify who has ultimate responsibility for the content of open-source instructional materials prepared by university professors–the university or the Commissioner and State Board. Apparently the legislation is not clear on this point in Scott’s mind.

It’s 9:40 a.m. and the State Board starts to address the social studies TEKS (standards). David Bradley moves to start the social studies standards revision process.

Monica Martinez of TEA staff asks for direction by the Board to change mention (a “technical edit” or “technical correction”) of the Vietnam conflict and Korean conflict to Vietnam War and Korean War, and no one on the Board objected to this edit. In popular language these conflicts are referred to as “wars” but they are not official U.S. wars since there was never a vote by Congress as required by the Constitution. The intent of the history scholars who wrote the original social studies TEKS was to make the hypocrisy of calling these conflicts “wars” quite clear to students. The brave servicemen who fought in these conflicts did not participate in a “war” as popularly believed. Since keeping students ignorant and confused is a traditional goal of the Texas State Board of Education, of course no one objected to this technical edit–which continues the hypocrisy and false history–even when presented the clear opportunity to do so.

At 10:10 a.m. the Board begins to formally revise the Social Studies TEKS in anticipation of adoption. They start with Kindergarten. As the discussion continues about striking John Smith from the Kindergarten standards, Bob Craig repeats the admonition of several testifiers that the standards are becoming too long, too specific, and too prescriptive, leaving no room for the creativity of teachers.

At 12:20 p.m., the Board members debate the inclusion of Dolores Huerta in the 3rd grade standards as exemplar of good citizenship. Huerta is a founder and former vice president of the United Farm Workers of America and is a member of the Democratic Socialists of America. She was included by the original professional writing panels, but when the right-wing members found out that she was a socialist, they voted to take her out of the standard in March. Right now the Hispanic members are trying to get her back in, saying that she is a good role model for Hispanic students and that her membership in a socialist party is irrelevant. The entirely-Anglo Republican members are opposed (so I know how this vote is going to come out). David Bradley explicitly says that her membership in a socialist party makes her ineligible as a role model or example of good citizenship “in America.” This is an excellent example of the right-wing bigotry that, in my opinion, characterizes the radical right-wing Republicans on the SBOE. Huerta is an outstanding example of a publicly-active citizen who worked all her life for the betterment of American citizens, but because she is a socialist the Republicans believe this disqualifies her as a model of good citizenship “in America.” Bradley also says another reason he opposes Dolores Huerta is that historical figures held up as role models should be dead. This is also wrong since some living individuals, such as President Barack Obama, are historical figures, role models, and very much alive.

The Hispanic members also claim that their Republican opponents have a double-standard, since the standard currently includes non-Hispanic Helen Keller, also a socialist, without objection from them. The motion fails 9-6, with only Bob Craig among the Republicans voting with the Democrats. The majority clearly believe that being a socialist makes you a poor role model and citizen in America, or they really are engaging in a bigoted double-standard against Hispanic-Americans (they have repeatedly voted against insertion of Hispanic-American figures elsewhere in the standards, so this may be true also). Eliminating a person as a good citizen because she is a socialist is flat-out bigotry, since some of our greatest Americans in history–such as Eugene Debs, Helen Keller, Albert Einstein, Susan B. Anthony, Edward and Francis Bellamy, John Dewey, Norman Thomas, and Michael Harrington–were socialists or inspired by modern socialism.

At 1:20 p.m., David Bradley is still on his anti-tax and anti-government rant, asking that 3rd grade students (!) learn that taxes and government regulation increase the cost of consumer prices with the implication that this is bad. Taxes and regulations certainly do increase the cost, but the insertion is unnecessarily pejorative, since the students are not asked at the same time to understand that taxes and government regulations provide very beneficial effects for society. Bradley wants to indoctrinate kids at a very young age with the idea that taxes and regulations are bad. They are not: they are necessary for a free society to successfully function. Excessive taxes and regulations are bad, of course, and so are insufficient taxes (just look at California) and regulations (just look at Texas, with the weakest environmental laws in the country), and the balance is hard to achieve, but it is necessary to have them and to get them right. Taxes provide necessary services and regulations provide fairness and safety. Students shouldn’t be taught only negative things about taxes and regulations–that is just poor economics and bad public policy. Bradley’s amendments, here and elsewhere, will continue to give students the biased and ignorant education that is unfortunately so typical in Texas. Now you know why.

