State Board of Education Continues Debate of Social Studies Standards, Day 3

Live Blog of the Texas State Board of Education


Welcome back to the Texas State Board of Education. Today is the official Board meeting but members can continue to debate and revise social studies standards. Some members want to revisit changes made yesterday that passed while they were absent or changes made with which they vehemently disagree. It is possible for amended standards to be amended back by majority vote the next day and also in May during second reading and before final adoption. In fact, many of us expect the worst and most reactionary amendments to the standards will be made in May, so of course I will be back in Austin for this meeting.

Mavis Knight made a series of motions to add material about voting rights and similar uncontroversial topics in the standards. These all pass.

Mary Helen Berlanga tries to get information returned to the social studies standards about Tejanos who fought and died at the Alamo. Her motion is to insert “and the Tejanos who died there” after “the siege of the Alamo” in the standard that asks students to learn about the Battle of the Alamo in Texas History. David Bradley and Ken Mercer oppose the inclusion of this information, saying that everyone who died there was a hero and we shouldn’t single one group out. Mary Helen responded by saying that the term “Tejanos” needs to be included because most teachers would not know to do this unless it is specified. Barbara Cargill moves to amend Berlanga’s motion to strike “the Tejanos who died at the Alamo” and insert the phrase “the 189 heroes who gave their lives there” after the words “the siege of the Alamo.” This amendment passes 10-5 with the ten Republicans voting against the five Democrats to remove mention of Tejanos and add 189 heroes. The amended motion now passes 11-4. So the “traditionalists” on the SBOE work to keep specific mention of Tejanos out of the history of Texas during the Battle of the Alamo just as has always been traditional in Texas education. The State Board is working hard to keep alive the tradition that Texas history began in 1836.

Rick Agosto moves to strike “the Beat Generation” and return the musical genre “Hip Hop” to the standard that asks students to understand American musical genres and history. After much discussion, an amendment to remove the action to strike the Beat Generation from the motion passes 15-0, Agosto voting to remove one part of his own motion to get Hip Hop back in. After more discussion, the original motion fails 8-7 with the ultra-conservative Republicans voting to keep Hip Hop out of the music genre standard. Hip Hop was removed very late last night by Don McLeroy when half of the State Board members were absent, a despicable ploy. He had tried to remove Hip Hop in January but failed.

Rick Agosto moves again to strike “the Beat Generation” from the standard now without returning Hip Hop. He claims the Beat Generation is more degenerate and anti-social than the Hip Hop generation and provides cited evidence for this! (Note: the Republicans are all members of the Beat generation while Rick Agosto is a member of the Hip Hop generation.) After more debate this motion fails 8-7. Obviously, the majority of State Board members want to keep the Beat Generation in the standards. This issue hilariously illustrates beyond all reasonable doubt why ignorant and biased elected political officials have no business writing public school curriculum standards. AMC could make a black comedy about the Texas SBOE and it would be as funny and heartbreaking as Breaking Bad.

Now finally there is a motion to adopt the amended social studies standards (TEKS) for first reading and filing authorization. This will be a recorded vote because there is so much controversy and division between the Democrats and Republicans on the State Board. The vote is 11-4 to adopt; Democrats Agosto, Allen, Berlanga, and Knight vote no, Nunez yes. All Republicans vote yes.

Immediately following this vote, Chairman Lowe permits the use of personal privilege time to allow some remarkable remarks by Board members. Mavis Knight says that these social studies standards are not the best document and they are not suitable to give students an accurate and true history education. She says, “We have manipulated strands to insert what [certain members] believe to be true about history regardless whether it’s appropriate,” when in fact what they believe is not true. “I cannot go back to my community and tell them that we have perpetuated a fraud on the students of this state,” and that I supported this, so I must vote no.

