Public school curriculum is becoming the national hot topic of debate. From ethnic studies in Arizona to American history in Texas, major changes are being made to public school curriculum.
The State Board of Education in Texas recently approved a new social studies curriculum that will be introduced during the next school year. Educators will spend the year getting trained on how to teach the new curriculum, which will be used in classrooms beginning with the 2011-2012 school year. The discussion over the seemingly religion-based revisions began in January and has been the source of intense international attention and comment, according to an update on the Texas Education Agency website.
What the Curriculum Includes
The revised curriculum, dubbed the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, will paint American history in a rather different light, with a definitive Christian, conservative slant. While the New York Times cited more than 100 amendments that have been passed on the curriculum since discussions began in January, the Washington Post and the Texas Education Agency list some of the major themes of the curriculum, which will include:
- Comparing the inaugural addresses of Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis
- Examining the reasons the Founding Fathers protected religious freedom and relating their intentions to the phrase, "separation of church and state"
- Downplaying Thomas Jefferson's role in the creation of our country (Jefferson was just one of the founding fathers who was not a professing Christian)
- Giving more attention to President Reagan and his role in American history
- Deleting the hip-hop culture as a part of America's recent history
- Discussing the solvency of long term government entitlements like Social Security and Medicare
- Discussing the infiltration of communists into the U.S. government during the Cold War through the use of the Verona papers
- Including the violent philosophies of the Black Panthers in addition to the non-violent approach of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
- Changing some terms, such as "capitalism" to "free-enterprise system" and "democracy" to "constitutional republic"
Other amendments, including one that emphasized the restriction of the government from promoting one particular religion above all others, and another that included the role of Hispanics in history, were voted down by the mostly conservative school board.
The primary goal of many of the amendments included in the Texas curriculum appears to be the inclusion of a pervasively pro-Republican take on American history. There are also concerns that the prevalence of racism throughout history is downplayed and the role of Christianity in the development of the United States is overemphasized. Most historians agree that the Founding Fathers were a diverse group in terms of their religious beliefs.
Those in Favor
Those in favor of the new Texas standards believe they are finally adding balance to a historical account primarily drafted by liberals. Dr. Don McLeroy, the leader of the conservative board faction, told the New York Times, "We are adding balance. History has already been skewed. Academia is skewed too far to the left." Conservative board members also believe that painting this country in a Christian light is essential to the core values and historical basis of this country.
"I believe the entire Bill of Rights came into being because of the knowledge our forefathers had of the Bible and their belief in it…I like to believe that we are living today in the spirit of the Christian religion and as long as we do so, no great harm can come to our country," board member Cynthia Dunbar was reported saying in the Daily Athenaeum.
However, not everyone agrees with the philosophies of the school board. In fact, many scholars and historians are calling the changes just plain wrong in terms of the actual facts of American history.
Six of the nine experts appointed by the school board to review the standards put forth the following statement that was reported in the Chronicle of Higher Education, "We feel that the SBOE's biased and unfounded amendments undercut our attempt to build a strong, balanced and diverse set of standards. Texans should be outraged at how the board rewrote standards without regard to standard historical interpretations."
Mavis B. Knight, a democrat on the board, told the New York Times after the vote, "The social conservatives have perverted accurate history to fulfill their own agenda."
The final standards will now be published in the state registrar for the next 30 days to allow the public to comment on them before a final vote is taken. However, given the conservative makeup of the board, most are predicting that the standards will remain unchanged until the final vote takes place.
The next major review of standards will be scheduled for another decade, according to the traditional path that reviews and revisions have taken in the past. Texas textbooks may also influence the teaching in other states, since the Texas school system is one of the largest textbook buyers in the country. With the change in curriculum, public school students may literally be witnessing quite a change in the pages of history.