Texas Ed. Board Updates Curriculum: Thomas Jefferson's Back!

| Fri May 21, 2010 7:26 PM EDT

It's been a little more than two months since we last told you about the Texas State Board of Education's efforts to rewrite American history. After adding Phyllis Schafly and Newt Gingrich to the curriculum and deemphasizing the Civil Rights movement, the SBOE convened for its final meetings of the year this weeek and since several of the Board's most conservative members are either not running for reelection or lost primary challenges, it amounts to something of a last hurrah; think the '97 Bulls meets the Christian Coalition.

So how'd it go? Depends on how you feel about our commander in chief's middle name, I guess. In one of the punchiest discussions of the week, Board members shot down an amendment late last night that would have revised the discussion of our first black president to refer to "Barack Hussein Obama." The Texas Tribune's Brian Thevenot, who sat through the proceedings so we didn't have to, captured the full exchange:

[Board member David Bradley] sprang into action. "I'd like to make a motion to insert his middle name, Hussein," he said. Asked why—it was the first time any discussion of any of official's middle name had come up—Bradley played dumb. "He's the president of the United States, and I think we should give him the honor and privilege of his full name"...Some other members were dumbfounded: The Arabic sounding name has been widely used as an epithet in conservative circles and is closely tied to the contention that Obama isn't an American citizen. "I think it's pretty obvious what you're trying to do," said [Board member Bob Craig]. "And I don't think it's correct that we've used the middle names for other presidents." (That was true, [the chairwoman] confirmed shortly later; the board follows whatever style a particular president prefers for his name.)

The amendment was ultimately tabled, but it serves as a pretty good case study for how the nation's most influential school board conducts its business.

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Here's a quick roundup of what else they'll be teaching the kids at East Dillon High next year:

  • Jefferson Davis' first inaugural address: Students will be asked to "contrast" Davis' speech (which, uncharacteristically, does not mention slavery) with Abraham Lincoln's first inaugural. Dissenting board member Rick Agosto put it best: "You can put Jefferson Davis' ideas in the front. You can put them in the back. You can put them where the sun don't shine—They don't belong in Lincoln's standard."
  • The tyranny of the UN: It's not just the Oath Keepers who are fretting about UN blue shirts subverting the US government. Students will be instructed to "evaluate efforts by global organizations to undermine US sovereignty." (You can watch a video of the debate here).
  • The slave trade: Score one for sanity. Despite a push to rename it "the Atlantic triangular trade," students will continue to learn about "the trans-Atlantic slave trade."
  • Dead people: United Farmworkers founder Dolores Huerta will not be included in the curriculum. We'll let board member David Bradley explain why he voted no: "I am very reluctant to include persons who are still alive. By definition of history, you should be dead."
  • Thomas Jefferson: This might not sound like much, but last month, he was stricken from the list of required Enlightenment thinkers and replaced with John Calvin. After much back-and-forth and all manner of compromise proposals, the author of the Declaration of the Independence is once again back in the good graces of the school board. The mood at Jefferson headquarters, so far as we can tell, is jubilant.

The board is done for the year, but its impact could still be felt outside the classroom: Democratic gubernatorial nominee Bill White, the former mayor of Houston, has sought to make the SBOE into an campaign issue this summer, as he takes on two-and-a-half-term governor Rick Perry. Given the recent Republican backlash against the board, it might not be as foolish as it sounds.

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