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Texas Textbook Critics Just Can't Handle the Truth

Unbelievably, the battle over the Texas social studies standards, which could impact most of the nation, is not over. The process and rules required a final vote on the standards, and the board completed the process. 

However, now California has passed a law seeking to bar textbooks adhering to Texas’ educational standards from the state, and liberal editorial boards both in the state and across the country are advocating for every stonewalling technique available to keep the standards from going into effect, even suggesting delaying the purchase of new textbooks. 

Why? Misinformation about the board and the new social studies standards continue to spread like wildfire, ensuring that this battle will ensue for months, if not years, to come.

“You can’t handle the truth!” This is not only a famous line from a movie, but it’s also a perfect line to describe the unbalanced attacks on Texas State Board of Education members after their passage of good American history and social studies standards for students.

Some critics alleged that the board removed Thomas Jefferson from the standards. That was flatly untrue; unfortunately, many newspapers across the country printed this falsehood without bothering to check the facts. The truth? Jefferson is in the standards five times, second in prominence only to George Washington, and the Declaration of Independence he authored appears another 25 times.

Some argued that slavery was removed and renamed something more “flattering.” False. Slavery is covered numerous times in the standards. One national television host even had to apologize on-air when she looked at the standards and realized she’d been misled on the issue by groups whose goal in spreading this misinformation was to attack the board.

Some of the most attention-grabbing headlines on this issue accused the board of intentionally diminishing women and minorities, which was another contortion propagated by groups seeking only to breed discontent. The truth – numerous civil rights, minority leaders and women were added to the standards – more than ever before by far. The board included Hillary Clinton, Barbara Jordan, Cesar Chavez, Thurgood Marshall, Dolores Huerta, Sonia Sotomayor, Martin Luther King, Jr., the study of Brown v. Board of Education, and many more.

Opponents even argued that Texas is anti-religious freedom because students will now compare and contrast the words “separation of church and state” with the actual words of the Constitution. That truly takes the cake. Reading the Constitution – what a concept! One newspaper, surely intending to appear as a bastion of educational brilliance, used that as their example of the board’s “overreach,” even though this addition to the standards passed by an 11-3 bipartisan vote.

I must admit, as a constitutional attorney who has argued before the U.S. Supreme Court and even taught the First Amendment at the University of Texas Law School, I am baffled. When did it become bad for students to compare what people say about the Constitution to the actual words of the Constitution? I think reading the Constitution is good and that this addition will be a great service to students.

One of the best aspects of the standards is that they not only take students to America’s first principles but that they also take students to original sources. Students actually read the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and our founding documents. They don’t just read what others say about them.

Some of the same groups that have made attacking the board a pet project simply did not like the standards teaching America’s first principles or teaching students to compare words like “separation of church and state” to the words of the First Amendment. So now they have turned to a new attack: claiming the process is “too political” and the standards should be decided by a few hand-picked experts, not the board. 

Strangely enough, some of these groups now want to take away the right of Texas citizens to vote for their board member. And they are supported by one state senator (who is elected) who announced his intent to shut down the board altogether.

This should be a great government lesson for everyone. Do you want hand-picked “experts” making the final decisions for your children or do you like the process in Texas, ensuring that your officials are accountable to you, the voter?

In this case, the hand-picked review panel removed Christmas, the Liberty Bell, Neil Armstrong, Albert Einstein, and reduced teaching about Thomas Edison, Veterans Day, and Independence Day, religious heritage, and more. However, they made room for Mary Kay and Wallace Amos of Famous Amos Cookies. Thankfully, the board disagreed and put these important historical figures and events back in.

The Texas decision-making system, which lasted almost 18 months, works in this way: hand-picked teachers and experts make their recommendations based on the previous standards from the past ten years. Then the board holds five public hearings over a nine-month period, analyzing the old standards and proposed changes. Numerous experts, teachers, parents, and citizens testified. The elected board heard all sides, listened to the experts on all sides, and made its decisions.

Interestingly, “politics,” the democratic process, is good. The process was open and transparent. It allowed for the most information for good decision-making and had the final decisions made by those accountable to the people. We should prefer this to the Soviet-style “hand-picked experts decide for you” approach.

Let’s hope the students understand America better than these critics. Truthfulness and the Texas representative process is the best approach. It’s the American approach.

Kelly Shackelford is President/CEO of Liberty Institute. A website has been launched (www.JustStatetheFacts.com) to provide factual information regarding Texas’ newly adopted social studies standards.

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Kelly Shackelford, Esq., is President and CEO of Liberty Institute, the nation’s largest legal organization dedicated solely to defending and restoring religious liberty in America. Email the Liberty Institute:  info@libertyinstitute.org.