Amid criticism, state panel tentatively OKs restoring Alamo teachings

The State Board of Education decided in a preliminary vote late Wednesday to continue requiring students to learn about heroism and a letter by William B. Travis in lessons about the Alamo.

The unanimous vote came a day after several people pleaded with the board to retain such language in the Texas history curriculum standards that middle school students must learn. Concerns arose after a board-nominated committee earlier this year proposed removing the letter and “heroic defenders” from the curriculum standard about the Alamo, saying the language was redundant. The committee as well as the Republican-dominated education board said the removal wasn’t meant to offend anyone.

READ: State Board of Education under fire over Alamo curriculum

“This was never really an issue” for us, board Secretary Marty Rowley, R-Amarillo, said shortly after the vote.

“I would agree with that,” followed board Chairwoman Donna Baharich, R-Houston.

The proposed curriculum standard with the restored language now reads that students must learn about the Travis letter and “the heroism of the diverse defenders who gave their lives” at the Alamo.

The board’s tentative approval on Wednesday is among the last steps of a monthslong process to streamline the state’s social studies curriculum standards at all grade levels. The standards are the framework for history, government and economics textbooks and lessons for the state’s 5.4 million public students. The board nominated teachers and other educational professionals to multiple work groups to provide recommendations, most of which the board likely will accept after members take another vote on Friday and a final vote in November. In between those votes, the public will be able to provide input and give public testimony before the board in November.

The board Wednesday also changed curriculum standards to emphasize the expansion of slavery as the central cause of the Civil War, but members still retained “sectionalism and states’ rights” as “contributing factors” to the war, to the dismay of Democrats on the board. The causes of the Civil War are taught in the fifth and eighth grades.

The state’s social studies curriculum has long been criticized for placing slavery as a tertiary cause for the Civil War. Multiple professors told the board on Tuesday that slavery needed to be singled out.

“As we were able to listen to the testifiers, we recognized that all of the things that will be struck lead back to slavery, whether it be states’ rights, which is the right to own human beings, or whether the conversation is about sectionalism which is the expansion of slavery. It goes right back to the central concept of slavery,” said board member Lawrence Allen, D-Houston.

Fellow member Pat Hardy, R-Fort Worth, disagreed.

“States’ rights also has a little more depth to it than slavery and that was one of the things that the South wanted. They wanted a different formation of government,” said Hardy, a former social studies teacher.

Going against recommendations by one of the board-nominated committees, Republican members also carried changes to restore references to the influence of Judeo-Christianity on America’s founding and on certain legal concepts like trial by jury of peers. Republican board members also restored Moses into the curriculum standard about individuals who influenced America’s founding documents.

“Moses has been used as a symbol of strength and courage by others in American history,” said board member Geraldine “Tincy” Miller, R-Dallas. “Moses is honored as one of the 18 great lawgivers who adorn the frieze of the U.S. Supreme Court building.”

Board member Ruben Cortez, D-Brownsville, said a work group had advised dropping Moses because mentioning him was redundant — students were already required to learn about William Blackstone and John Locke who were influenced by Moses. Cortez said restoring Moses was not in the spirit of streamlining the curriculum standards.

“We’re adding a significant amount of time and factually inaccurate information to our students’ teaching and learning by doing this,” Cortez said.

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