Friday, March 19, 2010

Five Shocking Changes in the Texas Social Studies Curriculum Standards

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.


Anonymous said...

Yanno, if Texas decided to secede from the Union again, I think the US response should be, "Fine, but we're not taking you back this time."

Karen Olson said...

This distresses me beyond words.

Claire said...

This is just so distressing. It feels unsettlingly dystopian.

AnswerGirl said...

Jon Stewart made me aware of this, and then I had to go read more about it — watch this here:

Anna said...

None of this is a done deal, though. The final vote is in May and, maybe, perhaps, hopefully, some of the more egregious things will be removed.

AnswerGirl said...

We can hope. What dismays me most of all is that the Republican party used to be the party of intellectuals: when I was a high school student, I read and admired William F. Buckley, Milton Friedman, and other thoughtful, well-educated conservatives who grounded their thought in what used to be called the liberal (i.e., open-minded) tradition. They believed in the primacy of individual rights because they expected people to earn it, through education and logic and self-reliance. Now the Republican party has been taken over by these twisted, narrow-minded populists, and the rational people are opting out of the system altogether. Not good. Not good for anyone.

Thomas at My Porch said...

It really is frightening.

Anonymous said...

The scariest deals with the Texas School Board are these two facts:

-- A lawyer member who describes herself as a strict constitionalist was the person who advocated most strongly for axing Thomas Jefferson from the social studies curriculum. Sure, James Madison wrote the actual U.S. Constitution, but he corresponded extensively with Jefferson during the process and modeled much of the Bill of Rights on Jefferson's version of Virginia state consttitution and that early document's declaration of rights.

-- The chairman of the BoEd has told numerous interviewers that he does not believe in the separation of church and state. Which is a pretty good position if you're a Taliban sympathizer developing madrassa curriculums.

-- Ed

Jerry said...

I live in this state ,TEXAS, this state is so for behind times ,you have to wait 2 or 3 weeks just to get a drivers license an the in Louisiana you get them right there, they want to change the language to spanish ,they want to change the history books ,really my X wife an my girlfriend are school teacher ,an from what I hear ,from them an other teacher,an they say that the Texas school system is all messed up an with this Bush no child left behind ,they say it do more harm than good ,an the parents are not really doing there job at home,now thats what the teachers are thinking ,an they say that Texas school system need help an they need help, none of them are working together as I see it