(AP Photo/Jack Plunkett)
The 15 member Texas State Board of Education has ended a torturous and heated debate and has submitted its final social studies curriculum draft. This event happens every ten years and influences what goes into and gets left out of many of the nation’s textbooks. The heat generated this year is no different from previous Texas Essential Knowledge (TEKS) adoptions and it will not be the last, unfortunately.
According to a March Rasmussen poll, 60% of Americans with children in elementary or secondary schools say that school textbooks emphasize political correctness over accuracy. The public thinks that political correctness is trumping important facts about our country. The nitpicking in the TEKS negotiations shows how easily public school students are influenced by any special interest, essential knowledge can and does get lost in the negotiations. Every differing opinion has a point; people and events are left out and feelings are hurt. But, is the end product acceptable when appeasement and consensus is the goal?
The end product we should be seeking is clear evidence that students are learning about our country. The test results seem to reflect the notion that the right information is not being taught to the students. What is not clear, however, is if it is due only to the standards, the textbooks, the teachers, or a combination of all of the above. An article in the Dallas Morning News last December reported that about only 60% of Texas high school students are passing the new end of course (EOC) tests. Specifically, 12th graders in 2009 averaged 52% on the U.S. History EOC test. The new EOC tests will not be mandatory until the 2011-2012 school year and the results will probably be scaled. But, the low test scores are generally accurate for past established tests as well. The 2009 TAKS test (the test that will be phased out and replaced with the EOC tests), show only 62% of 12th graders met the Social Studies standards.
Maybe reducing America’s history, geography, economics, and current events to a thematic mishmash under the broad umbrella of “social studies” is not the best way to organize the education of our students. Perhaps, we’d avoid such important culture clashes about whether to include hip-hop or country music in our state standards if we had a sharp focus in each of those important areas. There must be some objective way to view and teach history, even if it is uncomfortable or leaves some hurt feelings.
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