AUSTIN, Texas - A far-right faction of the Texas State Board of Education succeeded yesterday in injecting conservative ideals into social studies, history, and economics lessons that, if approved in a final vote, will be taught to millions of students for the next decade.
Teachers in Texas would be required to cover the Judeo-Christian influences of the nation's Founding Fathers but not highlight the philosophical rationale for the separation of church and state. Curriculum standards would describe the U.S. government as a "constitutional republic," rather than "democratic," and students would be required to study the decline in value of the dollar, including the abandonment of the gold standard.
Decisions by the board - made up of lawyers, a dentist, and a weekly newspaper publisher among others - can affect textbook content nationwide because Texas is one of publishers' biggest clients.
"We have been about conservatism vs. liberalism," said Democrat Mavis Knight of Dallas, explaining her vote against the standards. "We have manipulated strands to insert what we want it to be in the document, regardless as to whether or not it's appropriate."
After three days of impassioned debate, the board gave preliminary approval to the new standards with a 10-5 party-line vote. A final vote is expected in May, after a public-comment period that could produce additional amendments and arguments.
Ultraconservatives wielded their power over hundreds of subjects, introducing and rejecting amendments on everything from the civil rights movement to global politics. Hostilities flared and prompted a walkout Thursday by one of the board's most prominent Democrats, Mary Helen Berlanga of Corpus Christi, who accused her colleagues of "whitewashing" curriculum standards.
By late Thursday night, three other Democrats seemed to sense their futility and left, leaving Republicans to easily push through amendments heralding "American exceptionalism" and the U.S. free-enterprise system, suggesting it thrives best absent excessive government intervention.
Republican Terri Leo, a member of the powerful Christian-conservative voting bloc, called the standards "world class" and "exceptional."
Board members argued about the classification of historic periods (still B.C. and A.D., rather than B.C.E. and C.E.); whether students should be required to explain the origins of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and its impact on global politics (they will); and whether former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir should be required learning (she will).
"Some board members themselves acknowledged this morning that the process for revising curriculum standards in Texas is seriously broken, with politics and personal agendas dominating just about every decision," said Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network, which advocates for religious freedom.