Monday, July 20, 2009

Van de Putte: As we debate curriculum, let's put students before politics

This is a great piece by Sen. Van de Putte. More of our state leaders should follow suit in speaking out on behalf of Texas children.


Leticia Van de Putte | Austin American-Statesman, SPECIAL CONTRIBUTOR
Monday, July 20, 2009

In the past, the State Board of Education has fought a divisive culture war in establishing curriculum standards for Texas schools rather than engaging in honest, vigorous debate over the best way to prepare our students for the future.

The 15-member board is charged with adopting policies and setting standards for Texas public schools, and it is currently preparing to adopt new social studies curriculum standards. These social studies standards will be in place for the next decade, and publishers will use them to create textbooks for sale in Texas and other states.

The board recently appointed a panel of experts to help revise the social studies curriculum. The panel includes two "experts" whose experience is not in the field of education or curriculum standards, but in partisan politics. These panelists have decided to use our children's social studies curriculum as a platform for their political agendas and have advocated against the inclusion of cultural studies and diversity in the curriculum. Board members and their appointees have complained about an "overrepresentation of minorities" in the current social studies standards. For example, a lesson on citizenship calls for students to identify individuals who have modeled active participation in the democratic process, one such individual being César Chávez. They have voiced objections to the inclusion of Chávez as part of the lesson because they believe that Chávez is not a role model who "ought to be held up to our children as someone worthy of emulation."

Chávez epitomizes a lesson in citizenship. Chávez fought to ensure Latino participation in the political process and for fair work conditions for all. The fact that his place in American history is disputable would surprise the students who attend the 44 schools across the country, including eight in Texas, named in his honor, as well the Texas and California legislators who voted to recognize César Chávez Day as state holidays.

We should all be concerned when the contributions of Chávez or other minority figures to American democracy are cast aside and ridiculed. We should welcome the inclusion of all Americans who have helped to make this nation great. My concern over the recommendation of these panelists regarding the social studies curriculum is part of my larger concern over the current direction of the education board. Some board members continue to put their political agendas ahead of the needs of Texas schoolchildren. This must end.

The social studies review panel will meet in Austin this month. The public will have a chance to weigh in at the public hearings as well as online after the initial recommendations have been posted. The final adoption of the updates is set for March, according to the Texas Education Agency.

We cannot afford to politicize the education of an entire generation of Texas schoolchildren. Education is too important. Decisions of the board are key in shaping our classrooms, and they should not be made based on party affiliation. Our schoolchildren deserve better, and it is my hope that the recently appointed chairwoman of the board, Gail Lowe, will begin a transformation of the board from one entrenched in partisan warfare into one in which the only battle is to increase the quality of our public schools.

Van de Putte, a Democrat, represents part of Bexar County in the Texas Senate and is a member of the Education Committee.

The audio stream of the State Board of Education meetings is available on the Texas Education Agency Web site,, by selecting the 'State Board of Education' heading. Beginning in September, Texans will be able to watch board hearings online.

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