Thursday, March 11, 2010

Disregarding history

Hearings have occurred over the past two days at the State Board of Education regarding statewide social studies curriculum. The elected board members have the authority to amend and alter educational standards as they see fit, which has thrown them into the spotlight in the past for good reason. The Texas Observer has a pretty thorough live blogging for those with extra time, but for those who missed it, here are a few highlights:
  • Salvadoran peace activist and priest Oscar Romero was removed from curriculum. Former Israeli prime minister Golda Meir was added, leading to an opposing vote on the basis that “they just voted to remove someone of Hispanic heritage” to which board member Terri Leo responded, “Well, we're adding a Jewish woman.”

  • Students must now “explain three reasons why socialist central economic planning collapsed in competition with free markets at the end of the 20th century.” True for maybe Czechoslovakia, but untrue for Europe's relatively stable and prosperous social democracies.

  • The scholastic BCE and CE have been replaced by the antiquated AD and BC.

  • Students no longer must explain “Enlightenment ideas” but must explain writings of that era. Budding theocrat John Calvin and Thomas Aquinas – two religious leaders – have been added to the roster of thinkers of the Enlightenment. This is part of the board's effort to undermine the influence of Enlightenment ideals on the founding fathers and play up Judeo-Christian influence.

  • “The student understands the importance of the expression of different points of view in a democratic republic,” has been changed to “analyze the importance of the First Amendment rights to petition, assembly, speech, and press, and the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.” This was done specifically to emphasize the importance of gun ownership as an element of good citizenship.

This is not the first time this year the board has made changes to social studies educational standards. In January, the SBOE changed all references of American “imperialism” to American “expansionism,” among other lamentable changes, ignoring that the two are not entirely synonymous. While practices such as Manifest Destiny were expansionist as well as imperialist, the fact that at one point in the early 20th century the U.S. dictated the foreign relations of Cuba, ran Haiti's finances and colonized the Philippines is a pretty thorough indictment of American imperialism.

In other news, the Montrose Land Defense Coaltion has amended its goals to reflect a broader purpose, abandoning the park idea and instead seeking “a development solution for this valuable tract that will best benefit businesses and the communities that surround it.” It's more practical, but it's vague and open-ended. Its unlikely such a movement will make appreciable success with such a nebulous purpose, although the presentation on its website proposed by unnamed architects is appealing. The city certainly doesn't have the funds laying around to make any appreciable contribution – indeed, the very construction of the University line, arguably the light rail system's linchpin – is now in doubt.

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