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Study: GOP-Led Education Board Distorts TX History Lessons

This statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in a Dallas park is part of the state’s history. But a new report claims there are numerous errors in the history books used in Texas public schools. (Wikimedia Commons)
This statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in a Dallas park is part of the state’s history. But a new report claims there are numerous errors in the history books used in Texas public schools. (Wikimedia Commons)
February 23, 2018

AUSTIN, Texas – A new report claims state education officials are favoring politics over facts in teaching Texas history.

A Texas Freedom Network Education Fund study charges the Republican-controlled State Board of Education has altered significant parts of history texts, distorting passages on slavery and the Civil War, civil rights, religion and other topics, to conform to its members' conservative viewpoint.

Edward Countryman, a Southern Methodist University history professor and a consultant for the study, says current events make it especially important to present the facts without bias.

"The situation across the country is a mess,” he says. “I think it's really important in the present situation – with Charlottesville and all the rest of it – that people actually understand the realities of this country's history, and I'll start with the Civil War."

Countryman says the current curriculum, approved by the board in 2010, states that slavery was not a major factor in Texas joining the Confederacy in 1861.

No current board members responded to requests for comment, but Republican board member Pat Hardy was quoted in news reports in 2010 calling slavery "a side issue," and saying, "The real reason for secession was states' rights."

Countryman disagrees, saying history books of more than 100 years clearly show it was slavery that divided the country.

Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund, says the board is scheduled to revise the curriculum this year. Her group has put together a panel of academics and historians to propose corrections to what she calls "multiple errors" in the text.

"We are urging the Texas State Board of Education to take this opportunity to correct the mistakes of the past, to give our kids facts and scholarship in their history curriculum, and to put our kids ahead of their political ideology," says Miller.

Countryman, who has followed the board for years, says conservatives hold a 2-to-1 advantage over Democrats on the panel and can therefore dictate policy – but it wasn't always that way.

"There's a different makeup of the board now” he says. “It was always a tradition that people would talk across party lines about good history, rather than yell at one another or come up with one harebrained idea after another."

The board will hold public hearings for the revised standards later this year, with a final vote in November. About half the board members also are up for re-election this year.

Mark Richardson, Public News Service - TX