The Texas State Board of Education has been the shame of the nation this month as it has publicly debated the adoption of new curriculum standards. This debate has national implications, as Texas is one of the nation's largest markets for textbooks, and the Texas standards have a disproportionate influence over textbook content.
Yes, students have limited time in a classroom, and a lot to learn, and I'm receptive to arguments that state-mandated standards of any kind are a slippery slope. I myself am the product of an old-fashioned classical prep-school education, and willing to admit big gaps in my own knowledge base. But these are five changes that shocked me.
1. Forget Thomas Jefferson. The board voted to remove the mention of Thomas Jefferson as a philosophical influence on the American revolution, replacing him with Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin, and Sir William Blackstone. Jefferson's distillation of European philosophies into a specifically American, humanist set of ideas is the foundation of American democracy. How do you leave him out?
2. Replace the word "capitalism" with "free enterprise." This isn't even academically correct; "free enterprise" and "capitalism," economically speaking, are two different (if similar) things. The Texas School Board felt that "capitalism" had negative connotations, which is a dismaying display of ignorance.
3. Remove references to the women's suffrage movement, including the Declaration of the Seneca Falls Convention. Remember when Susan B. Anthony used to be on the dollar coin? No, the Texas School Board doesn't, either.
4. Remove references to the American trade union movement. Whatever you think of unions now, the rise of the union movement made permanent changes to the American economy and our idea of work. The eight-hour work day, workman's compensation, employee health insurance, retirement benefits and operational safety standards are all products of the union movement. The fact that we all see them as rights instead of privileges is because of the union movement. If some unions have outlived their usefulness or grown corrupt, students should hear about that as well, but don't pretend they didn't exist.
5. Don't worry about map skills. The Texas School Board voted to remove a requirement that third-graders be able to find the Amazon, the Himalayas, and Washington, DC on a map. But you know what? That's okay. If all they learn is this curriculum, those are places they're never likely to see.