Texas educators now have a slight roadmap on how to teach students history lessons that align with the “anti-critical race theory” law signed last year.
The State Board of Education approved minor changes Monday that included, for example, expanding on students’ skills so they can discern credible information. Doing so will allow them to “evaluate a variety of historical and contemporary sources for validity, credibility, bias and accuracy” and ways to “use voting as a method for group decision making,” according to state outlines.
The tweaks were an incremental step in Texas’ rewrite of state social studies standards that’s been derailed by political fighting. The minor adjustments were needed now to help schools comply with the new law that was touted as a tougher ban on critical race theory, though it was filled with vague language and did not use those three words.
Because of that, misunderstandings about what is critical race theory, often referred to as CRT, dotted Monday’s meeting.
“People have talked about critical race theory without understanding what it is,” board member Rebecca Bell-Metereau, D-San Marcos, said. “The definition has become that this is teaching children to not like each other on the basis of race, which is not a correct definition of critical race theory.”
One speaker, for example, decried CRT to the board members, saying it has to do with getting rid of Abraham Lincoln.
Chair Keven Ellis, R-Lufkin, said the changes are intended to give students a better understanding of civics.
“We’re working right now mainly on skills – specific skills – how to balance things, fact and opinion, that sort of stuff,” member Pat Hardy, R-Fort Worth, said.
Those skills include how to actively listen and engage in civil discourse, including discourse with those who have different viewpoints.
Texas Education Agency staff presented an outline to state board members showing how existing lessons factor into the new law’s rules and making minor tweaks to standards.
Democratic board members unsuccessfully tried to include amendments Monday that would have added more women and diverse historical figures into the revised state standards, known as Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills.
Last month, the board voted to punt a broad revamp of how schools teach social studies until 2025. They were under tremendous pressure from conservative groups who opposed the proposed lesson plans and accused state board members of injecting critical race theory.
A vote on the revised standards, or TEKS, was originally expected to come later this year. But the board instead decided to only make limited changes this year to align lessons with the new law, Senate Bill 3.
The law prohibits teaching certain concepts about race; develops a civics training program for teachers; and largely bars schools from giving credit to students for advocacy work. It also urges educators to teach only that slavery and racism are “deviations” from the founding principles of the United States. Several founding fathers owned slaves.
It explicitly states that teachers can’t “require an understanding of The 1619 Project,” an award-winning initiative of The New York Times that sought to reframe American history around slavery’s consequences and the contributions of Black people.
It also instructs the state board to embed within the TEKS values like a “commitment to the United States and its form of government” and “a commitment to free speech and civil discourse.”
Critical race theory is an academic framework that probes the way policies and laws uphold systemic racism — such as in education, housing or criminal justice.
Among the tenets of critical race theory are that racism is commonplace; progress for underrepresented groups is encouraged only to the extent that changes benefit the status quo; and that concepts such as color-blindness and meritocracy are myths to be rejected.
Conservative pundits have conflated equity work in education — including diversity and inclusion efforts, anti-racism training and multicultural curricula — with the concept.
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