Our national celebration as Americans will soon be here with the red, white and blue prominently displayed. Celebrations draw our attention from the ordinary to the inspired. Something inspiring happened at the Texas State Board of Education that merits celebration.
We bemoan the fact we are becoming a people divided — society that lives in separate cultural and political silos. The board — 10 Republicans and five Democrats — voted unanimously in June to adopt curriculum standards for an elective high school course — Ethnic Studies: Mexican American Studies — that expands the knowledge of Texas’ broader cultural heritage. This is a hook the board hopes will improve educational outcomes and understanding as students are exposed more deeply to Mexican-American contributions to our shared American story. With a unanimous vote to adopt curriculum standards for this course, the board showed there is more to unite us than divide us.
In addition, we invited school districts to submit African-American, Asian Pacific Islander, Latino and Native American studies courses — as Houston ISD did in submitting the highly praised Mexican American Studies course. Setting the stage for other ethnic studies courses to come, it includes curriculum standards on history, geography, economics, government, citizenship, culture, science, technology and social studies skills.
All this is to increase the chances that students will truly learn to value of e pluribus unum, expressed on our nation’s great seal.
Every board member was aware that the eyes of Texas’ schoolchildren were upon us as we worked through our differences. The journey included reconciling differences on the need for the course, and even on its title. All ended in two unanimous votes to adopt the course curriculum standards and title. Maybe — just maybe — we were an example to our children of the benefit of continuing to collaborate.
Politics energizes as well as frustrates. Politicians are maligned by all sides when the battle is a high-profile, high-stakes one. Tearing down the daunting walls of “us versus them” is back-breaking work. The problem is we don’t encourage or celebrate it enough.
In the 5 1/2 years I’ve served, this board that I now proudly lead has proven that there is intrinsic value in working together. You can’t always get there. Values will inevitably clash — but, commitment to working together will result in better decisions and advance the likelihood of better outcomes for students.
For example, we:
• Put textbooks online for public comment during the review period before adoption.
• Revised the curriculum standards process to add greater transparency, more feedback and appointed experts in higher education.
• Approved integrated language-arts standards in English and Spanish.
• Streamlined lengthy science standards.
• Hosted three free roundtable conferences on important education topics with panels of national and state experts and practitioners to support educators and policymakers.
• Are set to approve the Long-Range Plan for Public Education in September, which will include the views and voices of 12,000 Texans.
Moreover, Texas is the first state to require use of open digitized standards — built on Texas curriculum standards — to increase interoperability in digital textbooks.
Politics that aims to understand perspectives, push through walls and coalesce around an important issue takes an enormous amount of time, patience and a willingness to engage on a human level with folks outside our tribe.
What began in the spring of 2014 as advocacy for a Mexican-American course by activists and experts will result in the board providing both a course and an important lesson. Maybe the State Board of Education has provided a bit of inspiration during our national time of celebrating who we are as Americans — altogether.
Together, we’re Texas. Together, we’re America. Let the celebrations begin!
Bahorich, R-Houston, is chair of the State Board of Education.