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Conservative backlash pushes Texas social studies curriculum review to 2025

 Students work in class at Sanchez Elementary School in Austin on Nov. 10.
Mikala Compton
/
Reuters
Students work in class at Sanchez Elementary School in Austin on Nov. 10.

The State Board of Education narrowly voted Friday to delay updating the state’s social studies curriculum until 2025 after facing pressure from conservatives over proposed changes.

Earlier this week, board members said they would push back the social studies review after hours of public comment. The board voted 8-7 Friday to delay the social studies overhaul.

People are standing in an office lobby holding signs during a news conference. Education Texas Democrats and teachers blast plans to postpone changes to social studies standards Becky Fogel

“We have time now to hear different ideas,” said board member Will Hickman, who voted in favor of the delay.

Board member Marisa B. Perez-Diaz said not moving forward with the updates is a “failure” for the board.

While it put off adjusting the state’s social studies curriculum — like adding courses that focus on Asian American and Native American studies and learning about the gay pride movement — the board did take steps to change the years Texans students will learn about the state’s history.

Currently, Texas students learn about the state’s history in fourth and seventh grades. Board members were considering eliminating that timetable to have students in grades six through eight learn both U.S. and Texas history.

Instead, the board voted 10-4 in favor of using Hickman’s proposed order of teaching Texas history to fifth and eighth graders.

“I heard from a number of public teachers, educators, parents that they want two dedicated years of Texas,” Hickman said. “And their concern is, if we put Texas together with U.S., Texas gets watered down or ignored.”

Texas Education Agency officials said that the original proposal would have expanded the reach of Texas history, making it a requirement in more grade levels. But more conservative members of the public argued that the lack of dedicated years devoted solely to Texas history would dilute the instruction.

State Rep. Steve Toth, R-The Woodlands, said Texas and U.S history need to have dedicated school years as they are the most important history students will learn.

Board members who voted to delay the vote said they did not like the proposed order in which students would be taught Texas history even though the board initially accepted the order months ago.

Work groups, made up of educators, parents and industry experts selected by the state board and the TEA, spent the last year crafting these new proposals. The next step would’ve been for the state board to amend the recommendations and adopt them by the end of the year.

On Monday, the Texas Freedom Caucus, a group of Republican lawmakers in the state House, wrote a letter to the education board threatening legislative intervention if no “substantial changes” were made to the proposal.

“In a stunning reversal of the spirit in which the Legislature passed several reforms meant to protect children last session, the proposed changes require educators to, among other things, violate Texas laws by, for example, teaching subjects associated with critical race theory,” the letter stated.

Other proposed updates included teaching second graders about Juneteenth — a commeration of June 19, 1865, when enslaved people in Galveston received the news they were free — with a book that describes George Floyd’s murder by a Minneapolis police officer as “brutal” and “race-driven” and how the incident spurred national attention to the holiday. The LGBTQ pride movement would have been taught in eighth grade in addition to the civil rights and women’s liberation movements.

Members of the public who supported the updates said they are needed to make history instruction more comprehensive and inclusive. State lawmakers and parents who opposed the changes argued that they are an attempt to bring in critical race theory — the college-level discourse that examines the impact of systematic racism — into secondary education. Critical race theory is not taught in Texas’ public elementary and secondary schools.

Delaying the process could allow more conservative candidates who are against so-called critical race theory to be elected to the State Board of Education before the standards are revisited. Several Texas Republicans against critical race theory won primaries this spring and will be on the ballot for the State Board of Education general election in November.

The State Board of Education’s 15-member board reviews the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills for social studies about every decade. The curriculum sets the standards for how the state’s 5.5 million public school students of all grades learn the subject.

The debate over this year’s proposed changes has grown heated, especially regarding how America’s history of racism should be taught and what books kids should be able access on campuses. Last year, state lawmakers passed a law to limit how America’s history of slavery and racism is taught in schools.

Senate Bill 3 bars teachers from claiming that the advent of slavery in America represents the true founding of the United States. Instead, teachers must inform students that slavery was a “deviation” from American principles. Students cannot be required to learn about The New York Times’ Pulitzer Prize-winning “1619 Project,” which the Times describes as putting “the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative.”


From The Texas Tribune

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