Break for lunch; back at 2:30.

I am writing again at 3:00 p.m., and the Board is still dealing with minutiae in elementary grades. Later today the Board will reach the more controversial topics in middle and high school grades.

At 3:07, the State Board just added Wallace Jefferson, a Republican and the first African-American chief justice on the Texas Supreme Court, to a standard in the 4th grade that deals with significant individuals in Texas history. As perceptively pointed out in the Texas Freedom Network blog, none of the Board members, especially including David Bradley, objected, despite his earlier claim that historical figures should be deceased. Either David Bradley is, in my opinion, bigoted against socialists and/or Hispanics for his stated refusal to identify Dolores Huerta as an example of a good citizen, or–as TFN surmises–Republican Texans are exempt from Bradley’s “must be dead” rule for inclusion in history standards. If the latter, this is unduly partisan and hypocritical. (Okay, I know that TFN is joking; the dislike of Huerta is partisan and bigoted, not hypocritical).

Soon after, Rick Agosto unsuccessfully tried for a second time to add Henry Cisneros, a well-known Hispanic-American San Antonio mayor,  Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under President Bill Clinton, and successful businessman, who was charged with obstruction of justice for misstating to Federal investigators the amount of money he had paid to his mistress when he served as mayor. He pled guilty to one charge, paid a small fine, and was eventually pardoned. What is interesting here is that the Republicans refused to support Cisneros as an important figure in Texas history for “moral issues,” but they couldn’t vote fast enough to insert Newt Gingrich into the American history standards as an important historical figure worthy of study. This is hypocrisy of the highest order, since Gingrich is guilty of numerous unethical political and sexual crimes that are well-documented–many more than Cisneros. Also, note to David Bradley: Gingrich is still alive.

At 3:44 we witness a very sad event. Pat Hardy, who was one of the three Republicans who usually but unfortunately not invariably supported good science standards in 2009, has been supporting really right-wing social studies standards this year. Now, during a discussion of 5th grade standard (4)(E), which identifies the causes of the U.S. Civil War to include “sectionalism, states’ right, and slavery,” Pat wants to delete “slavery,” vociferously claiming that “sectionalism and states’ rights” were the only two true causes of the war and slavery was definitely not. This belief is both absurd and racist, exhibiting both poor judgment and poor knowledge of history, although Ms. Hardy apparently doesn’t understand why. She must have read some Civil War revisionist screed in the past and believed it. All legitimate Civil War historians and scholars today recognize that slavery was the ultimate cause of the conflict, although proximately it was slavery as expressed through the political institutions of sectionalism and states’ rights that led to the conflict, which is why the identification of all three causes is legitimate (although slavery should be listed first). Without slavery, sectionalism and states’ rights issues would not have led to a civil war. Without sectionalism and states’ rights, slavery would have led to a civil war. It’s that simple.

Civil War revisionism by Southerners began immediately as the conclusion of the war, since Southern intellectuals were devastated by the overwhelming defeat of their culture and ideology. They wanted to continue to justify the righteousness of their lost cause without the embarrassment of excusing slavery, now recognized to be profoundly un-American, so they argued that perfectly reasonable and respectable sectional differences and concerns about states’ rights in reality led to the conflict, not slavery. There is an enormous Southern literature devoted to this radical and nonsensical thesis with many books, articles, and essays published to support it. It is a matter of fact to many die-hard Southerners and Confederate history supporters (probably the Virginia governor believes it), but it is manifestly false. Several scholarly books by legitimate, mainstream historians–which I have read–completely refute it. I am sorry to inform Pat that today only racists and people who believe in absurd fantasies believe what she claims, which is probably why her loud and confident statement was greeted with stunned silence by everyone else in the room, both Board members and audience. Even the two African-American Board members didn’t correct her because they were too appalled to believe that anyone could really believe what she said. Pat Hardy really needs to reconsider her belief and revise it quickly. Revisionism can work both way
, sometimes for the good.

