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Texas Education Board Set to Approve Curriculum Some Say is Historically Inaccurate

After a politically charged September meeting, the State Board of Education meets this week to approve "streamlined" social studies curriculum standards. Teachers' responses are mixed.

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Texas Education Board Set to Approve Curriculum Some Say is Historically Inaccurate

Gaby Mondragon teaches AP U.S. History to a class of juniors at United South High School in Laredo.

Gaby Mondragon teaches AP U.S. History to a class of juniors at United South High School in Laredo.

Rachel Zein for The Texas Tribune

Gaby Mondragon teaches AP U.S. History to a class of juniors at United South High School in Laredo.

Rachel Zein for The Texas Tribune

Rachel Zein for The Texas Tribune

Gaby Mondragon teaches AP U.S. History to a class of juniors at United South High School in Laredo.

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Approaching the podium, Dallas middle school teacher Ron Francis faced the circle of 15 large, wooden desks at the Texas State Board of Education’s September meeting. The board was discussing changes to the social studies curriculum standards, the result of a 10-month-long process to cut back on what teachers have to cover in the classroom.

But Francis, a 6-foot-tall Army veteran who teaches in Highland Park ISD, was more concerned about what the board wasn’t cutting. The standards currently list slavery alongside three other causes for Texas’ involvement in the Civil War, which he said downplays its historical role.

“Get rid of tariffs, states’ rights and sectionalism,” Francis told the board bluntly. “Thank you.”

This week, the board will vote on final changes to curriculum standards, which proponents say provide teachers with clarity. But they’re still historically inaccurate, according to Francis and other critics. The updated standards still include states’ rights and sectionalism, now relegated to “contributing factors” in Texas’ participation in the Civil War, while slavery has been elevated to a “central role.”

That’s not good enough for Francis. “The lies they’re telling are a little smaller than the lies they used to tell,” he said.

Ron Francis testifies at a State Board of Education meeting on Sept. 11.
Ron Francis testifies at a State Board of Education meeting on Sept. 11. SBOE screenshot

But not all Texas teachers choose to step into the fray around the board’s process, which for more than a decade has been characterized by fierce political battles among the board’s liberal, moderate Republican and social conservative factions, each vying to determine what children should be learning. Instead of leaning into the “culture wars,” many teachers said they lie low and wait for the next set of standards, since they have some wiggle room on how they teach those lessons in the classroom.

“I’m not supposed to teach reconstruction,” said Marcy Emerick, who teaches 11th grade U.S. History at Akins High School in Austin ISD. “But we spend a day on it.” This year, Emerick said she made a present-day connection to the institutionalized racism of the Civil War’s aftermath by showing a video of last May’s white supremacist rally in Charlottesville and discussing the removal of Confederate monuments.

But sometimes she can’t teach all the historical lessons she feels are necessary, because of the demands of preparing students for standardized tests. Reviewing the board’s current proposal for cutting back the standards, she looked at a line that struck the mention of immigrant contributions.

“Could I still teach that? Yes, I can. Can I still teach that and still squeeze in everything else?” she mused. “If the whole goal was to make this simpler, that didn’t happen.”

Marcy Emerick, an educator at Akins High School in Austin ISD, teaches U.S. History to a class of juniors in October.
Marcy Emerick, an educator at Akins High School in Austin ISD, teaches U.S. History to a class of juniors in October.  Rachel Zein for The Texas Tribune

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