A battle is being fought in Texas this week over the future of the state's social studies curriculum, with Christian conservatives pushing the state's educators to reduce the prominence of civil rights leaders such as Cesar Chavez and "support measures to strengthen teaching of Texas' and America's Christian heritage."
Some 4.8 million Texas students will learn from the curriculum being debated, but the impact of the committee's decisions could be far broader than that. As AP's April Castro notes, Texas is one of the largest states in the US, and publishers often adjust their textbooks to reflect the Texas curriculum. Thus, Texas' decision could affect what American students learn in history classes nationwide.
Socially conservative voices have gained powerful voices on the State Board of Education. Last summer, Gov. Rick Perry appointed Gail Lowe, a newspaper editor and avowed creationist, to head the board. Lowe had earlier said that "biology textbooks which do not teach both the scientific strengths and weaknesses of the theory of evolution must be rejected by the board."
"Some board members and the non-expert ideologues they appointed to a review panel have made it clear that they want students to learn that the founding fathers intended America to be an explicitly Christian nation with laws based on their own narrow interpretations of the Bible," the AP quoted Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network.
Among the more controversial conservative appointees to the state's curriculum committees was Bill Ames, a former IBM executive who late last year penned an article entitled "The Left's War on US History," in which he accuses other members of the State Board of Education of being planted in their positions by liberal groups.
The Dallas Morning News reports that an email campaign has been launched "to sway Republican board members who are not part of the panel's social conservative bloc urged them to resist 'extreme left wing ideology' reflected in the proposal curriculum standards and 'support measures to strengthen teaching of Texas' and America's Christian heritage'."
Leading the effort to combat the social conservatives on the board is the Texas Freedom Network, which has allied itself with a number of religious leaders who are arguing for a clear separation of church and state in the Texas curriculum.
“The instruction of religious faith, discipleship and a life of service — one shaped by devotion and piety — is the responsibility of each faith community, whether church, synagogue or mosque," the Houston Chronicle quoted the Rev. Marcus McFaul, senior pastor at Highland Park Baptist Church in Austin. "It is the responsibility of parents and parishes, not public schools.”
Board member David Bradley, whom the Chronicle describes as "a leader of the board's seven social conservative members," rejected the religious leaders' arguments, saying “I listen to my own pastor.” Bradley told the newspaper “there will be efforts (by board members making amendments) to preserve, protect and strengthen America's godly heritage.”
One of the many flashpoint issues being fought at the curriculum board appears to have been settled at this point, with labor leader Cesar Chavez retaining his place in the Texas curriculum, according to the Associated Press.
Board chair Lowe had argued that Chavez “lacks the stature … and contributions” to be included in the curriculum and should not “be held up to our children as someone worthy of emulation.” But Lowe said ahead of Wednesday's hearing that Chavez would remain in the curriculum.
The United Farm Workers of America -- the group Chavez helped to create -- recently said that conservative board members are worried about “overrepresentation of minorities” in the current social studies curriculum.
More than 130 people have signed up to speak at a hearing in Austin Wednesday of the State Board of Education's curriculum committee, which will hold a preliminary vote Thursday on the shape of the state's social studies classes for the next decade.
Brian Thevenot at the Texas Tribune argues that the board has enough social conservatives to heavily influence the Texas curriculum.
And so a fifteen-member elected board dominated by social conservatives, few of them educators, will once again decide what will and won’t be taught in Texas public schools. Their influence will be magnified exponentially, as usual, because the content of textbooks in the lucrative Texas market drives what publishers peddle in other states.
“They’ve got the votes,” Thevenot quotes board member Pat Hardy. “You never know. Fasten your seat belt.”
(Editor's Note: Headline and first paragraph mistakenly reported conservatives were pushing against Latinos instead of civil rights leaders)