AUSTIN, Texas – The Texas State Board of Education preliminarily adopted new social studies standards Friday after days of heated debate marked by race and politics, shaping what teachers will be required to cover in social studies, history and economics classes for millions of students for the next decade.
In amendment after amendment, the board's ultra-conservative faction wielded their power to shape lessons on the civil rights movement, the U.S. free enterprise system, religion and hundreds of other topics. The board voted 11-4 to adopt the standards, after almost three days of emotional debate. A final vote is expected in May.
Decisions by the board — long led by social conservatives who have advocated ideas such as teaching more about the weaknesses of evolutionary theory — affects textbook content nationwide because Texas is one of publishers' biggest clients.
"We have been about conservatism versus liberalism," said Democrat Mavis Knight of Dallas, explaining her vote against the standards. "We have manipulated strands to insert what we want it to be in the document, regardless as to whether or not it's appropriate."
Republican Terri Leo, a member of the powerful Christian conservative voting bloc, called the standards "world class" and "exceptional."
In earlier votes, the elected board — made up of lawyers, a dentist and a weekly newspaper publisher among others — rejected an attempt to ensure that children learn why the U.S. was founded on the principle of religious freedom.
But, the board agreed to strengthen nods to Christianity by adding references to "laws of nature and nature's God" to a section in U.S. history that requires students to explain major political ideas.
They agreed to strike the word "democratic" in references to the form of U.S. government, opting instead to call it a "constitutional republic."
In addition to learning the bill of rights, the board specified a reference to the Second Amendment right to bear arms in a section about citizenship in a U.S. government class and agreed to require economics students to "analyze the decline of the U.S. dollar including abandonment of the gold standard."
Conservatives beat back multiple attempts to include hip-hop as an example of a significant cultural movement.
They argued over how historic periods should be classified (still B.C. and A.D., rather than B.C.E. and C.E.); whether or not students should be required to explain the origins of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and its impact on global politics (they will); and whether former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir should be required learning (she will).
Numerous attempts to add the names or references to important Hispanics throughout history also were denied, inducing one amendment that would specify that Tejanos died at the Alamo alongside Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie.
A day earlier, longtime board member Mary Helen Berlanga accused her colleagues of "whitewashing" the standards and walked out of the panel's meeting in frustration.
Berlanga also bristled when the board approved an amendment that deletes a requirement that sociology students "explain how institutional racism is evident in American society."