The political skirmish over a rewrite of social studies standards for the state's public schools should make Texans wonder whether the State Board of Education really gets the point.
The National Council for the Social Studies says this: "The primary purpose of social studies is to help young people develop the ability to make informed and reasoned decisions for the public good as citizens of a culturally diverse, democratic society in an interdependent world."
The state board's micromanaging of curriculum requirements for history, geography, economics and other topics under the social studies umbrella suggests that some members would rather direct what students think than provide a framework for their decision making.
The 15-member board took recommended changes to the standards and amended them extensively, to the dismay of many educators.
Members sparred over language as specific as "free enterprise" instead of "capitalism." They fought over the inclusion of various historical figures' names, oddly never mentioning President Barack Obama in reference to the historic 2008 election or President George W. Bush regarding the controversial 2000 outcome.
While the debate wasn't as frivolous as caricatured in some national news accounts, there's reason to question whether board members have put their personal politics ahead of Texas schoolchildren's best interests.
The latest example is outgoing member Don McLeroy's last-minute proposals, disseminated in time for this week's meeting to finalize the standards.
For instance, he wants eighth graders to "contrast the Founders' intent" in the First Amendment's religion clauses "with the popular term 'separation of church and state.'" McLeroy believes the two are inconsistent and apparently wants students to, too.
But the Founders' "intent" is a matter of rich debate. Rather than approaching the topic with a particular mindset, students should explore various interpretations of the First Amendment's meaning.
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