By the way, our social studies standards still suck

So says a conservative think tank.

In a report [released Wednesday], the Thomas B. Fordham Institute gives the Texas social studies curriculum standards a “D” while accusing “the conservative majority” of using the curriculum “to promote its political priorities, molding the telling of the past to justify its current views and aims.”

“Biblical influences on America’s founding are exaggerated, if not invented. The complicated but undeniable history of separation between church and state is flatly dismissed,” the group wrote.

The broad swipe from a respected conservative education think tank comes after civil rights groups and minority lawmakers have demanded the board scrap the standards and start over.

The Fordham Institute report faults the new Texas standards for distorting or suppressing aspects that the board found politically unacceptable, such as slavery and segregation, while exaggerating religious influences.

“The resulting fusion is a confusing, unteachable hodgepodge, blending the worst of two educational dogmas,” the report said.

The Thomas B. Fordham’s website is here, and their full report is here (PDF). The main question is whether or not this will lead to the SBOE reconsidering its previous work.

“My preference is to take the finished product and put it back through the process with the (expert) writing teams,” said State Board of Education member Thomas Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant. “Go back through with teachers, experts, businessmen and women and do it right.”


The SBOE is not likely to take another look at the social studies standards, said Chair Gail Lowe, R-Lampasas.

“The State Board of Education has moved on to the review of mathematics and fine arts standards,” she said. “I doubt that many would want to put an important area like math on hold for an additional year while we revisit the history standards.”

Lowe’s unwillingness will trigger a fight with lawmakers, said Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, head of the 40-member Mexican American Legislative Caucus.

“If she cannot see the problem, she cannot be part of the solution,” he said. “She owes it to the state of Texas to have the right social studies curriculum in place.”

The curriculum standards will shape new textbooks that could be adopted as early as next year, although budget problems could delay the purchase.

“In a time of record budget deficits, I don’t believe it’s wise to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on books that are not accurate,” Martinez Fischer said. “Nobody would dispute that.”

I think there’s a decent chance that delaying the purchase of textbooks will be one of the budget-balancing tricks the Lege will employ. Whether that will lead to a change or just postpone the inevitable, I couldn’t say. Given that every member of the SBOE will be up for election in the post-redistricting 2012 cycle, it would be nice if the forces of sanity made another push to win some seats in what should be a much better electoral climate. The Trib has more, and a statement from the Texas Freedom Network is beneath the fold.

A conservative think tank’s analysis confirms what the Texas Freedom Network has been saying for months: new social studies standards adopted by the State Board of Education last year are a disaster for Texas schools and students, TFN President Kathy Miller said today.

“This analysis adds to a growing chorus of criticism aimed at state board members who deliberately and arrogantly substituted their own political biases for facts and scholarship throughout the standards,” Miller said. “It’s hard to imagine a more damning indictment of the way the board has politicized and manipulated the education of Texas kids over the past several years. Political agendas – from the left or the right – simply have no place in our kids’ classrooms.”

The conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute released its analysis today. “The State of State U.S. History Standards 2011” analyzes U.S. history curriculum standards from all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The report gives Texas a grade of “D” for its standards.

Among Fordham’s criticisms is that Texas State Board of Education members engaged in “ideological manipulation” by basing many of the new standards on their own personal and political biases. The analysis goes so far as to compare the heavily politicized approach in part of the standards to Soviet indoctrination in schools of the old USSR.

The report also criticizes the state board for its “overt hostility and contempt for historians and scholars” during the curriculum development process. A Texas Freedom Network Education Fund poll last year, conducted by the national firm of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, showed that 72 percent of likely Texas voters want teachers and scholars, not politicians on the state board, to be responsible for writing curriculum standards for public schools. (

The state board adopted the new social studies standards last May. Those standards guide what students learn in all of the state’s public schools. Textbooks, other instructional materials and tests will be based on the new standards for the next decade.

Prominent critics of the new standards have included a wide array of teachers, education and civil rights groups, former Bush education secretary Rod Paige and now the conservative Fordham Institute. That criticism should sound a loud call to Texas lawmakers in the current legislative session, Miller said.

“Since the state board refuses to stop playing politics and focus on educating Texas kids, then it’s time for legislators to step in,” Miller said. “Do they stand with families who are tired of seeing their kids’ classrooms turned into political battlegrounds? Or will they make more excuses for politicians on the state board who care more about promoting the ‘culture wars’ than ensuring our kids get the education they need to succeed in college and the jobs of the 21st century?”


