The Texas State Board of Education voted last week to “streamline” the state’s social studies curriculum because there are too many historical names to memorize. Here are some proposed changes:
- Remove “San Jacinto Day” and replace it with “Constitution Day” in a first-grade unit on customs, holidays, and celebrations of the community, state and nation.
- Remove Hellen Keller from a third-grade unit on “citizenship”
- Amend the Civil War standards to recognize “the central role of the expansion of slavery in causing the Civil War and other contributing factors including sectionalism and state rights.”
- Require students to learn about the “heroism” of those who “gave their lives” at the Alamo
- Reinsert the phrase “Judeo-Christian (especially biblical law) into a 7th grade unit on “major intellectual, philosophical, political, and religious traditions that informed the American founding.”
- Reinsert “Moses” and remove “Thomas Hobbes from a 7th grade unit on “individuals whose principles of laws and government institutions informed the American founding.”
- Remove Hillary Clinton from a unit on “the contributions of significant political and social leaders in the United States.”
Some things to think about:
1. Teachers can do whatever they want to do in the classroom. If they want to talk about Hillary Clinton they can talk about Hillary Clinton. If they want to talk about San Jacinto Day, they can do it. If they want to talk about the Old Testament as a source of the American founding, they can do so. (Although I would urge them to do it carefully and responsibly, perhaps along the lines of Dan Dreisbach here).
2. These decisions are less about history and education and more about politics. This is pretty obvious from the examples above.
3. It is important that students are exposed to a variety of voices in American history. I say this not because I believe in political correctness, but because I believe that all human beings have dignity and thus have voices that should be heard. If an American history course contains all white voices, this would be a problem. If an American history course contains all black voices, this would a problem. For more on my approach here see my Why Study History: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past.
4. In many ways, this entire conversation about standards and who is “in” and who is “out” misses the point of history education. It favors “coverage” over historical thinking. Rather than develop this idea here, I point you to other places where I have written about it:
John Fea, “Don’t taint teaching of history in Texas,” Houston Chronicle, July 26, 2009
John Fea, “The Texas Social Studies Standards Debacle,” The Way of Improvement Leads Home, January 15, 2010.
John Fea, “Why study history: A bill before the Pa. Senate is only part of the answer,” Harrisburg Patriot News, July 6, 2017.
Thanks to my colleague Cathay Snyder for bringing this story to my attention.