Mary Helen Berlanga is also opposed to the some of the content in the standards and asks the social studies teachers to speak out about the new standards and specific names added and removed. She told the story about how as a child she learned that the only Hispanic at the Alamo was Santa Anna, the villain of the Alamo, and never learned about the Tejanos who died at the Alamo fighting next to Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie for Texas and personal liberty. She also lamented the fact that there is nothing in the standards about the real history of the Texas Rangers and how they “unjustly killed Mexican-Americans in Texas.” I might add that the Texas Rangers unjustly killed many Native Americans, too.

Mary Helen continues: “We are still not teaching the real history–the true history–about Texas and the United States. Until we are ready to tell the truth about history, we don’t have a good history or a good social studies curriculum for Texas.” She concludes by saying that she could not support the social studies as amended and voted no.

The Texas Rangers were formed to be the aggressive Anglo force against the minorities who had long lived in Texas prior to Anglo settlement. The Rangers are usually described in Texas history textbooks as being formed to “protect” Texans from “Indians and Mexicans,” but they performed their job of protection by chasing and killing the indigenous Native and Mexican-Americans who had long lived in the land of the new Republic. Accurate histories record of their brutality and injustice; for example, thousands of Hispanics were killed by the Rangers during 1910-1919. I am glad that Mary Helen spoke out about this. Texas public school students never learn this history. Since reformation by the Legislature in 1919, the Texas Rangers have been a professional law enforcement agency in no way comparable to their first 90 years.

Ken Mercer, David Bradley, Don McLeroy, and Cynthia Dunbar now speak to justify their appalling revision and censoring of the accurately-written standards prepared by professional history and economic experts who presented accurate, balanced, and reliable history and economics. The far-right Republicans say they are proud of their work, etc. Mercer and Dunbar, in particular, point out the importance of the fact that Texas can write and adopt its own standards and not be forced to use the new Common Core State Curriculum Standards that many eastern and northern states helped to write and are now adopting. These Republican State Board of Education members, Commissioner of Education Robert Scott, and Governor Rick Perry claim that Texas curriculum standards are superior to the Common Core standards, but the abundant recent evidence proves the opposite is the case. The new Common Core standards are being reviewed now and I expect them to be far superior to similar ones out of Texas. In particular, since I am a small part of the effort to write new national Earth Science standards, future Common Core science standards will certainly be far superior than those of Texas that have been amended to such unfortunate effect by the SBOE. The same will now unfortunately be the case with Social Studies.

Terri Leo says the newly-amended social studies are “a world-class document.” She says “we have included more minorities in historical events than ever before.” This is only true because the original professional historians and history teachers wrote the proposed standards, not for anything that Leo and her ultra-right colleagues did, although they did leave most names in place. However, their meddling additions and deletions to the standards will certainly mean the new standards will be criticized and condemned by social studies teachers and organizations throughout the country. An unnecessary and unfair right-wing, authoritarian, and traditionalist bias has been included in the standards in several places by the Board’s actions, and this distortion and lack of balance will make the new Texas standards unacceptable to mainstream academic curriculum experts and educators. As these three blog columns document, many standards that dealt with government, history, and economics had repeated radical or reactionary additions and liberal or progressive removals of information. I’m sure social studies experts will soon write about this right-wing political travesty.

Barbara Cargill says she is “very excited by these standards” and she feels she has met the wishes of her constituents. She says “as public officials we have done our job.” I agree. Cargill and her Republican colleagues have really done a job on Texas public education. I wish to point out that in most cases, all ten Republicans, not just the seven radical religious right members, voted for most or all of the damaging motions and amendments. As a long-time observer of the Texas State Board of Education, I must say that I have never seen such a mean-spirited, bigoted, and chauvinistic display of ugly partisanship by this group as they worked to stamp their particular authoritarian, traditionalist, and know-nothingness on the state’s social studies standards. What happened to the social studies standards is far worse than what the science standards suffered last year. Every social studies teacher in Texas and the nation should be appalled and every citizen of Texas should be ashamed by the behavior and character of our elected state public education officials.

This concludes the live blog of the State Board of Education’s March 2010 meeting.