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Why the Texas Textbook Debate Matters

Is America a “constitutional republic” or a “democratic” one? Is Country & Western more of a significant cultural movement than Hip Hop? Is there such a thing as “separation of church and state”?

These are but a few of the hundreds of questions the 15 elected members of the Texas State Board of Education [SBOE] have been agonizing over for nearly a year as they struggled to reach an agreement and adopt the Lone Star State’s standards for social studies.

The vote is in, and the social studies standards were finally adopted last week following a marathon debate that was often contentious and racially charged.

The deliberation process became somewhat of a national spectacle in political discord, as the board’s ten Republicans –seven of whom are said to be part of a conservative Christian voting bloc—duked it out with the board’s five Democrats.

“We are adding balance,” to a perceived liberal bias, says Dr. Don McLeroy, a practicing dentist and Republican from Bryan, Texas.

The Democrats disagree, accusing McLeroy and the rest of the bloc of “whitewashing history.”
“They can just pretend this is a white America and Hispanics don’t exist,” said Democrat Mary Helen Berlanga in March.

The standards, which are amended and updated every ten years, outline what 4.7 million Texas public school students are expected to learn. The final text serves as a blueprint for publishers.

As Texas goes, so goes the nation. Or not? As one of the country’s two largest buyers of textbooks, publishers have traditionally tailored their product to comply with what Texas adopts. That may not be so true anymore as Texas’ time-honored national ripple effect has come under scrutiny.

“There was in the past truth to that allegation,” said Robert Scott, Texas’ Commissioner of education. “I think that it becoming less true today as the rise in technology and open source material make the dissemination in information a lot quicker.”

Core national standards and budget shortfalls are also said to contribute to Texas’ waning national influence.

Whether it matters as much as it used to, the spirited debate over the standards still attracts national attention. Here are some changes to the social studies standards that have people talking:

- 8th grade students will analyze “Abraham Lincoln's ideas about liberty, equality, union, and government as contained in his first and second inaugural addresses and the Gettysburg Address,” and contrast them with the ideas contained in confederate leader Jefferson Davis’ inaugural address;

- The word “capitalism” has been struck for its negative connotation. [“You know, ‘capitalist pig!’” said Republican board member Terri Leo] It has been replaced with “free enterprise”;

- Causes of the Civil War will be presented in this order: sectionalism, states’ rights and slavery;

- Students are asked to “examine…compare and contrast” the phrase “separation of church and state” to the original wording of the Constitution;

- In high school history, a standard promotes discussion on the “solvency of long term entitlements such as Social Security and Medicare” and;

- "Laws of nature and nature's God" will be referenced when discussing major political ideas.

Fox News has been following this developing story and our cameras have captured over thirty hours of passionate discourse. This weekend, we bring you the dramatic finale in an explosive update, hosted by Fox News contributor Tucker Carlson. Find out what happens in our riveting special “Fox News Reporting: Fighting for Our Children’s Minds,” on May 31 at 9:00 p.m. ET, then again at midnight.

Ayse M. Wieting is a Fox News producer. 

Fox Forum is on Twitter. Follow us @fxnopinion.

Click here to for all updates from the Texas Education Agency. 

Click here for Texas State Board of Education’s statement on the Thomas Jefferson affair.

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