Amid 'Dizzying Culture Wars,' Texas Social Studies Curriculum Overhaul Vote Delayed

Changes to the state's social studies curriculum may not happen until 2025.
Changes to the state's social studies curriculum may not happen until 2025. Photo by Kimberly Farmer on Unsplash
For months, educators in Texas have been working on revisions to teaching standards that would see a major overhaul in how social studies is taught in the state. It would be the first big change to the curriculum in about 12 years.

But now, after a meeting of the State Board of Education on Tuesday, they say their efforts have been derailed by Republican politicians and far right groups who have spoken out throughout the process. Board members had been working with teachers and scholars for the last few months on revisions to standards called the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills that would change how social studies is taught in the state. The changes were meant to be more inclusive. They included more lessons about the experiences and contributions of diverse ethnic and racial groups, as well as efforts to end discrimination against LGBTQ communities in the U.S. in recent years.

They hoped the State Board of Education would approve their proposal, but instead, it chose to delay action on the changes. The board voted to approve only changes that made the curriculum compliant with state law regarding “critical race theory.”

The changes would have seen kindergarten through second-grade students learning about Texas, U.S. and world history. Students in third through fifth grades would study world history. They would then focus on American and Texas history from sixth through eighth grade.

At the meeting on Tuesday, which included several outbursts from attendees, members of some of the work groups tasked with drafting the changes urged the board to approve their proposal.

One of them was Mohit Praful Mehta, the assistant director of the Center for Asian American Studies at the University of Texas at Austin, who has seven years of experience as a teacher in state public schools.

Mehta said, “As teachers and scholars of education, we know that the social studies curriculum has not always included our histories.” He said some at the meeting would try to label their efforts to be more inclusive as “an example of critical race theory.” 

“Texas history is much more than the Alamo. It’s a history of all of us in this room today.” – Mohit Praful Mehta, UT-Austin

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“This is falsely misleading,” Mehta said. “There’s not one single mention of critical race theory.” He also said none of the proposed changes violate the state laws.

“There are dizzying culture wars happening in our state, and Texas librarians, teachers and students are at the center,” Mehta said. “Books are being pulled from shelves and educators across the state are getting toxic phone calls and hate messages. This environment is resulting in widespread fear about teaching accurate and factually based historical accounts of Texas and U.S. history.

“Texas history is much more than the Alamo. It’s a history of all of us in this room today.”

Marisa B. Perez-Diaz, a member of the board, said board members’ inboxes, hers included, were flooded with thousands of emails about the changes. Many of them, she said, were littered with inaccuracies about the proposed revisions and the process that yielded them. Perez-Diaz said some have criticized the process, claiming it was rushed. But members of the work groups who spoke at Tuesday’s meeting said they never felt rushed throughout the process.

Some of the opponents included House Republican lawmakers, who told the board in a letter that they would intervene with legislation if changes weren’t made to the proposal, according to The Texas Tribune.

But parents like Southlake’s Jolyn Potenza also spoke out against the revisions during Tuesday’s meeting.

Potenza said she and others signed a petition opposing the changes. Their petition said, “the revisions are unnecessary, age inappropriate, and neglects the true teaching of our Texas heritage, U.S. and world history, government and geography. The [Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills] revisions are slanted with a globalist view and not American exceptionalism.” Potenza called the revisions a radical overhaul and claimed they were trying to rewrite history.

Mary Castle, a senior policy advisor with Texas Values, a conservative Christian organization, said the revisions aren’t sufficient and the group has specific concerns about lessons that would be included in the K-8 and high school curriculum. For example, the group suggested removing the study of the pride movement in eighth grade. She also said there are inappropriate lessons included in the high school curriculum, such as teaching about the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), the gender inequality index and other historical figures that are “still struck from the standards.”

At the end of the day, the board would take a preliminary vote on the revisions. Members voted 7–2 to include only changes that made the state compliant with Texas law on “critical race theory.”

At a press conference in the Texas Education Agency lobby on Wednesday, board member Aicha Davis, who represents parts of the Dallas-Fort Worth area, said the delay was politically motivated.

If the board denies the changes in the final vote on Friday, the curriculum might not see such revisions until 2025. Proponents of the revisions worry that more conservatives could be elected to the board in that time and make their efforts more challenging. The general election for the board will take place in November.

At the Wednesday press conference, board member Perez-Diaz said she was at a loss for words. “There’s frustration for a lot of different reasons,” she said. She didn’t sound confident about the final vote on Friday, saying so many hours of work by so many people have been made moot.

“Where I stand, I still want to see us move forward with approval of these standards at the end of this year, but I also stand in front of you recognizing I don’t have the votes to get that done,” she said. “So, our best effort is, unfortunately, to push this review process to 2025 where we can have more individuals across the state weigh in.”
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Jacob Vaughn, a former Brookhaven College journalism student, has written for the Observer since 2018, first as clubs editor. More recently, he's been in the news section as a staff writer covering City Hall, the Dallas Police Department and whatever else editors throw his way.
Contact: Jacob Vaughn