Conservatives on the Texas State Board of Education were defiant Wednesday as a parade of critics came before them, most urging a fresh rewrite of new classroom social studies guidelines and a delay of a scheduled vote to adopt them.
Critics, including the president of the NAACP, a former U.S. education secretary and the committee that wrote the draft guidelines being edited by the board, complained that the proposal has become a vehicle for political ideology, writes bias into the curriculum and reveals a lack of historical knowledge from the board.
The standards will guide how history and social studies are taught to some 4.8 million public school students over the next 10 years. What's more, whatever Texas decides impacts the rest of the country. Publishers of educational textbooks, publishers make decisions about what goes into textbooks based on what the state demands. So students from Connecticut and California to Wyoming and Washington, end up with the same content that Texas dermands.
"Of course it's political," Republican David Bradley said to one critic who complained that the process was too focused on politics rather than history. "So what's your solution? Would you support a benevolent dictator?''
A record 206 people had signed up to testify at Wednesday's hearing.
"The SBOE's suggested edits to the new curriculum reflect their lack of historic knowledge and their failure to listen to the appointed citizen review committees," wrote a committee of teachers and professors who wrote the original draft of new high school history guidelines. Six members of the nine-member review committee released a two-page statement attacking the board.
"We have reunited as public citizens to voice our concern, our collective disgust if you will, at the distorted culmination of our work."
Officials have indicated they'll proceed with the vote, scheduled for Friday. Final changes and edits are expected to be debated Thursday.
NAACP President Ben Jealous asked the board to revisit slavery and civil rights lessons, arguing that proposed changes have watered down history.
"This has become a real spectacle," Jealous said. "It's on national news, it's on national comedy shows. Texas is a state that leads this country and they need to accept that responsibility, slow down, back up and move in a new direction towards the truth."
Jealous said he traveled from Washington for the hearing because of how the decision will affect students beyond Texas. The standards, which also will be used to develop state tests, are used by textbook publishers who develop materials nationwide. Texas is one of the nation's largest textbook markets.
Former Bush Education Secretary Rod Paige also voiced concerns about the teaching of slavery and civil rights.
"In Texas, we've allowed the pendulum to swing backwards and forward," said Paige, a former Houston schools superintendent. "I'm asking that that swing be narrower and let history speak for itself."
Conservatives defended the proposed guidelines.
"I think you've come up with a darn good product," state Rep. Wayne Christian, a Republican, told the board. He spoke on behalf of the Texas Christian Coalition.
As the board muddled through public testimony, three Democrats vying for spots on the board also criticized the board's efforts. They vowed that if elected in November, they'd work to rescind any partisan changes approved this week.
Democratic state lawmakers also urged board members to delay the vote.
"There is nothing wrong with a delay to get it right," said Rep. Sylvester Turner, a Houston Democrat. "Delay the process, no matter how long it takes and let's do what's best in the interest of the children in the state of Texas."
But Republican board member Barbara Cargill argued that delaying the vote would only increase tensions.
"By delaying this process we're doing nothing but increasing the amount of disagreement because we're never going to all agree," Cargill said. "It is time for a vote. It has been vetted thoroughly for almost two years."