At 5:20 the Board is discussing the standard that asks students to “review the record of human rights abuses of unlimited governments such as the oppression of Christians in Sudan” in 6th grade social studies, a world culture class. Some want to change “unlimited” to “limited or unlimited.” This passes, and a good thing, too, since the government in Sudan is not unlimited in any sense. It is a corrupt and unethical government but hardly a totalitarian or authoritarian government. In fact, it is a fairly weak government of a country in which the rule of law is not followed. Yes, some Arab tribes in Sudan oppress Christian groups, but this is not an example of either “limited” or “unlimited” government, but rather a weak, incompetent, and corrupt government. I think the motive of the original amendment to mention “oppression of Christians in Sudan” is to fortify the faith of nascent Christian students by riling them up with stories of discrimination against their religion by other religionists. Christian oppression by people of other faiths is a common theme by right-wing Christian leaders in the U.S., despite their enormous numbers, influence, and power in our society, so they often use stories about this happening in other countries. I suspect that Moslems who want to practice faith reinforcement by negative characterization of how they are treated in other countries would find no dearth of examples of such treatment by Christians in the United States.

At 5:55 p.m., David Bradley’s motion to insert a new standard that requires Texas students to know about several Confederate generals and government officials in their study of Texas history passed 8-7. He is heard saying, “vote for Texas,” and Rene Nunez is heard saying, “vote for the Confederacy” before the vote. I missed which two Republicans voted with the Democrats to create a tie vote, but Gail Lowe broke the tie. Yes, Texas students should learn all about those Texas Confederates and all they did in service of their state. After all, this is the same Board that two months ago inserted this into the standards: “analyze the ideas contained in Jefferson Davis’s inaugural address.” Sam Houston would be appalled; in fact, he surely was.

It’s 6:58 p.m. and Board member Tincy Miller says, “I just realized that there are all these history experts are sitting in the audience helping Pat Hardy and we should take advantage of their help dealing with this difficult topic,” the Dawes Act. That’s such a good idea. The Board should have done this at the beginning and simply adopt the original TEKS submitted by the professional standards-writing teams.

7:15 p.m., and Mary Helen Berlanga states forthrightly and correctly that the cause of the Civil War was “all about slavery.” The members are debating Terri Leo’s amendment to strike “slavery and states’ rights” from a standard dealing with the Civil War and replacing it with “sectionalism, states’ rights, and slavery” as causes of the War. Lawrence Allen wanted to quite correctly have slavery listed first and then states’ rights but not sectionalism in Grade 8′s standard (8)(B), but Leo amended Allen’s motion. Mavis Knight says the academic experts she knows would say that slavery should be listed first. So the Board members are still fighting the Civil War, which goes on constantly in Texas and other southern states all the time–believe me, I live here. Leo’s amendment carries and the wording desired by the Board’s Republicans passes.

Lawrence Allen next moves to amend the standard (8)(C) that requires students to understand Jefferson Davis’s inaugural address, which I learn defends states’ rights but doesn’t mention slavery at all. Allen wants to remove this part of the standard and just keep in Abraham Lincoln’s inaugural and Gettysburg Addresses. Pat Hardy defends keeping in Davis’s address, mistakenly saying that the TEKS-writing panel originally included it. In fact, it was inserted by a Board member earlier this year. Rick Agosto recognizes this and points out that Hardy is wrong, who agrees and apologizes. Several members now debate including Jefferson Davis’s inaugural address, Republicans wanting to keep it and Democrats wanting it out as did the original professional writing panel. Lawrence Allen points out that if students read the Davis address they will get the idea that slavery was not an issue, even though it was the primary issue. Of course, this is why the radical right-wing Republican members wanted to insert it in the first place–to confuse students about the true causes of the Civil War and the primacy of slavery. Pat Hardy mentions that the original amendment to insert Jefferson Davis’s inaugural address was made by Barbara Cargill, who thus deserves our contempt (she has long earned plenty).

