Fight Over Social Studies Curriculum Rages On in Austin

by Victor Lopez
NewsWest 9

ODESSA--Local administrators say the proposed changes are not as bad as some people are making them out to be.

The Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills were drafted in 1998. The set of changes being considered now in Austin, are actually a second draft. The first was looked over last October  and included, what some considered, pretty radical proposals.

James Lewallan is not only the Social Studies Coordinator for ECISD, he's also a former teacher.  He knows, first hand, the confusion the old TEKS standards caused, including the use of one simple phrase.

"The controversy seems to be coming in because you have some who are on different view points.  A lot of cases what you see is change from the original wording of 'you will study important historical figures such as.' and they would list some specifics.  But TEA's interpretation of 'such as' was, those are suggestions and not requirements.  The new standards, many are using 'including,' so it's giving very specific people to be studied in certain grade levels," Lewallen explained.

The 15 member State Board of Education is considering changes recommended by teacher panels across the state.  According to Lewallen, everyone wanted to put their two cents in, "It's part of the Democratic Party, to argue the different factions, as James Madison discussed, when they were drafting the Constitution.   Everybody gets to have their say and their input, at least considered."

Some groups wanted more Hispanic and African-American figures discussed, while others felt just the opposite.

"You have another group arguing that we are diluting our focus from the real, traditional, proper history, as some would call it, like George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and those people.  We're losing that focus for all these others, who they claim, are not as important," Lewallen said.

A prime example is the sixth grade World Cultures curriculum, that talks about different holidays around the world.  In the first set of changes, Christmas was taken out when teacher panels assumed it would be discussed along with others, they had suggested, that students might not be familiar with.

According to Lewallen, "It was never really the intention.  That controversy resulted in (Christmas) being put back, in the most recent version of the draft."

Lewallen says, once the dust settles and a new curriculum is adopted, everything should be just fine, "I think, ultimately, when everything is settled, we'll have some really good standards to work with, but the process does tend to get a little messy, it seems."

The State Board of Education will vote on the changes in March.  School districts across Texas will be able to put them in effect by the start of the new school year this Fall.