The Texas Freedom Network is a nonpartisan, grassroots organization of religious and community leaders who support public education, religious freedom and civil liberties.

Examples of ‘Ideological Manipulation’ in the Texas U.S. History Curriculum Standards Highlighted by the Fordham Institute Analysis


“A popular Lone Star State slogan proclaims ‘Texas: It’s like a whole other country’—but Texas’s standards are a disservice both to its own teachers and students and to the larger national history of which it remains a part.” (page 143)

Contempt for Expertise

“The conservative majority on the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) has openly sought to use the state curriculum to promote its political priorities, molding the telling of the past to justify its current views and aims. Indeed, the SBOE majority displayed overt hostility and contempt for historians and scholars, whom they derided as insidious activists for a liberal academic establishment.” (Executive Summary, page 15)

Economic History

The approach in the standards regarding instruction about “the free enterprise system and its benefits” resembles, “in an inverted historical echo, Soviet schools harping on the glories of state socialism.” (Executive Summary, page 15)

“ ‘Minimal government intrusion’ is hailed as key to the early nineteenth-century commercial boom—ignoring the critical role of the state and federal governments in internal improvements and economic expansion.” (page 142)

Religious Liberty

“Members of the SBOE … showed themselves determined to inject their personal religious beliefs into history education. ‘Judeo-Christian (especially biblical law)’ and ‘Moses’ are, incredibly, listed as the principal political influences on America’s founders. The separation of church and state, a much-debated and critical concept of the state constitutions (1777-1781) and the federal Constitution (1787), is simply dismissed.” (Executive Summary, page 15)

“Complex historical issues are obscured with blatant politicizing throughout the document. Biblical influences on America’s founding are exaggerated, if not invented. The complicated but undeniable history of separation of church and state is flatly dismissed.” (page 142)

Slavery/Civil Rights/Civil War

“Native people are missing [from the standards] until brief references to nineteenth-century events. Slavery, too, is largely missing. Sectionalism and states’ rights are listed before slavery as causes of the Civil War, while the issue of slavery in the territories—the actual trigger for the sectional crisis—is never mentioned at all. During and after Reconstruction, there is no mention of the Black Codes, the Ku Klux Klan, or sharecropping. The term ‘Jim Crow’ never appears. Incredibly, racial segregation is mentioned only in a passing reference to the 1948 integration of the armed forces.” (page 142)

“Opposition to the civil rights movement is falsely identified only with ‘the congressional bloc of Southern Democrats’—whose later metamorphosis into Southern Republicans is never mentioned.” (page 142)


“It is disingenuously suggested that the House Un-American Activities Committee—

and, by extension, McCarthyism—have been vindicated by the Venona decrypts of Soviet espionage activities (which had, in reality, no link to McCarthy’s targets).” (page 142)

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7 Responses to By the way, our social studies standards still suck

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  2. mark says:

    This is just another example of the conservative temper tantrum that’s affecting this country. I can only hope that Chris Rock is right, and the wingnuts don’t do too much permanent damage before the fall asleep.

    SR: Like many nice Caucasians, I cried the night Barack Obama was elected.
    It was one of the high points in American history. And all that’s happened since the election is just a shitstorm of hatred. You want to weigh in on that?

    CR: I actually like it, in the sense that — you got kids? Kids always act up the most before they go to sleep. And when I see the Tea Party and all this stuff, it actually feels like racism’s almost over. Because this is the last — this is the act up before the sleep. They’re going crazy. They’re insane. You want to get rid of them — and the next thing you know, they’re fucking knocked out. And that’s what’s going on in the country right now.

  3. Katydidknot says:

    That really makes perfect sense once you accept the idea that reality has a liberal bias…

    Seriously, though: That’s shocking. Sadly, it’s this type of thing that leads to falling outcomes to the public education system, which in turn gives the folks in charge more ammunition for why public education is a wasteland to be discarded in favor of private school vouchers & Rick Perry’s magic $10K college regimen.

    It’s almost as though conservatives wish to cover their historical tracks: slavery, secession, lynchings, segregation, etc.

    Thanks for this article!

  4. Eileen says:

    The sad thing is, I went to a catholic high school and apparently got a MUCH more unbiased education than your typical public school in Texas. They tought evolution without so much of a blink of the eye. Personally I’m all for a good public school system, in fact I think it is vital to the survival of this country, but I’m not about to sacrifice my kids in using the current one. We’ll be looking for a good private school when the time comes. 🙁

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