Allen’s motion fails 7-7, and Cynthia Dunbar moves to move the phrase “the ideas contained in Jefferson Davis’s inaugural address” from the beginning to a position after Abraham Lincoln’s ideas and contrast the two. Agosto immediately objects saying that he won’t vote for any language including Jefferson Davis, forgetting the fact that the language is already there courtesy of a Board vote in March. The intent of the original standard was to study Lincoln ideas, not Davis’s at all. Agosto is very forthright: “You can put Jefferson Davis’ ideas in the front. You can put them in the back. You can put them where the sun don’t shine. They don’t belong in Lincoln’s standard.” Mavis Knight and Bob Craig both support the motion, both stating that they originally objected to inserting mention of Jefferson Davis in a standard devoted to Lincoln, they would still prefer that Davis wasn’t there [but the votes don't exist now to take him out]. Ken Mercer supports the motion because he doesn’t want to be accused of “white-washing history,” so he wants the two men’s ideas contrasted and allowing students to see why Lincoln was right. Poor Ken just can’t understand that Jeff Davis’s address does precisely that: white-washes history by ignoring the issue of slavery and focusing on states’ rights. Dunbar’s motion passes 11-4 on a recorded vote. Four Democrats, all except Knight, vote against the amendment.

Lawrence Allen’s next motion is to strike the obnoxious phrase “Atlantic triangular trade” and insert “transatlantic slave trade.” Rick Agosto says that the intent of original standard was to explain the slave trade and the spread of slavery, so the change to “triangular trade” earlier this year by a majority of Board members is not the same and is in fact insulting since it treats humans as goods. The word “slave” was changed to “triangular” by some right-wing Board member in March (I don’t remember who at the moment) to mitigate the obvious outrage of American use of slaves, one of the greatest indictments against our country’s history. Good scholars and Board members want our country’s history of slavery known and understood by students, but American exceptionalists want to hide it. Fortunately, Allen’s motion passes without objection, even the original writer of the amendment not objecting, Allen and Agosto having shamed him or her.

It’s 8:00 p.m. and the Board recesses until 9:00 for a dinner break. They are tired and cranky. So am I.

The Board meeting resumes at 9:13. They begin working on the high school courses, starting with United States History Studies Since 1877.  Small motions to amend are made by several Board members, including Don McLeroy who makes some of the motions listed on his widely-circulated amendment list. The first is to “describe the optimism of the many immigrants who were thankful to find a better life in America,” which perhaps includes some unnecessary editorializing. He successfully adds “eugenics” to the list of social problems faced by Americans in the 1920s. The list includes “Social Darwinism” which is really a late 19th century social idea.

I was worried Don would get his insertion passed on Soviet agent penetration passed: “describe how the extent and danger of Soviet agent infiltration of the U.S. government as revealed in Alger Hiss’ guilt and confirmed later by the Venona Papers.” The Soviet Union certainly had several spies situated in the federal government during the 1940s, and some of these (who McLeroy correctly names in the justification) were revealed by Venona, but Alger Hiss wasn’t one of them. Fortunately for accuracy and reliability of future Texas history classes, McLeroy’s overweening fear of Communism didn’t get expressed in the standards. It is a required belief of faith by rabid right-wing anti-Communists in the U.S. that Alger Hiss was a Soviet spy when in fact there is no evidence for its truth, including in the Venona Papers. A pair of authors imaginatively produced a scenario duplicitously utilizing Venona intelligence in a way that “proved” that Hiss was a spy and published their speculations in a book. Subsequent research has revealed that they completely misinterpreted the evidence in a very biased way with the intention of proving Hiss’s guilt. Go the the Wikipedia entry on Venona Papers for the references available on the Web that document Hiss’s innocence. There were plenty of Soviet spies in the U.S. government in the 1940s, some revealed by Venona, but Hiss wasn’t one of them.

Unfortunately McLeroy’s new standard to require that students “evaluate efforts by global organizations to undermine U. S. sovereignty” passes. He justifies this by U.S. association with the United Nations and “global environmental initiatives.” This is pure paranoia and reveals more about Don’s state of mind than political reality in the world. Adopting this standard is just ignorant and stupid–only in Texas.

His next attraction would require students to “discuss alternatives regarding long term entitlements such as Social Security and Medicare, given the decreasing worker to retiree ratio.” This was too much mathematics for several Board members, but Cynthia Dunbar’s substitution, “discuss the solvency of long-term entitlements such as Social Security and Medicare,” passed. This is actually a reasonable topic that would be important for these students.

