Politics of Education: New Texas Social Sciences Curriculum Standards Fraught with Ideology, Critics Say

The Texas State Board of Education today approved controversial new standards for its social studies curriculum that could affect what students across the country study in their classes.

The 15-member board dominated by conservative Republicans rejected calls for a delay and voted 9-5 to establish new standards for textbooks and teaching history, economics and other civics classes that will take effect in August 2011.

VIDEO: Texas State board of education will vote on changes to history curriculum.
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The new standards call for a greater focus on the Biblical and Christian traditions of the founding fathers. It also calls for the teaching of free market principles, how government taxation and regulation can serve as restrictions to private enterprise, and emphasizes the achievements of Republican leaders, including former President Ronald Reagan and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

The new curriculum also states that the system of the U.S. government be called a "Constitutional Republic" rather than a "Democratic society." Additionally, it inserts a "Celebrate Freedom Week" during which Texas students will study the importance of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution.

Texas Textbook Controversy
Texas Textbook Controversy

"It's imperative that our children be taught the original direction of our country," board member and former chair Don McLeroy, who was voted out of office earlier this year, told ABC News. "And I think you tie that in with the concept of American exceptionalism that we've added to the standards. I think that it's important to understand why America is such a wonderful place."

McLeroy wrote in an op-ed in USA Today last month that the standards "challenge the powerful ideology of the left," whose "principles are diametrically opposed to our founding principles." But the self-described "Christian fundamentalist" argues that the board, which appointed a panel of experts last year to make recommendations, has not overreached on the ideological front.

"All we're doing is we're completing the story. We're restoring the balance," he said. "I think we're swinging to the middle."

Critics charge that the standards are a blatant attempt to insert an ideological and political agenda into Texas classrooms.

"Every child in Texas deserves the right to have authentic history. ... Not history that ought to promote somebody's political ideology," said Rod Paige, who served as Education secretary under President George W. Bush and a former superintendent of the Houston Independent School District -- the largest district in the state.

"I'm not so naive that I don't understand that the board's political leanings will be a part of it but I just think that it swings the pendulum too far. Right now it's moving too far to the right," Paige, a Republican, told ABC News.

The standards have drawn criticism from all fronts. Minority groups say that it doesn't place enough emphasis on the achievements of Hispanic leaders and merely skims through key historical events in the civil rights era. Civil rights groups charge that the Republican-heavy Board of Education simply wanted to inject a conservative, ideological agenda that dismisses historians' viewpoint.

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