Curriculum is about education, not politics
In one sense, average Texans can sympathize with members of the State Board of Education who have to choose between, say, Helen Keller or Hillary Clinton in determining curriculum guidelines for the state’s 5.4 million students in public schools. Both of those people are important to our history for different reasons — even if you voted against Clinton in 2016.
After all, she was the nation’s first female presidential candidate from a major political party, and a former first lady at that. And Keller is one of the most inspiring and significant figures in the long struggle to provide equal rights for people with disabilities. Ideally, Texas students wouldn’t learn about one or the other; they’d study both.
But of course the school day has only so many hours in it, and textbooks have only so many pages. Furthermore, every year our history sees new figures who have affected our country tremendously, from Donald Trump to Michelle Obama. Teachers would love to touch on all of them, but textbooks and curriculum need guidelines, which means making choices.
That’s where the Education Board members come in. Their votes on issues like this have a big impact on textbook publishers who want to sell books in the lucrative Texas market. In fact, that part of nationwide textbook sales is so big that it often influences the number and content of books that are sold in other states. While school boards and public school teachers in Texas don’t always have to follow the board-sanctioned curriculum, many times they do.
The board could make this difficult process easier by focusing on education, not politics. In recent years, however, the Republican majority has tried to advance some partisan ideas and political figures who belong more on the campaign trail, not the classroom.
For example, the GOP-dominated board recently voted to keep requiring teachers to examine states’ rights as a contributing factor of the Civil War, and to discuss how Moses influenced the Founding Fathers. Plenty of neutral historians would have a different take there.
The new board that takes office in January might have a chance to move forward on this long-standing battle. David Bradley of Beaumont, representing the local District 7, did not run again and was replaced by Republican Matt Robinson. Bradley was a social conservative on the forefront of these battles, and Robinson would help his district and the entire state with a less partisan stance.
Public schools should teach the facts of history and current events, not one party’s version of them. Their goal should be teaching students how to think, not what to think.