By GARY SCHARRER AUSTIN BUREAU | Houston Chronicle
March 11, 2010
USTIN — The State Board of Education's Hispanic and African-American members clashed with its Anglo majority for hours Thursday over how to present history to the state's 4.7 million public school children.
Much of the conflict centered on the racial balance of the historical figures to be included in textbooks starting in the 2011-2012 school year. Tempers boiled over when sex or religion were added to the mix.
Members grew increasingly distraught over the process as they moved toward a preliminary adoption of new social studies curriculum standards, set for today.
And one, Mary Helen Berlanga, D-Corpus Christi, walked out shortly after 5 p.m. as the board added two more Anglos, Lawrence “Sul” Ross and John Nance Garner, to a standard on the contributions of Texas leaders.
“We can just pretend that this is White America. Hispanics don't exist,” Berlanga said as she left.
Earlier, she said the Legislature should abolish the board if its makeup and methods don't change with the November general election. Berlanga, its longest-serving member, has been on the board since 1982.
A partisan vote on the government's relationship to religion was typical of the skirmishes.
Mavis Knight, D-Dallas, was unable to attract any Republican support for her motion to teach students that government is not supposed to favor any religion. Knight's proposed amendment: “Examine the reasons the Founding Fathers protected religious freedom in America by barring government from protecting or disfavoring any particular religion over all others,” was defeated.
Board member Cynthia Dunbar, R-Richmond, a Liberty College law professor, called Knight's proposal inaccurate.
“We don't want our religious history to be drawn from a viewpoint that is not historically accurate,” Dunbar said.
Later, she said the nation's Founding Founders were not antagonistic toward religion: “They did not have a ‘barring' ideology.”
Distrust of liberals
Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network, called the vote on Knight's amendment “stunning.”
Religious wars in Europe pushed the Founding Fathers to guarantee religious liberty to ensure a strong and united country, said Miller, whose liberal-leaning organization monitors the board.
“Clearly, this board doesn't understand how critical that was to America's founding,” she said.
David Bradley, R-Beaumont, said Republicans generally distrust their liberal colleagues.
“There's a hostility toward faith, specifically Christianity,” Bradley said, calling Knight's motion “one more attempt to muddy the waters.”
The board also rejected experts who recommended a sociology standard for high school students to “differentiate between sex and gender as social constructs and determine how gender and socialization interact.”
The focus would shift to “transgender, transvestites and who knows what else,” predicted Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodland, calling the proposed standard “totally inappropriate.”
“Talking about your heterosexual experiences” is inappropriate, added Terri Leo, R-Spring.
Those who lost that 9-6 vote argued that students are mature enough to discuss the issue in class because they already talk about it informally.
Race also provoked sharp debate.
Berlanga attached copies of old signs on her desk: “This park was given for White people only. Mexicans and Negroes stay out,” read one. But she failed to muster any Republican support for her amendment identifying minority Medal of Honor recipients.
Bradley said he wanted schoolchildren to learn about Medal of Honor recipients but questioned Berlanga's criteria. “We are doing it by skin color, and I object to that.”
After she left, the board voted to have students discuss Medal of Honor recipients of all races and gender, such as Vernon J. Baker, Alvin York and Roy Benavidez — respectively, an African-American hero from World War II, an Anglo who fought in World War I, and a Hispanic hero from the Vietnam War.
Last year's Texas public school enrollment included 2.3 million Hispanic, 1.6 million white and 671,871 African-American children.
Hip-hop out, country in
Earlier in the day, Berlanga said her board colleagues are not being realistic.
“They want to believe that things were as they remember them when they were children — protected and thinking everything is fine across the world,” she said. “It's all ideology. Let's not talk about the bad things that have happened in the past. Let's just talk about the great things.”
Rick Agosto, D-San Antonio, said he felt frustrated because Hispanic children are entitled to more examples of contributions by Hispanics.
Agosto, Rene Nuñez, D-El Paso and Lawrence Allen Jr., D-Houston, quietly left 90 minutes before the meeting ended, leaving Knight as the lone Democratic member.
Republicans then got their way, including removing hip-hop as an example of a “significant cultural movement” in American society for high school history. Country music survived.