Texas board debates high school history guidelines that could affect students nationwide

By April Castro, AP
Friday, January 15, 2010

Texas board debates high school history standards

AUSTIN, Texas — Texas’ board of education tackled high school history Friday, debating hip-hop and deciding how McCarthyism and immigration would be taught under new standards for teaching social studies that could affect students nationwide.

The State Board of Education was expected to take a first vote on the guidelines later Friday, after several days of discussion on topics such as which historical figures to hold students accountable for learning and whether second graders should be taught Aesop’s Fables. A final vote was due in March.

On Friday, the board waded through amendments for a third day, declining to strike the “Red Scare” from a high school history class and adding a reference to the Venona Papers, research that “confirmed suspicions of communist infiltration in U.S. government.”

It also agreed to require students to differentiate between “legal and illegal immigration” in a section on geography and changing demographic patterns.

An extended debate flared up when board member Don McLeroy proposed changing hip-hop to country in a section covering the impact of cultural movements on American society. His amendment failed.

“I support the hip-hop,” said board member Pat Hardy, a Fort Worth Republican. “I do not like hip-hop — can’t stand it myself — but I’m not 16. I think it’s had, in many ways, a negative effect in our society and I think that when we don’t discuss things, we don’t know. To pretend it’s not there is crazy.”

Board member Terri Leo, a Republican from the Houston area, said hip-hop music contributes to bad behavior and anorexia in some of the students she teaches.

The debate sometimes has been heated as the guidelines will dictate what about 4.8 million K-12 students must learn in social studies, history and economics over the next decade. The standards also will be used by textbook publishers who develop material for the nation based on Texas, one of their largest markets.

Before the board met, there had been arguments over how much prominence to give civil rights leaders such as Cesar Chavez and Thurgood Marshall. Most of those issues were settled by the time the board started culling through the proposed changes.

In their discussions earlier this week, the board added more names to the list of historic figures elementary school students would be expected to learn.

“We’re choking our kids with a list of names,” board member Pat Hardy, a Republican from Fort Worth, said as astronauts James A. Lovell, Ellen Ochoa and Girl Scouts founder Juliette Gordon Low were added to the third-grade list.

Jose Antonio Navarro, a Texas revolutionary and contemporary of early Texas leader Stephen F. Austin, was added to the kindergarten curriculum in response to a public push for more examples of notable Mexican Americans.

Other discussion centered on whether first-graders are old enough to learn about the accountability of public officials. The board decided they were.

The board also debated the merits of having second-graders read Aesop’s Fables, which will be included in the curriculum. After an initial recommendation and ensuing outcry, the board chose not to remove Christmas from a list of religious holidays and observances in a sixth-grade world cultures class.

Another flashpoint was expected over how much emphasis should be given to the religious beliefs of the nation’s founding fathers. Some activists want to highlight their Christianity, but others insist curriculum must emphasize the constitutional separation of church and state.

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