Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Kids may lose in textbook debate

Those concerned should call or fax TX state board of Education Chair Gail Lowe at 512-463-9734 (phone) or 512-936-4319 (fax). -Angela

Web Posted: 01/09/2010 12:00 CST
Kids may lose in textbook debate

The mindset may work in war. But it's out of place in the debate over which historical figures should be included in the social studies curriculum for the state's public schools.

The educators who are on the panels chosen by the state Board of Education to propose changes to the curriculum probably won't see it that way. And the characterization isn't necessarily aimed at them directly. They were nominated to the committees by members of the SBOE and have done the work they were asked to do. It's notable that there's only one San Antonio-area teacher — nominated by Lubbock SBOE member Bob Craig — among the 100-plus committee members who are helping the board develop the new social studies curriculum for grades K-12.

In some ways, the process affirms the cloistered environment in which curriculum standards are developed. The process is public, but that only matters if the public is paying attention when deadlines are set for applications to serve on Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills review committees. Most people don't because they may not even be aware of the SBOE's existence, much less what the elected body of 15 does.

The board's job is, essentially, twofold: It manages the state's Permanent School Fund, a $22 billion endowment that supports public schools, and it sets curriculum standards upon which students' textbooks will be based.

The latter is what will be at the fore next week, when the board meets in Austin for the first public hearing on proposed changes to the state's social studies curriculum.

Latino advocacy groups are protesting the lack of Latino historical figures required for study in the curriculum standards' current draft. “It's as if we don't exist,” Rep. Norma Chávez, D-El Paso, told the board in November.

The omission is significant for two reasons. Curriculum changes come around every 10 or so years. Whatever changes the SBOE makes to the social studies requirements when it takes a final vote in the spring are permanent until the current group of first-graders in the state's public schools are nearly ready to graduate from high school. And that group of first-graders? For the past two years, Latino children have made up a majority of the class statewide. They will have precious few examples of Latino contributions to history, particularly those in Texas, in their textbooks.

A broader question emerges, however, in the debate over which historical figures to include. The list of historical figures necessarily must be abbreviated. How abbreviated is subjective, even more so is the list. Whose hero is the “right” hero? The one whose proponents have the most influence?

It's instructive to look at the grade-by-grade grid of historical figures who, under the current draft, would be required for study. In third grade, why Todd Beamer and not César Chávez? In fourth grade, why Lizzie Johnson and not Emma Tenayuca?

Deeply divisive partisan politics muddies the issue with either “side” trying to come out on top.

But there is no victory if Texas schoolchildren have an incomplete picture of history. It's a faulty foundation, one on which an education can't thrive.

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