Published May 21, 2010
Who's more important: Christopher Columbus or John Smith?
Clara Barton or Ruby Bridges?
Ruby Bridges or Dolores Huerta?
Is the story of Nathan Hale too gruesome for first graders?
Will history books refer to the 44th American president as Barack Obama, Barack H. Obama or Barack Hussein Obama?
Late into the night, the Texas Board of Education considered these and other questions for the state’s social studies curriculum. The debate has set off a culture war, pitting conservatives against democrats in a battle that attracted 40,000 e mails from parents, teachers and academics from around the nation.
The curriculum covers grades kindergarten through high school, and yet after 12 hours of debate the board had only just begun talking about its biggest challenge – high school standards – at 9 p.m. Thursday.
All day long the board dropped, added and swapped the names of historical figures and events into and out of the standards. It began with 1st graders. John Smith was dropped, as was Nathan Hale, not because he wasn’t important, but because, according to one teacher, ‘the kids couldn’t get past the hanging.’
Despite deep political differences, the debate remained polite until the topic focused on President Obama. Then it got personal. Lawrence Allen, a black former high school principal from Houston offered a motion to enter President Barack Obama’s name in a section of the curriculum that recognized significant dates in U.S. History.
David Bradley, a white businessman from Beaumont, motioned that the president’s legal name should be used, Barack Hussein Obama. “I think we give him the full honor and privilege of his full name.”
“I am getting pretty fed up with this,” said Democrat Mary Helen Berlanger. “You don’t have to be derogatory. We don’t always put in Jefferson in William Jefferson Clinton.”
“The intent behind what you are doing I think is pretty obvious,” said Republican Bob Craig.
"This is our first black president," said board member Mavis Knight, who is black. "You are making it sound humiliating.”
“I ask the member to withdraw the motion and move forward in a dignified manner," said Democrat Rick Agusto.
Bradley did, but said under his breath, he did so, “to put an end to the whining.”
Knight shot back, “I don’t consider it whining.”
Moments later Craig motioned to add Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor to a list of women who have made significant contributions. It passes, but another motion weakens the language, by changing the wording. Instead of study that "includes" women like Sotomayor, the standards now reads women "such as" her.
Berlanger bristled again. "I have been listening all night to you add names" but the board can't include her.
At 12:10 a.m. the meeting adjourned, 15 hours after it began, with the board giving preliminary approval to the U.S. History since 1877 curriculum. The so called Block of Seven, a group of social conservatives won almost every battle they fought, strengthening the study of the Founding Fathers, free enterprise, eugenics, the extent of Soviet spies during the cold war that helped explain the 'Red Scare' and motivate Sen. Joseph McCarthy.
They also succeeded in including study of the Black Panthers during discussion of the Civil Rights Era, the internment of Germans and Italians, as well as the Japanese during WWII, and the economics standards now require teachers to consider the "solvency" of entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare.