Texas high school students would no longer be required to learn about Hillary Clinton’s role as the first woman nominated for president by a major political party, according to proposed curriculum standards given preliminary approval by the State Board of Education on Friday.
Also eliminated from the proposed social studies standards: Barry Goldwater, the 1964 Republican presidential nominee who was the first ethnically Jewish presidential candidate from a major party and is considered the progenitor of the modern conservative movement.
In addition, Texas public school students would no longer be required to learn about Helen Keller, the disability rights advocate who was the first deaf and blind person to graduate from college.
The board also tentatively approved restoring language that board-nominated committees recommended removing, including references to Moses in lessons about America’s founding and “heroism” at the Alamo. The board also softened language on slavery as a cause of the Civil War.
The board nominated committees of teachers and other education professionals earlier this year to recommend reductions to the voluminous amount of social studies content that the state’s 5.4 million Texas public school students must learn. Similar to previous social studies streamlining efforts, the process has prompted concerns that the board has allowed liberal and conservative bias into such historical events as the Civil War and the founding of the United States.
The board on Friday approved most of the recommendations that the committees made.
Heeding an outcry from conservatives, board members reinstated requirements that students learn about a letter William B. Travis, commander at the Alamo, wrote asking for help during the 1836 Alamo siege and learn about “the heroism of the diverse defenders who gave their lives there.” A board-nominated committee had proposed students simply learn about the Battle of the Alamo, the most celebrated military engagement in Texas history, and eliminated the letter and references to heroic defenders in the curriculum, stating it was redundant because students can’t learn about the Alamo without learning about its defenders and the Travis letter.
“As the board chair, I honestly felt that the board members would understand that the heroism was really important … as iconic as the Alamo is,” board Chairwoman Donna Bahorich, R-Houston, told the American-Statesman.
Although multiple Democrats wanted slavery singled out as the cause of the Civil War, the Republican-dominated board voted to retain listing sectionalism and states’ rights as “contributing factors” of the cause of the war. The board, however, added language that the expansion of slavery was the central cause of the Civil War.
“In too many places throughout the document, from Moses and religion to the Civil War and beyond, board members are once again rejecting the advice of teachers and scholars and rewriting the standards to promote their personal beliefs, not historical fact and truth,” said Dan Quinn with the left-leaning Texas Freedom Network.
Bahorich said the process is not political and that the public has until November, when the board will take a final vote, to give input on the social studies curriculum standards. “We’re paying attention to all feedback from whatever quarter it’s coming from,” she said.
Going against recommendations by one of the board-nominated committees, Republican members also successfully pushed to restore references to the influence of Judeo-Christianity on the nation’s founding and on certain legal concepts like trial by a jury of peers. Republican board members also restored Moses into the curriculum as an influence in the drafting of American’s founding documents.
The proposed removal of Clinton, Goldwater and Keller did not generate substantive discussion among board members or any of the several dozen people who addressed the board about the changes Tuesday.
Elementary or high school students are required to learn about these figures, among others, in lessons about exemplars of “good citizenship,” but the committees had recommended their deletion to save teachers several minutes of instruction time or to remove irrelevant information.
Bahorich said the committees used a fair rubric to assess the importance of these figures in social studies curriculum, measuring among other things their influence, their impact on underrepresented groups and whether they represented diverse perspectives. Clinton scored a five out of 21, Goldwater a zero and Keller a seven.
A committee also recommended removing the late evangelist Billy Graham, but another committee, with direction from the board in June, reinstated the reference. Graham scored a four.
“Keep in mind that whether Clinton and Keller or the Alamo defenders are in the standards specifically doesn’t mean students won’t learn about them. Teachers and textbooks can and will still teach about them,” Quinn said. “But focusing on disagreements over those details obscures the important problem that the board isn’t even getting the big ideas right because they’re more interested in using the standards to promote their personal and political beliefs.”