Warning that the “integrity of the curriuclum revision process has been compromised,” university historians are are circulating an open letter calling on the Texas State Board of Education to postpone final adoption of the new social studies curriculum standards.
The letter asks the state board to allow curriculum teams and academic experts to review hundreds of changes board members made to the standards in January and March and prepare a new standards draft that is “fair, accurate and balanced.” It then calls on the board not to make any revisions to the new draft without “public consultation with classroom teachers and scholars who are experts in the appropriate fields of study.”
The board currently is set to adopt the standards in a final vote on May 21 in Austin. The group of historians at the University of Texas at Austin and University of Texas at El Paso behind the project has invited colleagues at colleges and universities from Texas and across the country to sign on to their letter. (Click here.)
The education of Texas schoolchildren should be based on “mainstream scholarship, not on ideological agendas,” the professors write:
“Those of us who teach and conduct research in colleges and universities have grown concerned, however, that social studies curriculum standards in Texas do not meet student needs. We also believe that the Texas State Board of Education has been derelict in its duty to revise the public school curriculum. In short, recent proposals by Board members have undermined the study of the social sciences in our public schools by misrepresenting and even distorting the historical record and the functioning of American society.”
State board members essentially shredded draft standards that writing teams made up of classroom teachers and scholars spent much of 2009 researching and writing. In many ways, the board’s changes have turned what should be a curriculum document almost into a political manifesto.
For example, the newly revised standards now downplay the significance of the women’s and civil rights movements, suggest that Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s political witch hunts in the 1950s were justified and weaken the study of constitutional protections for religious freedom. The board added a requirement that students study the inaugural address of Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy during the U.S. Civil War. It even removed Thomas Jefferson, who argued that a “wall of separation between church and state” is essential to freedom, from a world history standard on the influence of Enlightenment thinkers who have inspired people around the world in their struggles for freedom. (See a list of some of the board’s worst changes and other decisions here.) Board members made those and scores of other changes based largely on their own limited knowledge (sometimes even conducting Internet searches on their laptops during the meetings). They refused to consult classroom teachers or scholars as they debated and voted on the changes.
Publishers will use the new curriculum standards to write public school textbooks. Under the current schedule, the state board will review proposed new science textbooks in 2011 and new social studies textbooks in 2012. Because of budget constraints, it’s possible those dates might change.