TEKSWatch featured in Public History News

Texas Adopts Controversial Social Studies Standards
Carrie Dowdy | dowdyc@iupui.edu
Public History News 30, no. 3 (June 2010), 19

Months of debate and pleas from historians, civic leaders, and members of the public to delay a decision were not enough. On May 21, the Texas
State Board of Education (TSBOE) voted to change the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) state social studies standards. The 9-5 vote
was split along party lines, with Republicans in the majority. Among those who testified at a public hearing on May 19 urging the board to delay
the vote were NAACP President Ben Jealous and former U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige. The TEKS standards, signed into law in 1998,
provide a curricular framework for the nearly five million K-12 students in Texas.

In January 2009, the process began to update the TEKS social studies standards for the first time. Panels of subject review committees,
comprised of teachers and school board representatives, who suggested changes to the 1998 TEKS standards, and a panel of expert reviewers
(four professors, one minister, and the founder of WallBuildersTM), presented recommendations to the TSBOE in the fall of 2009. By January
2010, the board, which has the ultimate authority to change and approve the standards, began moving beyond the recommendations of the review
committees with amendments of its own.

Historians and other educators from across the state of Texas created TEKSWatch (https://organizations.utep.edu/Default.aspx?tabid=64604),
a network of volunteers, to fight the adoption of the new standards. NCPH member Keith Erekson, who is assistant professor of history at
the University of Texas at El Paso, is the organization’s director. TEKSWatch and other critics accuse the TSBOE of whitewashing U.S. history, glorifying the founding fathers and ignoring or giving little attention to the more difficult aspects, such as the European conquest of Native Americans, slavery, and the Civil Rights movement, of the nation’s past. They also decry the downplay of the concept of the separation of church and state and the omission or underrepresentation of minorities.

Additionally, critics call the standards a “laundry list” of facts and figures that do not encourage historical or critical thinking skills.
Prior to the TSBOE vote, numerous historical organizations released statements requesting a delay on the vote until further review and changes are made. In a May 11, 2010, statement, the Organization of American Historians declared that, “These amendments promote politically sectarian perspectives and thereby diminish the capacity of teachers to present students with an understanding of the past that conveys the best, most
professional historical research available.” The American Historical Association issued a similar statement on May 18, urging the TSBOE “to take up a further review” of the standards while “incorporating the wisdom already at the center of the Texas History Curriculum and World History Curriculum” and “reinstating the consistency in these matters that an older generation owes to a younger generation.” Over 1200 historians from across the nation
signed a petition opposing the new standards. Six of the nine members of the curriculum review panel that wrote the high school U.S. History standards released a statement expressing their “collective disgust…at the distorted culmination of our work” by the board’s amendments.

It is not clear if the reach of these standards will extend far beyond the Lone Star State. Although Texas has a large share of the nation’s textbook
sales (second only to California), and publishers in the past were inclined to align textbooks sold to smaller states with the TEKS standards, that is
less often the practice today.

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