By Gordon Jackson, Special to the NNPA from the Dallas Weekly –
AUSTIN, Texas – A week-long series of strong testimonies, marches, rallies and cries of injustice by nationally renowned figures such as NAACP President and CEO Ben Jealous and former U.S. Secretary of State Rod Paige could not deter a bloc of hard-core ultra “Christian Conservatives” of the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) from passing 9-5 a controversial social studies component of the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) curriculum in the late evening of May 21.
Unless other efforts are successful, the structure of the social studies curriculum will be implemented into Texas schoolbooks, by law, for the next 10 years and taught to over 4.7 million public school students. Further, with the state being the largest supplier of schoolbooks in the country, up to 40 percent of the rest of the nation could adopt the same curriculum for their school districts. The vote ended, at least for now, several months of heated debate and charges of attempting to rewrite history in a way that would drastically diminish the credibility and contributions of African Americans and Hispanics.
“I am ashamed of what we’ve done to the teachers and the students in this state, I will not support this travesty of a document,” said trustee Mavis Knight (D-Dallas), one of the five Democratic board members who have been fighting losing battles to prevent the adoption of the conservative curriculum.
“We might as well say Hispanics don’t exist,” said board member Mary Helen Berlanga (D-Corpus Christi). “We have hidden information; we have tried to cover up a lot of information. I guess there are people that have a difficult time with the truth. I feel that I have let down the students in our state.”
Much of the debate came to a head during the public hearing session on May 19, before overflowing crowds at the SBOE boardroom, where a total of 206 citizens signed to speak. The board was forced to turn away over half of that number as the testimonies ran into the late night hours. Jealous however was one of the first to speak and stated his case as to why the board should the delay the vote.
"We are entitled to our own opinion but we are not entitled to our own facts. We have to make sure our kids are taught what actually happened not what the school board wishes,” Jealous told the board. "We are concerned about quality, not quotas. We are concerned about our children learning the whole truth, not half of it."
Jealous commented on one example, where the Atlantic slave trade would be renamed the “Atlantic Triangular Trade.” Also that speeches by Confederate President Jefferson Davis, also a slave-owner, should be taught in equal value with Abraham Lincoln. “They will talk about the civil rights movement but not about the struggle,” Jealous said. “It minimizes the role of the civil rights movement. The civil rights movement moved our country and you got to talk about the facts. They will be learning something other than the truth. They will not be able to compete on SAT exams.”
Paige told the board: “In Texas, we’ve allowed the pendulum to swing backwards and forward. I’m asking that the swing (should) be narrower and let history speak for itself. What students are taught should not be the handmaiden of political ideology.
“We have allowed ideology to drive and define the standards of our curriculum in Texas.”
Other items within the proposed curriculum included the lauding of conservative institutions such as the Moral Majority, the National Rifle Association and the Contract with America with no counterbalance from the progressive perspective. Another states that President Thomas Jefferson’s contribution to the writing of the U.S. Constitution did not promote the concept of the Separation of Church and State, as believed before by many historians.
The actions of 1950s Senator Joseph McCarty, whose anti-Communist campaign resulted in the blacklisting of several Americans – many of them African Americans - will be recorded as justified, even though many of the blacklisting were deemed inaccurate and McCarthy left the Senate in disgrace.
The “Double V Campaign” of African American World War II veterans promoting to fight for equality both at home, as well as abroad, was “gutted from the current TEKS draft.”
Amendments have to be placed to keep the curriculum from removing the works of Thurgood Marshall, the nation’s first Black Supreme Court justice and the lead attorney behind the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education case and Caesar Chavez, the highly heralded labor organizer and Hispanic rights activist. The curriculum also purports that the gains made in the women and civil rights movements were more because of White-male benevolence instead of the courageous and death-defying sacrifices made by its leaders.
“Minimizing or misrepresenting African-American and Latino culture and history can lead to distorted beliefs regarding our fellow Americans,” Jealous said. “And it can lead students from those ethnic groups to have a skewed picture of themselves and their place in the world. Studies of high school dropout rates have shown that students became disengaged with classes because what they were learning didn't seem relevant to their lives.”
Another amendment revealed that President Barack Obama’s full name was previously absent from the high school curriculum. Republican member David Bradley motioned to further include Obama’s middle name “Hussein” into the amendment, for what Democratic trustees felt was for a wrong motive of stirring up the same controversy Obama endured during his presidential campaign. After debate, Bradley said: “I’ll put an end to the whining. I’ll withdraw the motion.”
Constantly, throughout the last several months, Democratic trustees Knight and Berlanga,” along with Rene Nunez (El Paso), Rick Agosto (San Antonio) and Lawrence Allen, Jr. (Houston) have been defeated in a string of 10-5 votes in their attempt to derail the conservative measures, with one of the moderate trustees occasionally siding with them, still resulting in 9-6 losing votes. The board considered the more that 20,000 responses and worked on many of the over 400 amendments that were recommended to tweak the curriculum, many of them at the 11th hour before the May 21 vote, which upset trustees.
“I don’t know of anyone that would be accepting cut-and-paste material now,” Berlanga said. “I don’t think a teacher would accept that from a student.”
Allen made the motion late Friday evening to delay the vote until this July, with moderate trustee Bob Craig (Lubbock) actually seconding the motion. Still, the motion was defeated 8-6, followed by the conservative side passing the curriculum for elementary, middle school and high school. The conservative board members held their positions throughout the debate. Don McLeroy (R-College Station) said the revisions, albeit last-minute, was proof that the curriculum was valid, calling any diminishing of minority representation as “clearly false.”
“We have corrected the imbalance and are heading straight in the right direction,” McLeroy said. “Children need to know what makes the country so great and unique.”
Cargill (R-The Woodlands) spoke about the amendment that will teach high school students not the “effects” of the free enterprise market economy, but its “benefits” in world history, without any counter argument.
“This is one of the most important things we teach our students, to value free enterprise,” said Barbara Cargill (R), author of the contentious last-minute addition.
"By delaying this process we're doing nothing but increasing the amount of disagreement," said Cargill. "Because we're never going to agree."
Terri Leo (R-Spring) said that it "punishes children if you delay a vote on a proclamation. This is a very transparent and public process unlike your [committee meetings]." Leo was criticized by several members of the audience, feeling that she disrespected Jealous when questioning the points during his public hearing testimony.
On the legislative front, the Texas Black Legislative Caucus, led by state representative Sylvester Turner (D-Houston) and the Mexican-American Legislative Caucus, led by state rep. Trey Martinez Fischer (D-San Antonio) have jointly expressed their displeasure, as they did at a May 19 rally held outside the Travis Building, sponsored by the Texas Freedom Network.
“This year, they are changing the record on slavery, celebrating the Confederacy and shedding a positive light on Jim Crow laws – they are rewriting African-American history,” said Gary Bledsoe, President of the Texas NAACP.
The NAACP has initiated a “Not in My State” campaign, hoping to spur a boycott of the textbooks.