Now attention turned to court cases that students would be required to know something about. I know these cases but learned them much later in life when I became a First Amendment advocate. I wish I had learned about them in high school. In addition to several important cases already in the standards, such as Brown v Board of Education (separate schools for white and black children are unconstitutional), the following were added: Delgado v Bastrop ISD (barred segregation of schoolchildren of Mexican descent in Texas schools), Wisconsin v Yoder (laws requiring compulsory education past the eighth grade for Amish children violated the religious freedom of their parents). and White v Regester (election districts in San Antonio and Dallas that were maliciously constructed in a way that discriminated against minorities, reducing their voting power, were found to be illegal; the districts had wide deviations from population equality). Most of these cases concern the attempt of White authorities to segregate and weaken ethnic minorities in violation of several Constitutional clauses. This discrimination continues today quite successfully. For example, there are approximately equal numbers of Republicans and Democrats in Texas, so why are there 10 Republican and 5 Democratic members on the SBOE? Because Republicans public officials did the redistricting that gerrymandered the Board’s districts, packing minorities into five high minority percentage districts (two urban districts in Houston and Dallas with overwhelming percentages of African-Americans and three Hispanic-American districts, one urban district in San Antonio and two districts in South Texas) and creating long and narrow districts that put a majority percentage of rural and suburban Republican voters together with minority concentrations of usually urban Democrats. That’s why Austin is split down the middle and represented by two radical religious right Republicans. I’m sure the Republican redistricting committee had a good laugh over that one.

During the debates, Mary Helen Berlanga complains several times about the derogatory treatment of minorities. This occurred, for example, at 10:30 during the debate to insert President Barack Obama’s name into the standards as a notable and historical figure that students should know. Lawrence Allen makes the motion to insert the name in the appropriate standard. David Bradley makes a motion to make sure that Obama’s full name is used: Barack Hussein Obama. Berlanga, Rene Nunez, and Rick Agosto speak against the idea, saying Obama’s middle name is unnecessarily pejorative and we as a Board shouldn’t do this. Bradley is finally shamed into withdrawing his amendment.

Pat Hardy now reveals her fearful anti-Communist paranoia side. She proposes an amendment that asks students to “describe how Cold War tensions were intensified by the arms race, the space race, McCarthyism, and the House Un-American Activities Committee, the findings of which were confirmed by the Venona Papers.” This passes, but one part of it is nonsense. The Venona Papers did not confirm the findings of the HUAC, which broadly condemned and persecuted large numbers of loyal American citizens for being socialists, communists, sympathizers, and just friendly associates. The Joseph McCarthy witch-hunt was one of the worst periods in U.S. history, in which innocent and patriotic citizens suffered at the hands of ultra-conservative, arch-patriotic zealots. The Venona Papers did reveal a few dozen Soviet spies in this country, some in the federal government, but nothing like what HUAC claimed. Don McLeroy, another paranoid, passed a note to a TEKS-writing committee: “Read the latest on McCarthy. He was basically vindicated.” No he wasn’t. He is still held in well-deserved contempt today by mainstream scholars and informed citizens. Only the radical right thinks McCarthy did not deserve his self-earned personal destruction and ignominy.

An unbalance,  partisan standard was added in March: “describe the causes, key organizations, and individuals of the conservative resurgence of the 1980s and 1990s, including Phyllis Schlafly, the Contract with America, the Heritage Foundation, the Moral Majority, and the National Rifle Association.” Pat Hardy proposes making these topics suggested examples in a standard on “the conservative resurgence of the 1980s and 1990s.” This doltish idea happily fails.

A motion by Bob Craig passes: he proposes adding Sonia Sotomayor, the nation’s first Hispanic Supreme Court justice, to a standard on the political, social and economic contributions of women to American society. When looking at this high school standard, I discovered that Dolores Huerta is listed here. Good. Her name was refused in a 3rd grade standard because she is a socialist, but that’s okay in high school.

The last topic was a discussion of Japanese-, Italian-, and German-Americans during WW II and how they were treated differently. Mary Helen Berlanga asks that the Japanese-Americans be specifically identified as victims of discrimination during the war, but her motion does not pass due to opposition by the Board’s ultra-right members who don’t like it when their Godly-inspired, Christian-unpinned country is revealed to have the same bigoted faults of other countries on the planet so it is not really so exceptional in some respects after all.

The Board adjourns at 12:05 a.m. until 9:00 that morning. Good night–I mean morning.