Texas Social Studies Standards

Congratulations to the Texas State Board of Education, which has withstood a ferocious assault from the Left and passed new social studies curriculum guidelines. The new guidelines are a significant improvement over what were already excellent guidelines:

  • They give students similar academic experiences in lower grades that create a common basis for further coursework but give high school teachers and students more flexibility. Most of the Board’s amendments have moved historical figures from the suggested to the required list for elementary and middle school students, and from the required to the suggested list for high school students.
  • They replace ideologically tendentious language with more neutral language. Examples: ‘Expansionism’ for ‘imperialism’; ‘free enterprise system’ for ‘capitalism’; ‘the reasons for U.S. entry’ into World War I, deleting ‘including propaganda.’
  • They replace vague language with more precise language. Examples: ‘Republic’ or ‘representative government’ for ‘democracy’; ‘free enterprise system’ for ‘capitalism.’
  • They improve the historical accuracy of the curriculum standards. Examples: (1) Most of the Founders were religious. They thought religion essential to the health of the republic. (2) The Venona papers show that the Soviets had infiltrated the U.S. government at high levels. (3) The new standards ask students to contrast ‘New Deal policies and opponents’ approaches’ rather than ‘Herbert Hoover’s and Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s approaches,’ which differed mostly in scale rather than in kind.
  • They improve the ideological balance of the curriculum standards. They ask students to analyze “the Social Gospel” and the “philanthropy of industrialists”; the Great Society and its unintended consequences; and to “understand how government taxation and regulation can serve as restrictions to private enterprise.”
  • They improve the depth of the curriculum standards. They include approaches to judicial interpretation; the historic origins and characteristics of fascism; Aquinas, Calvin, and Blackstone; important ancient and modern artists, scientists, and inventors; and the exploration of relations between historical, political, sociological, and economic factors.

I testified before the Board on Wednesday, and was shocked by the utter lack of sensible argument coming from the Left. Don’t take their complaints at face value; show that you’re more responsible than the Congress, the Attorney General, the State Department, etc., and read the standards yourself.

Perhaps the most telling example occurs in the elementary standards, which received relatively little attention. The Board changed

identify characteristics of good citizenship, such as a belief in justice, truth, equality, and responsibility for the common good

to

identify characteristics of good citizenship, including truthfulness, equality, respect for others and oneself, responsibility in daily life, and participation in government by educating oneself about the issues, holding public officials to their word, and voting.

In short, the old standards defined good citizenship purely in terms of believing—in justice, equality, etc.—in other words, as being a liberal. The new standards define good citizenship in terms of being and doingbeing virtuous and doing one’s duty. That’s an important and badly needed change.

Benjamin JealousTestifying before the Board was an education in another way as well. The media were there in force for the first few speakers (including me), but most left after hearing from Benjamin Jealous, the President of the NAACP, who quite remarkably had almost nothing to say. He seemed deeply concerned about one particular change, from ‘the growth of the Atlantic slave trade’ to ‘the triangular trade and the growth of slavery,’ which he called “offensive.” I didn’t get it, and neither did most of the Board, but they ended up accommodating him. As soon as Jealous finished, several dozen of his supporters, and a majority of the media, departed. Most of the media, plainly, had already written their narratives before coming for the day of public hearings. They just needed some footage to accompany the already-written story. The news isn’t so much reported as manufactured by a fairly sizable group of media personnel, public officials, and “public interest” organizations.

UPDATE: To judge the degree of media bias, consider these two pictures of Board Chair Don McLeroy, whom I observed to be unflappably fair-minded. Here is what he actually looks like (though in reality he’s thinner):

Don McLeroy

And here’s the picture from the Austin-American Statesman article about the public hearings (with his hand raised, voting; he’s not wearing a shroud!):

The State Board of Education received  a record 206 requests from people wanting to weigh in Wednesday on new social studies standards for public schools. The meeting at the Travis Building in downtown Austin went into the evening.

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