Texas board to finish social studies guidelines

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A push by conservatives to revise Texas public schools’ social studies curriculum to amend or water down teaching of the civil rights movement, slavery and America’s relationship with the U.N. was scheduled for a vote Friday amid a storm of criticism.

The vote will set the standards for history and social studies in Texas for some 4.8 million public school students over the next 10 years and will be used by textbook publishers who develop materials for Texas and the rest of the nation.

Democrats and a moderate Republican accused conservatives on the board of trying to stir up a needless controversy Thursday by referring to the president’s full name, Barack Hussein Obama, saying his middle name was loaded with negative connotation.

Critics had complained that Obama’s full name was conspicuously absent in a high school history course that referred only to the “the election of the first black president.”

When a Democrat tried to fix the omission, Republican David Bradley said “I think we give him the full honor and privilege of his full name.”

The effort snarled the board’s progress on amendments late Thursday evening.

“The intent behind what you’re doing, I think is pretty obvious,” said Republican Bob Craig, urging Bradley to withdraw the suggestion.

Obama’s name gave him his share of trouble during the 2008 presidential campaign. He acknowledged its unfamiliarity to most Americans, and there were times when supporters of his opponent made a point of using his middle name, which was seen as an attempt to cast doubt on his background and faith.

“Please Mr. Bradley, don’t use the middle name,” said Democrat Lawrence Allen. “You know it’s going to have a negative connotation in the press. Yes, it’s his birth name, but you know the significance it will play in the press. We don’t have to deal with it.”

Bradley relented and withdrew the motion.

The meeting has drawn national scrutiny, and sparked protest in the Austin board room and around the country.

Though they lost on the president’s name, conservatives scored a string of victories late Thursday, including a requirement that public school students in Texas evaluate efforts by global organizations such as the United Nations to undermine U.S. sovereignty.

One of the board’s most outspoken conservatives, Republican Don McLeroy, offered the amendment requiring students to evaluate efforts by global organizations to undermine U.S. sovereignty. He argued that efforts to “put us under world court” and to “impose the sovereignty of Americas under treaties that have been signed with these United Nations organizations” were threats to individual freedom and liberty.

With little criticism from Democrats on the board, conservatives added language that would require students to discuss the solvency of “long-term entitlements such as Social Security and Medicare.”

The board also debated whether to include Confederate President Jefferson Davis’ inaugural address with a lesson on Abraham Lincoln’s philosophical views; the board decided to require students to contrast the two views. A proposal to refer to the slave trade as the “Atlantic triangular trade” was changed to call it the “trans-Atlantic slave trade.”

Another Republican amendment dropped the study of a landmark 1949 federal court ruling that declared schools could not legally segregate Mexican American students, even though the practice remained popular in Texas for decades. But Craig successfully restored it.

The board rejected an effort to add former San Antonio mayor and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Henry Cisneros to a fourth-grade example of notable Texans and spent much time debating which Civil War battles and heroes from Texas should be added to a seventh-grade class.

McLeroy believes the Texas history curriculum has been unfairly skewed after years of Democrats controlling the board.

Educators have blasted the proposed curriculum for politicizing education. Teachers also have said the document is too long and will force students to memorize lists of names rather than thinking critically.