The Texas State Board of Education voted 7 to 2 on Tuesday to table until 2025 what critics have warned would have been a woke overhaul of the Lone Star State’s social studies standards.
Working groups, made up of Texans selected from a pool of volunteers by the Texas Education Agency and tasked with developing the first major rewrite of the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) social studies standards in decades, released draft proposals earlier this summer, some of which prioritized “inclusivity” over keeping fundamental American principles and founding documents at the forefront of learning.
Major backlash from Texans about these recommendations prompted the state Board of Education to announce a different plan. Now, the only social studies tweaking the board plans to do in the coming weeks will be on the mandatory civics and media literacy guidelines, including “identifying propaganda” outlined in the legislature’s recently passed Senate Bill 3.
“I don’t think those will be big or controversial,” Republican board member Will Hickman told The Federalist. “It’s just kind of a ministerial task, being sure we fit our courses to the requirements of the legislature.”
The media amplified concerns that this shift was just the board “caving to right-wing pressure,” but Republican candidate Aaron Kinsey, who is running unopposed for the board seat representing Texas’s District 15, said he thinks the board’s caution and attentiveness to Texans’ concerns should be praised.
“I think we need to commend the board for their courage and being responsive to what the conservatives of our state gave them [as] feedback, which is, this is way too much too fast,” Kinsey told The Federalist. “So we need to laud them for their courage and taking the vote that they did yesterday to delay some of these changes and to get more input from the community.”
Before that pivot, the state Board of Education was facing a massive overhaul that would have changed how and what Texans learned about their nation and state’s beginnings.
That included adding courses that require teachers to “describe the practice of land acknowledegment [sic] statements as a way to honor local and ancestral Indigenous people, combat erasure, and recall Tribal sovereignty,” removing references to “radical Islamic terrorism” and its connection to 9/11 because “focusing content on a single religious group leads to student misunderstandings and potential conflict among students,” and swapping period indicators from B.C. and A.D., Latin for “before Christ” and anno domini meaning “in the year of the Lord,” with “non-religious” indicators such as BCE and CE.
This shift, the board claims, was made “for alignment with higher education and professionals in the field of history” and to provide “inclusivity to all people.”
In other draft recommendations, working groups also suggested replacing “men and women” with “people” and adding “pride” as a normal topic of conversation in history classes starting in middle school.
Some of the most controversial proposed changes, however, had to do with how Texans should be taught U.S. and state history. Under the original U.S. history requirements, schools were expected to teach the meaning and importance of the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and other founding principles to historical events in U.S. history to high schoolers. That included “explain[ing] the meaning and historical significance of the mottos ‘E Pluribus Unum’ and ‘In God We Trust.'”
In the new recommendations, all of those standards for high schoolers would have been cut.
“The meaning and values of the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, and the Bill of Rights are taught in context throughout the course and will additionally be taught in Middle School and Government,” the working group draft stated.
That was in addition to proposals that would have required three years of world history but just three years of combined U.S. and Texas history across six grades.
As multiple teachers and critics of the now-postponed proposal noted, lumping Texas history into U.S. history courses could result in an incomplete picture of important educational material. Even board members such as Hickman admitted that the old proposal “was watering down the Texas and the U.S. history.”
“I think we jumped into the [postponed] framework too quickly and didn’t really take the time to deliberate,” Hickman said.
To better honor U.S. and Texas history, Hickman proposed a new framework that subjects students in kindergarten through eighth grade to two years of Texas history, two years of U.S. history, and two years of world history.
“The board adopted that framework and during the delay, we’re going to hear from Texans on what are their thoughts on the new framework. Do they love it? Do they hate it? What would they move around or what they do differently?” Hickman said.
Even though it will be years before these social studies standards are examined again, the discussion of the radical recommendations isn’t tabled for good. That’s why board member Hickman and board hopeful Kinsey both told The Federalist they want to focus on evaluating how working groups are pulled together to prevent politicized material from infiltrating future recommendations.
“One thing that this process highlighted or calls into question is the involvement that conservatives have at the grassroots level of this process. And what I mean by that is the workgroups. We don’t have a lot of clarity right now on who makes up the workgroups. But if we want to get products that don’t have such a liberal slant or leftist slant out of the workgroups, we need to get more conservative people on the workgroups to help influence those,” Kinsey said.