Texas board reverses course, votes to keep Hillary Clinton, Helen Keller in history curriculum
AUSTIN — The State Board of Education has voted to keep Hillary Clinton, Helen Keller and several other historical figures in the Texas social studies curriculum.
The Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, or TEKS, are baseline curriculum standards public school teachers use to create lesson plans and prepare for testing. During a more than 10-hour meeting on Tuesday, the 15-member state board took a preliminary vote on which historical figures to remove from these standards in order to “streamline” the curriculum and provide more flexibility to teachers.
Clinton and Keller and several others were returned to the curriculum, while several others are still on the chopping block.
The board will continue their debate on Wednesday morning, when it is expected to approve these changes, and will then take a final vote on the entire curriculum later in the week. The decisions will not result in an immediate change to Texas textbooks, which are not up for revision this year, but will affect what teachers must teach in the classroom under state law.
The board first voted on the curriculum changes in September, when they cut Clinton from high school history where she was listed as a recommended figure on a list of several political and social leaders. Since then, the story has gone viral, with different groups accusing the majority-Republican board of allowing its politics to influence what kids are taught in classrooms.
On Tuesday evening, the board discussed that backlash. State board member Erika Beltran, a Democrat, made the suggestion to return Clinton to history lessons.
“I got a ton of calls and emails about the removal of Hillary Clinton,” Beltran said. “She was the first female presidential nominee from a major U.S. political party. So regardless of our party affiliations, I think she is an important figure to keep.”
Marty Rowley, a Republican, disagrees with Clinton’s politics but said he would vote to keep her in the curriculum: “I have to give credit where credit is due. She is a significant political leader.”
The board voted 12-2 to keep Clinton with Pat Hardy of Fort Worth and Geraldine “Tincy” Miller of Dallas voting for elimination. GOP Chair Donna Bahorich abstained from the vote on Clinton as she did for most of the votes Tuesday.
In addition to Clinton, the board voted to reinsert several other figures slated for elimination, including Revolutionary War figure Wentworth Cheswell and surveyor Benjamin Banneker. But dozens of other historical figures, artists, celebrities and business people were eliminated after the board said educators complained that the curriculum is so broad students are resorting to rote memorization instead of real learning.
“Star-Spangled Banner” author Francis Scott Key was cut from Grade 1 and Phillis Wheatley, the first published black female poet, from Grade 3. These two historical figures were recommended, but not required, to be used as examples of artistic ability and entrepreneurship, respectively. The board axed several Confederate leaders, including John Reagan, Francis Lubbock and John Bell Hood, all recommended to be taught in Grade 7. From high school, the board cut Gens. George Patton and Omar Bradley, who were required teachings.
After hearing from the public earlier in the day, the board voted to keep Keller and the Women Airforce Service Pilots, or WASP, the first American women to fly military aircraft.
“Helen Keller is the only point of reference for deaf-blindness because it is unlikely an educator, a government worker, a doctor would have any other interaction with any other person who was deaf-blind,” Robbie Caldwell, who lives in Austin, told the board during public testimony. “We need Helen Keller to remain in our Texas curriculum.”
Caldwell’s daughter Gabrielle, 17, who is deaf-blind and attends the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, also spoke to the board.
“I am hoping that you keep Helen Keller being taught in our schools. She traveled the world, worked very hard and helped a lot of people. She is a hero,” Gabrielle Caldwell said, clutching her cane in one hand and her written testimony in the other. “I like to travel and want to travel the world. I study hard, too. I believe I can do these things because Helen Keller did them.”
Several people also testified to oppose the removal of the WASP from a Grade 2 lesson on Americans who have exemplified good citizenship. Erin Miller, who fought to have her grandmother inurned alongside her military brethren at Arlington National Cemetery, said these women can be inspirations to other women as they were for her.
“I flew 1,500 miles from Maryland just to talk to you,” Miller said. “I am here today because of the citizenship example by grandmother and the WASP set for me.”
Austin resident Tom Lucas, whose mother Dorothy A. Smith was a WASP, added: “They were the original ‘me too’ movement. … I cannot think of a group more worthy to put forth as a definition of citizenship.”
The board also debated dozens of other changes to the social studies curriculum, including how to discuss the Civil War. For the first time, the board voted to describe slavery as playing a “central role” in causing the war. It was previously listed one of several causes.
But the board shot down an attempt to remove “states’ rights” as one of the contributing causes for the Civil War. As is often the case on these debates, the board again split along party lines, with five Democrats voting for removal and nine Republicans voting against. During the vote, board member David Bradley, a Republican, declared: “I believe in states’ rights.”
The board also debated keeping Moses in as an individual “whose principles of laws and government institutions informed the American founding” in high school government and reinserting the phrase “Arab rejection of the State of Israel has led to ongoing conflict” to “the rise of independence movements in Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia and reasons for ongoing conflicts” in high school world history.
The public was split on these two proposals. Several people said the language highlighted the history of Israel and ongoing anti-Semitism. Others said this portion of the curriculum was biased against Islam and threatened to justify acts of violence against Muslims.
“Maybe it’s time to also each out children how to treat fellow human beings,” Alex McDonald of the Texas Coalition for Human Rights said. “Please do not make our children political pawns by feeding them propaganda.”
The board did not finish its debate on these two issues Tuesday, opting to adjourn for the night and continue its discussion the following day. At its Friday meeting, the board will have the opportunity to make additional changes to any of these curriculum standards before it takes its final vote.