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More changes sought for history textbooks

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://www.elpasotimes.com/news/ci_15100145 More changes sought for history textbooks By Zahira Torres Austin Bureau Posted: 05/17/2010 12:00:00 AM MDT
    Message 1 of 1 , May 17, 2010

      More changes sought for history textbooks
      By Zahira Torres \ Austin Bureau
      Posted: 05/17/2010 12:00:00 AM MDT

      AUSTIN -- A social conservative on the State Board of Education said he plans to keep working to the last moment to correct years of liberal bias in history classes.

      Don McLeroy, a member of the board's majority conservative bloc, said he will propose at least nine more amendments at this week's board meetings to establish history curriculum standards for the state's 4.8 million public school children.

      The standards will shape what students learn in history classes during the next decade and help guide the development of textbooks. A final vote will be taken Friday.

      One of McLeroy's proposals is for students to question the separation of church and state as they study the First Amendment.

      Another would amend the standards to cast muckrakers and reformers such as Upton Sinclair, Susan B. Anthony, Ida B. Wells and W.E.B. Dubois as figures espousing negative views of America. McLeroy said such figures should be contrasted with optimistic immigrants that include Jean Pierre Godet as told in painter Thomas Kinkade's book "The Spirit of America."

      A Republican from College Station, McLeroy lost his bid for re-election but he remains in office until January.

      Conservative members of the board have already added measures such as one that would require high school students to learn more about the "conservative resurgence of the 1980s and 1990s, including Phyllis Schlafly, the Contract with America, the Heritage Foundation, the Moral Majority, and the National Rifle Association."

      McLeroy said his faction is simply trying to make sure that schoolchildren learn both sides of history -- the liberal and the conservative.

      Rene Nuñez, El Paso's Democratic representative on the board, said a majority of members on the board are not qualified to decide the particulars of a history curriculum.

      "He's a dentist," Nuñez said of McLeroy.

      The Texas Education Agency has received more than 20,000 phone calls, letters and e-mails from as far away as Europe about the issue. So far, more than 170 people have signed up to speak at the board meeting.

      Some black and Latino lawmakers who have called for a delay in the vote may be among the speakers.

      Critics have said the standards have not done enough to represent the struggles and contributions of minorities. Conservative board members said they have included more minorities than ever before.

      The group of minority state legislators has threatened to withhold funding for textbooks, reduce the board's authority and request that newly elected board members revisit the curriculum process when they take office in January.

      Democratic gubernatorial candidate Bill White also wants the board to put off its decision on how history should be taught.

      He said his opponent, Republican Gov. Rick Perry, should intervene and push Gail Lowe, his appointed chairwoman on the board, to postpone any votes on changes.

      Lowe, an elected member of the board, has said that members would not halt the vote.

      White specifically criticized the board's decision to remove Thomas Jefferson's name from a section in World History that includes the Age of Enlightenment. Jefferson's name was not in the past set of standards, but the addition had been recommended by teacher groups. Jefferson is mentioned in various other sections.

      White said his biggest concern was that the board had substituted its political views for the positions of experts. But he stopped short of criticizing the board for a conservative slant.

      "My objection to the state board's actions is not based on ideology," he said in an interview. "I would object to the intrusion of politics into matters of educational curriculum, regardless of where people stood on the political spectrum."

      Perry has steered clear of the topic. His staff has said that he supports the process.

      Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott said the political battles over the state's history standards had been overblown.

      Some decisions made by the board so far have prompted criticism by talk-show pundits and late-night television comedians.

      They also provoked the passage of a bill by the California Senate Committee on Education. It would require California's own board of education to make sure that Texas' decisions do not seep into West Coast textbooks.

      Scott wants the board to vote on standards this week and believes that the worst thing lawmakers can do is reverse that decision.

      He and other agency officials said delaying the vote would postpone the purchase of books and materials that will prepare educators for the new standards.

      Some lawmakers have pointed to the state's budget crisis as a reason that the $800 million price tag for history books could be delayed.

      But Scott said a delay would also disrupt the schedule for creating the required end-of-year course exams. Agency officials said that will cost additional money but could not provide estimates.

      And agency officials said educators need sufficient time and training to learn how to teach the new standards before they are implemented in 2013.

      Scott said he is studying whether the standards meet the state's college readiness goals but he does not believe his recommendations will slow the process.

      He said the board should come to an understanding and move forward.

      "There are those who for many years believed there has been a liberal bias in public education," Scott said. "There are those now who claim that the board is shifting us to a conservative bias. On the overall read of the curriculum, I see it as fairly balanced"

      A pair of college professors said some of the biggest problems with the standards have gone virtually ignored because the debate has focused on political rhetoric.

      Jesus Francisco de la Teja, a history professor at Texas State University, was one of six experts appointed by the board to help shape curriculum standards.

      Some of the standards proposed by review committees were later modified or dropped by the board. The board proposed about 300 of its own amendments during the process.

      De La Teja said the standards are too big and there should be a consensus on what aspects of the standards should be enforced so that teachers are not overwhelmed by the requirements.

      He said that the standards should be adopted, but the Legislature should address how to limit the board's authority in the future.

      "The board brought this on itself by taking such a silly approach to the whole thing and venting such extremist positions on both sides," he said.

      Keith Erekson, a UTEP professor who has been following the months-long process, said standards are bloated because the board added too many names.

      "A student in my class won't pass by spitting out 50 names," Erekson said. "I can't name one career where you will be promoted if you can spit back 50 names."

      Zahira Torres may be reached at ztorres@...; 512-479-6606.
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