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

"The problem is they want to put an emphasis on certain people and spotlight on certain people in history who are all predominantly Anglo-Americans," said Terri Burke, executive director of the ACLU's Texas chapter. "We should've had historians and educators overseeing the curriculum requirements. Instead, these board members who don't have any more expertise than I do have imposed their personal beliefs, their own ideological agenda, on this curriculum."

Some academics say there's too much ideological slant in the standards and not enough emphasis on problem solving and analytical thinking.

"The political debate over who's on the list has kind of hijacked the process," said Keith Erekson, assistance professor of history at University of Texas, El Paso. "Nobody's even asking, is laundry list a good way to design an entire education system?"

Controversial Education Standards Cause National Uproar

On Tuesday, members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), community leaders, teachers and organizations rallied in Austin, Texas, against the proposed amendments.

The debate over the standards reached a fever pitch Wednesday, when more than 200 speakers lined up to testify in an intense and chaotic public board meeting over standards that lasted more than 12 hours. Since the review process for the social studies kicked off in January, 2009, the board has received more than 22,000 comments, and that number is growing. More than 300 amendments have been offered since January alone.

With 4.7 million students in public schools, Texas boasts the nation's second-largest school system, and is the second largest purchaser of textbooks, after California. Publishers often tailor textbooks to meet standards set by Texas because the state buys so many books. That means schools across the country are likely to be affected and students could be learning more about free market principles and Christian traditions than they had bargained for.

"Nationwide our textbooks are used in 47, maybe 48 states so it's going to have an impact across the country," Burke said. "Textbook publishers want to ensure that their textbook content meets the Texas standards. ... That impact is huge."

What textbook publishers may do is add the new information required by the state of Texas into sidebars or subsections, professor Erekson said, and remove those for editions printed for other states. But the changes are already causing a national uproar.

In California -- the nation's largest buyer of textbooks -- Democratic state Sen. Leland Yee introduced a bill this month that would require California's Board of Education to look out for any Texas content when reviewing its books.

The proposed changes in Texas "pose a serious threat" to the California's education code, "as well as a threat to the apolitical nature of public school governance and academic content standards in California," the bill states.

Role of Religion Stirs Heated Debate

The new standards infuse greater emphasis on the role of religion among the founding fathers, a role that some historians say is questionable but others argue is part of history.

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