Saturday, July 18, 2009

Conservatives say Texas social studies classes give too much credit to civil rights leaders

Reposted from The Dallas Morning News
By TERRENCE STUTZ


Civil rights leaders César Chávez and Thurgood Marshall – whose names appear on schools, libraries, streets and parks across the U.S. – are given too much attention in Texas social studies classes, conservatives advising the state on curriculum standards say.

"To have César Chávez listed next to Ben Franklin" – as in the current standards – "is ludicrous," wrote evangelical minister Peter Marshall, one of six experts advising the state as it develops new curriculum standards for social studies classes and textbooks. David Barton, president of Aledo-based WallBuilders, said in his review that Chávez, a Hispanic labor leader, "lacks the stature, impact and overall contributions of so many others."

Marshall also questioned whether Thurgood Marshall, who argued the landmark case that resulted in school desegregation and was the first black U.S. Supreme Court justice, should be presented to Texas students as an important historical figure. He wrote that the late justice is "not a strong enough example" of such a figure.

Both Barton and Marshall also singled out as overrated Anne Hutchinson, a New England pioneer and early advocate of women's rights and religious freedom, who was tried and banished from her Puritan colony in Massachusetts because of her nontraditional views.
"She was certainly not a significant colonial leader, and didn't accomplish anything except getting herself exiled from the Massachusetts Bay Colony for making trouble," Marshall wrote. "Anne Hutchinson does not belong in the company of these eminent gentlemen," he said, referring to colonial leaders William Penn, Roger Williams and others. Williams later invited Hutchinson to help establish a colony in what became Rhode Island.

The recommendations are part of a long process as the State Board of Education prepares to write new social studies curriculum standards for public schools. Debate on the issue, which will also include questions of the role of religion in public life, could be as intense as that on new science standards that were adopted by the board in March, when evolution was a major flashpoint.

The social studies requirements will remain in place for the next decade, dictating what is taught in government, history and other social studies classes in all elementary and secondary schools. The standards also will be used to write textbooks and develop state tests for students.

Six experts
Although the actual standards are being drafted by teams of teachers, academics and community representatives, the education board appointed a panel of six experts to help guide the writing teams. Three of the experts, including Barton and Marshall, were appointed by Republican social conservatives on the board, while the other three experts – all professors at state universities in Texas – were appointed by the remaining Republicans and Democrats on the 15-member board.

Texas Freedom Network, a nonprofit group that has battled social conservatives on education issues, questioned the academic credentials of Barton and Marshall, and said their negative comments on Chávez are just the start of a "blacklist" of historical figures considered objectionable by social conservatives.

"It is what we expected from unqualified political activists put on this so-called panel of experts," said Dan Quinn of the freedom network. "This is yet another step toward politicizing our children's education."

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