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Debate Begins About How Texas Students Learn History

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On Monday, state education leaders will embark on a complex process of revising the standards for what children should learn about the complex past and present of the world, Texas and America.

State boards of education will hold hearings on what students will learn in social studies classes, pushing them into a national spotlight that has grown even brighter amid mounting political pressure.

A draft of the proposed state standards, known as Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS), is available online. Education advocates are encouraged by what’s in them so far and hope the elected board will “listen to experts and set aside the political agenda” .

Carisa Lopez, political director of the Texas Freedom Network, said, “Despite all the efforts of state leaders to turn schools into culture war battlefields, what we see in the draft so far is unreliable. “The teachers and scholars of the working group have done a pretty good job of putting politics aside and writing standards that teach truth and address the experiences of the diverse communities that have contributed to America’s story.” .”

Lopez’s organization is watching the hearings closely. Previous revisions to the standards have sparked controversy over the separation of church and state and dealing with negative aspects of U.S. history.

The conservative group also said it was an attempt to “remove references to the country’s Christian heritage and focus less on current and historical heroes and those who share such values.” I am warning you of what they believe.

A Texas Values ​​group is rallying members to appear in Austin to relate elements of the revision to red meat issues, including “important racial theories.”

With more than 5 million students enrolled in the state’s public schools, Texas curriculum decisions have a tremendous impact on what children across the country learn.

The last major overhaul of the Social Studies TEKS took place in 2010. But the standards framework hasn’t really changed since his early 2000s, said Renee Blackmon, former president of the Texas Association of Social Studies Supervisors.

“This is the first time, in perhaps 20 years, what looks like a very significant overhaul of the framework of what is taught in social studies in Texas,” Blackmon said. “So I think people who are surprised by the changes need to remember that there have been many changes, such as curriculum work, how children learn, and the importance of background knowledge.”

Since our last review, the battle over the so-called “important race theory” has energized conservatives about how American history is taught. Critical race theory is an academic framework that explores the ways policies and laws support systemic racism in education, housing, criminal justice, and more.

Conservative experts have confused diversity and inclusion efforts, anti-racism training, and multicultural curricula.

Republican lawmakers voted to ban CRTs from classrooms during the last session. The resulting law was ambiguous and raised concerns from educators about the chilling effect of social studies on classrooms.

Blackmon said the lawmakers’ message to educators was that teachers didn’t want to indoctrinate students with politics in the classroom.

“Then don’t give me politically motivated TEKS,” she stressed. “It comes from both sides. If you don’t want to do it in the classroom, don’t come and put it in TEKS.”

Major changes

Perhaps the most significant update to the standards will redefine the age at which students learn Texas and world history. In the first grade, students learn broader concepts related to community.

In the new draft under consideration, history is taught more chronologically throughout elementary and middle school. From kindergarten through her sophomore year, students build a foundational knowledge of Texas, U.S., and world history, with a focus on culture and immigration, as directed by the State Board of Education.

Students in grades 3-5 devote time to world history, beginning with the development of civilization and hunter-gatherers. Beginning in sixth grade, the emphasis is on Texas and US history.

The working group drafting the new standard considered the previous Texas model and other state models during the brainstorming process. Then, according to Megan Doherty, who participated in a work group focused on teaching elementary and middle school, they set out to determine exactly where classes would break for each grade level.

“Obviously, the whole thing is very different,” said Doherty, president of the Texas Association of Superintendents of Social Studies. “This will bring a new focus to social studies.”

Dougherty, a longtime 6th grade social studies teacher, says there are gaps in the knowledge of students entering the course because this is the first time the children are exposed to other societies and cultures outside the United States. says.

Some have criticized the standards for Texas’ youngest students as being too broad.

“You spent three years in this community realm and no one could really point out what you learned in terms of content,” says Blackmon. “The children were indeed reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, but they were only learning the names of holidays and important people, not the important structures they had to learn about communities, countries, and the world. did. “

An emphasis on world history at an early age would benefit students and provide the necessary context for lessons they would learn years later, Doherty said.

The new curriculum also incorporates a variety of perspectives not emphasized in traditional social studies instruction. For example, Dougherty’s working group was conscious of incorporating indigenous history into middle school instruction.

“It is important to embrace multiple perspectives, multiple narratives, move away from a Eurocentric, British-centric view of U.S. history, and actually give more voice to other groups that have played important roles in history. I believed there was,” said Dougherty.

In recent years, SBOE has approved or advanced the development of a number of ethnic studies courses aimed at focusing on specific cultures.

After a lengthy and sometimes controversial battle, the Board approved the Standards for Mexican American Studies in 2018. African American Studies is next, and courses are underway that focus not only on Asian American Studies, but also on Native Americans and Indigenous Studies.

However, these classes are mainly available as high school electives and are out of reach for younger students.

ignite a debate

Previous revisions to social studies standards have resulted in controversial political battles and pitfalls over how certain events are characterized.

In 2018, a working group advising the SBOE proposed removing the term “heroic” from the criteria for defenders of the Alamo.

“Stop Political Correctness in Our Schools” Governor Greg Abbott Twitter reaction at the time“Of course, Texas schoolchildren should be taught that the Alamo defenders are ‘heroic’!”

The Council also disagreed on whether to refer to Moses as “the individual whose laws and principles of agency informed the founding documents of America.” Ultimately, SBOE members chose to keep references to the heroic defender and Moses as influence over government.

Texas History Curriculum: Featuring Hillary Clinton and the Alamo “Heroes”.Oprah leaves

An updated draft of the high school curriculum removes references to Moses. Instead, the working group is proposing adding Moses to future guides that teachers can use to inform their work.

Instead, the suggestions for elementary and middle school students identify the Alamo as an important Texas symbol and ask students to compare different perspectives on the siege and fall of the Alamo. Defender heroism is not mentioned, but students should also be able to explain the motivations of the volunteers to stay and defend the Alamo.

Blackmon said removing the biased wording from the standard is a positive move for SBOE.

“Any time you’re using language that uses examples like excellent, good, excellent, unique, you’re introducing biased language into the document,” Blackmon said.

SBOE will hold its first public hearing on the new draft on Monday. The Board will hold his second meeting on the matter in late August and will adopt final standards in November. Publishers then begin writing new textbooks and materials to meet the standards.

The DMN Education Lab deepens coverage and conversations about pressing education issues important to the future of North Texas.

The DMN Education Lab is a community-funded journalism initiative that includes the Beck Group, Bobby and Lottie Lyle, Texas Community Foundation, Dallas Foundation, Dallas Area Chamber of Commerce, Dee Dee Rose, Garrett and Cecilia Boone, Meadows Foundation, and Murrell Foundation. , Solutions Journalism Network, Southern Methodist University, Todd A. Williams Family Foundation, University of Texas at Dallas. The Dallas Morning News retains full editorial control over the journalism of the Education Lab.