Texas board starts shaping social studies lessons

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AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Kindergartners would learn about a Texas revolutionary and first-graders would discuss the idea of holding public officials accountable under proposals approved Thursday by the State Board of Education, which began reshaping the guidelines for social studies lessons.

The board was wading through dozens of amendments before an expected first vote on the new standards, which will dictate what some 4.8 million students from kindergarten through 12th grade are required to learn in social studies, history and economics classes for the next decade. A final vote is expected in March.

What’s decided in Texas could affect what school children elsewhere learn as well. The guidelines will be used by textbook publishers who develop material for the nation based on Texas, one of the largest markets.

One of the first amendments Thursday, in response to a public push for more examples of notable Mexican Americans, added Jose Antonio Navarro, a Texas revolutionary and contemporary of early Texas leader Stephen F. Austin, to the curriculum for kindergartners.

Other discussion centered on whether first-graders are old enough to learn about the accountability of public officials.

“It ought to be in every single grade, so maybe by the time they get out of high school they understand that we need to hold our elected officials accountable,” said board member Geraldine Miller, R-Dallas. “Maybe that’s the problem, that we’ve got to start early.”

“I would like to know how in the world a first grader can hold public officials accountable?” countered board member Mavis Knight, D-Dallas. “I don’t think it’s appropriate for this grade level.”

The amendment passed, however, and the topic could soon become required for first-grade classrooms.

Early squabbles over how much prominence to give civil rights leaders such as Cesar Chavez and the inclusion of Christmas appeared to have been smoothed over in the draft now being considered. But those issues could re-emerge as board members continued to raise amendments.

Another flashpoint could come over how much emphasis should be given to the religious beliefs of the nation’s founding fathers. Some activists have sought to promote and highlight their Christianity. But many liberal activists who testified before the board on Wednesday implored the board to respect the constitutional separation of church and state.