History professors part with State Board over proposed standards
March 31, 2010
"Rep. MALC Chairman Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, pokes the SBOE for mistaking the author of "Brown Bear, Brown Bear What Do You See?" with another author who wrote about ethical Marxism.
A controversial and ever-growing list of social studies standards for Texas school children to learn is too complicated, the former state historian said Wednesday.
"We have an overwrought set of standards. There is way too much for teachers to cover adequately," said Jesus Francisco de la Teja, history professor at Texas State University and one of six experts appointed by the State Board of Education to help write new social studies curriculum standards.
The proposed standards also lag too far behind scholarly literature and standards for college material, said Emilio Zamora, a history professor at the University of Texas at Austin.
The two history experts will be invited to participate in a special hearing on April 28 scheduled by the Mexican American Legislative Caucus that has lost confidence in the State Board of Education's attempt to develop new social studies curriculum standards. Those standards will shape the next round of history, government, and geography and economics textbooks for more than 4.7 million Texas public school children. The textbooks will arrive for the 2011-2012 school year and last for at least a decade.
Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, chairman of the 44-member Mexican American Legislative Caucus, accused the State Board of Education of hijacking the process, injecting ideology into the standards and creating "a national circus."
He suggested that textbook publishers pay attention to the caucus hearing since lawmakers hold the purse strings for the next textbooks that could cost close to $500 million.
"Textbook publishers should be on notice that they might not want to start printing these books without getting some kind of down payment because you don't know what can happen in the Legislature when you adopt textbooks that don't conform to standards," Martinez Fischer said.
The state's changing demographics is creating some tension between the 15-member elected State Board of Education and minority lawmakers. About 49 percent of the public school children are Hispanic. A majority of the children will be Hispanic before the next textbooks hit the halfway mark of their decade-long shelf life.
"We have to teach the children that we have in our classrooms," said de la Teja, former state historian and former president of the State Historical Association.
"We can no longer teach a curriculum that is 50-60 years old in terms of it's thinking and addresses a population that is the old Texas of the early 20th century.
A history that romanticizes the 19th century and that is male-dominated "does not serve the interests of our school children," de la Teja said.
Instead of a long list of specific standards for teachers to drill students, the history professor says students would be better served if Lubbock-area schoolteachers could teach Texas history "with the West Texas experience in mind."
Houston-area classrooms should focus more on the Gulf coast experience, he said, and border communities would discuss and teach cross-border experiences.
The professors appeared with Martinez Fischer at a Capitol news conference to talk about the April 28 hearing. There is no precedent for lawmakers to conduct a parallel hearing in an effort to undermine or fix the actions of another elected body.
"The circus-like effort of right-wing board members to impose their own religious and political beliefs on public school curriculum continues to be a national embarrassment for us," Texas State Teachers Association President Rita Haecker said at the press conference.
Martinez Fischer complained that some board members use Wikipedia and Google searches to come up with standards - and even then do a poor job of that. The board earlier this year booted children's author Bill Martin Jr. after confusing him with a different Bill Martin, who wrote about the ethical Marxism.
Martinez Fischer said his 15-month-old daughter, Francesca, "would be mad because that's one of her favorite books." Martin Jr. wrote "Brown Bear, Brown Bear What Do You See?"
The upcoming hearing will be bipartisan and anyone willing to focus on policy and solutions is welcomed to participate, he said.
Rep. Wayne Christian, R-Center, chairman of the House Conservative Coalition, doesn't plan to attend.
He supports the State Board of Education's process. Texas should not and will not change history, Christian said.
"You can add to the curriculum. We have had no objections to that, nor have I seen the State Board of Education have an objection to that," he said.
Posted by Gary Scharrer at March 31, 2010 06:17 PM