The State Board of Education (SBOE) convened in a special meeting on August 1 to hear from work groups drafting changes to the social studies curriculum, along with invited experts and regular citizens.
New state laws require the SBOE to finish updating the curriculum, known formally as the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS), by December. By next year, the social studies curriculum will include new ethnic studies courses, financial literacy requirements, and material to instill “informed patriotism” in Texas public school students.
The curriculum process begins with volunteer work groups made up of Texas educators. Their proposed changes to the social studies TEKS can be found here.
Currently, the SBOE authorizes two ethnic studies courses for Texas public schools: African American studies and Mexican American studies. The work group revising these course requirements also drafted TEKS for two new ethnic studies courses: Asian American Studies and American Indian/Native Studies.
Many revisions to the African American studies course would require students to understand the history and geography of African civilizations before and during the British colonial period.
Notably, the thematic introduction to the course would swap the phrase describing “past achievements” of African American history with “past struggles, sacrifice, and perseverance.” It would also describe the course in patriotic tones: “Finally, this course helps students to love America by understanding all her people, and everyone’s contributions to making her ‘the Land of the Free,’” the recommendation reads.
The biggest recommended change to the current African American studies TEKS would remove a section including the general directive to use “a variety of rich primary and secondary source material” in lessons. Throughout the recommendation, the work group replaces descriptions of generic historical trends with concrete events and documents to anchor the course.
Recommendations for the Mexican American studies course follow a similar trend. The introduction would expand on the current course description, “history and cultural contributions of Mexican Americans,” with a longer and more specific list of topics reaching from Mesoamerican civilizations to American society after 1848.
The course would require students to understand “emerging intersectional identities including Tejanos, Mexican-Texans, Mestizos, Mexicanos, and Mexican Americans.”
New Law and the K-8 TEKS
Along with requirements for classroom teaching, Senate Bill (SB) 3 requires the SBOE to update the social studies curriculum by the end of 2022 to develop students’ civic knowledge. Specifically, the new law requires the TEKS to include an understanding of America’s moral and political foundations and engagement with America’s founding documents.
“‘Informed American patriotism’ means a reasoned appreciation, gained through the study of historical primary sources, of why America has been, is now, and continues to be the destination of choice for those around the world who yearn to live in freedom,” the bill reads.
Although these bills have been characterized as an effort to curb lessons regarding slavery or racial strife in America, the SBOE will likely expand slavery lessons if it accepts the recommendations of the work groups.
The work group analyzing updates to the social studies TEKS for elementary and middle schools recommends introducing the topic of slavery in the second grade. Currently, Texas students do not learn about slavery until the fifth grade.
In their recommendations, the work group does cite intersectional theory in their rationale for comparing the “American Indian, Chicano, Civil Rights, Pride, and Women’s liberation movements of the 1960s and 1970s.” This topic would be discussed in the 8th grade and is not included in the current middle school TEKS.
Introduced as an effort to prevent critical race theory “inculcation” in the classroom, SB 3 also forbids teaching students that one race or sex is superior to another. This general principle guides the bill’s requirements about classroom instruction, which include a list of prohibited concepts. For example, this list forbids the concept that a particular race can be inherently guilty for past crimes.
The prohibitions on classroom teaching are enforced by local school authorities, not the state.
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