Saturday, September 19, 2009

Texas activists: Chavez, Marshall must be taught

By APRIL CASTRO | Associated Press Writer
September 18, 2009

AUSTIN, Texas — Minority activists urged Texas education officials on Thursday to not minimize the importance of civil rights leaders Cesar Chavez and Thurgood Marshall in public schools.

The State Board of Education heard testimony in a plan to update the social studies requirements for the state's 4.6 million K-12 students. Two members of a board-appointed advisory panel had suggested removing Chavez and Marshall from some grades' curriculum, triggering a strong backlash from civil rights groups, teachers and parents statewide.

"Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative, white, black or Latino, we all agree on the importance of education," said state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, urging the board not to downplay Chavez, who helped improve conditions for Hispanic farm workers.

Yannis Banks, spokesman for the NAACP's Texas chapter, told the board that to not include Marshall — the attorney who won the case that integrated the nation's schools and later became the first black U.S. Supreme Court justice — was an insult to his contributions.

"This board has not yet decided anything," said board chairwoman Gail Lowe, adding that no one on the board wanted to delist Chavez or Marshall. "This is our first meeting in the process."

Final standards for the 2011-12 school year won't be adopted until May and are expected to change several times before then. The standards will be used to develop state tests and will be the basis for many textbook publishers who develop material used across the country.

The standards will remain in place for the next decade, dictating what is taught in government, history and other social studies classes in public schools.

Supporters argued that Chavez shouldn't be taken out of fifth grade classes as suggested because he greatly improved conditions for Hispanic farm workers. Critics said he lacked the stature and impact to be listed next to the likes of Benjamin Franklin.

Lowe said the board would likely side with some teachers and other groups that said Chavez should be moved from a list of model citizens, which includes Franklin, to a list of people who contributed to society, such as Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr.

A member of the advisory panel also criticized Marshall's inclusion, saying he wasn't a strong enough figure in the civil right movement to merit stronger reference.

"To say that Marshall is not a strong enough example ... is an insult to his legacy," said Banks, the NAACP spokesman.

In the draft proposal discussed Thursday, Marshall's inclusion was added to an eighth-grade history course and remained in first-grade social studies.

Among proposed changes are to require students to identify "significant" conservatives of the 21st century, such as Newt Gingrich, and deleting references to Christmas and Rosh Hashanah. Lowe said Thursday the holidays would likely remain in the final plan.

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