We continue with our final segment in our review of the Texas Social Studies curriculum standards. You can review the revisions here. Also check out our previous reviews.
When it comes to high school social studies standards, Texas does not break the standards up by grade. Instead, they provide standards for specific disciplines, including US History since 1877, World History, World Geography, United States Government, Psychology, Sociology, Special Topics in Social Studies, Social Studies Research Methods, and Economics. I am going to end my series of reviews by focusing solely on the U.S. history standards.
p.1: The U.S. History to 1877 begins: “In United States History Studies Since 1877, which is the second part of a two-year study that begins in Grade 8, students study the history of the United States from 1877 to the present. The course content is based on the founding documents of the U.S. government, which provide a framework for its heritage (italics mine). I am confused why the outside reviewers opted to include this phrase and why it is necessary? What exactly does it mean to suggest that the “course content” in a post-1877 U.S. history course “is based on the founding documents of the U.S. government?” How will the “founding documents” be incorporated into this course? This needs further qualification.
p. 2: In the high school curriculum, the content of the “Celebrate Freedom” week has been expanded. For example, “the student is expected to identify and analyze the text, intent, meaning, and importance of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, including the Bill of Rights and the full text of the first three paragraphs of the preamble to the Declaration of Independence….” Also, “the student is expected to identify and analyze the application of these founding principles to historical events in U.S. history” and “explain the contributions of the Founding Fathers such as Benjamin Rush, John Hancock, John Jay, John Witherspoon, John Peter Muhlenberg, Charles Carroll, and Jonathan Trumbull.”
As I have mentioned in previous posts, this “Celebrate Freedom Week” was added by the State Board of Education (SBOE). Two thoughts: First, I wonder if so much exploration of the Founding period is necessary in a post-1877 history course. Second, the choice of Founding Fathers is biased toward those men who expressed some sort of Christian commitment. Now I am not opposed to students learning about Witherspoon (Presbyterian), Jay (Anglican), or Carroll (Catholic), but it seems as if the conservative Board is dabbling in the same kind of selective history that they accuse their liberal opponents of engaging in. Where is Franklin, Jefferson, Washington, Thomas Paine, Ethan Allen, etc…? This seems to be a deliberate attempt to “Christianize” the standards at the expense of fair coverage.
p.3: In the 1877-1898 period, “The students is expected to analyze political issues such as Indian policies, the growth of political machines, civil service reform, and the beginnings of populism. (Italics are mine). The “populist” standard was added by the outside reviewers. I don’t know why it was added. Perhaps Tea Party conservatives want students to learn about populism. Or perhaps liberals want students to learn about William Jennings Bryan and the redistribution of wealth. Whatever the case, this is a good addition.
p.3: In the 1898-1920 period we begin to get into some of the most controversial parts of the standards. For example, the world “imperialism” has been replaced with “expansionism” when referencing the Spanish-American War and the United States acquisition of Guam, Hawaii, the Philippines, and Puerto Rico. “Expansionism,” of course, implies the spreading of American ideals and values to these places. “Imperialism” is a bit more ominous term that implies a somewhat “forced” exportation of American ideals to these places. Anyone who has studied this period in any detail knows that the actions of the United States in these parts of the world have not always been commendable. (Students should really read a poem like Kipling “White Man’s Burden” here and debate which word is most appropriate). “Expansionism” and “imperialism” are both words that can describe the way the shapers of U.S. foreign policy in this period saw their mission. If a wide array of primary documents are used here, students will see that both “expansionism” and “imperialism” were at work here.
p.5: The board does not want U.S. foreign policy to be seen as imperialistic, but its members have no problem changing “expansion” to “aggression” when describing the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
This leads to an interesting thought. High school students would probably learn more about history and historical thinking if they were given the revisions to these standards and asked to debate them in class. By doing so they would see the way politics and American exceptionalism have contributed to the historical narrative they are being taught. A teacher might ask them why the word “expansion” is used to describe U.S. foreign policy, but “aggression” was chosen for the Soviet Union. High school students are definitely ready for this kind of analysis and historical thinking. Let them see first-hand how politics are shaping the curriculum in Texas.
p.5: Students are expected to “describe how McCarthyism, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), the arms race, and the space race increased Cold War tensions and how the later release of the Verona Papers confirmed suspicions of communist infiltration in the U.S. government.” I am not expert on the Cold War or anti-communism, but it seems as if this standard could strike more of a balance. Sure, students can learn about the Verona Papers, but they should also learn about the unnecessary hysteria associated with McCarthyism.
p.6-7: “The student understands the impact of political, economic, and social factors in the U.S. role in the world from the 1970s through 1990.” This standards seems to be overly politicized. (And I might add that all of it was added by either the SBOE or the outside reviewers). In this standard, students learn about Nixon and Reagonomics. But I am confused about why a standard about the “U.S. role in the world” from 1970-1990 should require students to learn about Phyllis Schafly, the Contract with America, the Heritage Foundation, the Moral Majority, and the National Rife Association.” These conservative organizations and movements had little to do with foreign policy. Moreover, the fact that these groups are included and not liberal or moderate political organizations is perhaps the most blatant example of the way in which politics is driving this entire process.
p.10: There has been much debate over the SBOE’s attempt to require students to learn about “American exceptionalism.” I have no problem with this, as long as the concept is taught historically and not politically. “American exceptionalism” has certainly been a dominant theme in American history. No historian would deny this. As a result, students should learn about it. But if the purpose behind this standard is to endorse American exceptionalism, then I have a problem with the standard–not because I agree or disagree with American exceptionalism, but because a good history teacher does not use the past to endorse political positions.
p.11: These all seems very silly, but if you are going to include “country and western music” then why not also include “hip hop?”
I will stop there. The SBOE will decide on these things this week.