Texas Textbook Debate Inflames Passions on All Sides


The Texas School Board of Education continues to finalize changes to the state's curriculum today, in what has become a hyper-partisan, drawn-out debate, leaving both liberals and conservatives angry and exasperated.

"Setting up a structure so that teachers can teach their students history should be easy. It should be boring and uncontroversial, too," declared Michael Hurta of the prominent, left-leaning Texas blog the Burnt Orange Report. "But it's not like that."

The board decided yesterday that Texas students will be required to evaluate efforts by global organizations to undermine U.S. sovereignty, and that students must discuss the solvency of "long-term entitlements such as Social Security and Medicare."

In one of the most contentious moments Thursday came when the board added a reference to President Obama. One of the conservatives on the board wanted to refer to the president by his full name, Barack Hussein Obama, but liberals on the board decried the motion as underhandedly derogatory.

"Thursday was supposed to be the board's chance to debate the social studies standards before it votes on the final product today, and the squabbling was mind-numbing," Texas Observer reporter Abby Rapoport writes. "It was clear things weren't going to go smoothly when the board members began to debate whether slavery was the primary cause of the Civil War."

The injection of politics and ideology into the discussion about curriculum drew hundreds of citizens to Thursday's meeting to testify both for and against the changes the board is considering adopting. Interested parties are following the debate on Twitter with the hashtags #SaveHistory and #SBOE. Liberals are even using the debate to fundraise for two Democratic board candidates.

The board continued debate today, passing an amendment comparing "communist command economies" and "free enterprise," according to Rapaport. It also revisited one of the most contentious proposals on the table -- to downplay the role of Thomas Jefferson in American history and add more about religious figures like John Calvin. The proposal has drawn criticism from educators and others.

Valerie Strauss at the Washington Post writes that the proposed changes regarding Jefferson might be "most egregious twist of history" the board is considering.

"It makes you wonder why education reformers only insist that teachers are highly qualified to keep their jobs," Strauss writes. "Shouldn't there be some basic test of sanity for people who make education policy?"

Meanwhile, Jay Nordlinger of National Review Online mocks the liberal outrage over the changes such as the discussion about efforts to "undermine" U.S. sovereignty.

"What kind of fascist talk is that?" he writes. "And are they suggesting that something could be wrong with global organizations? No wonder Texas acquired a reputation for boobery."

The board's decisions will set the standards for the history curriculum for about 4.8 million public school students in Texas for the next 10 years. Given the large size of the Texas textbook market, the changes could to influence curriculums nationwide.