State Board of Education members made clear early into their Tuesday hearing that, no, they would not be removing the adjective “heroic” used to describe Alamo defenders in public school classrooms or returning to sender the teaching of William B. Travis’ rousing “victory-or-death” letter written during the 1836 siege. What’s more, a member of the work-study group that made recommendations at least suggesting such changes vigorously insisted nothing of the sort was intended — and fired off a “fake news” charge to safeguard his flank.
Victors of causes and campaigns past and present often get to write the history — and choose the adjectives. But matters can veer into the absurd. Certainly, the State Board of Education has plenty of important work to do, as other relevant testimony that day made clear. While the flap over the Alamo allowed Gov. Greg Abbott, Land Commissioner George P. Bush and Congressman Ted Poe to score some cheap political points, other academic matters facing parents, teachers and students are more complicated — and, quite possibly, more insidious.
“When the current (school) standards offer that Moses was a major influence on our founding documents or when we teach that separation of church and state is not a key constitutional principle, we’re leaving reason and sound scholarship behind,” University United Methodist Church of Austin Rev. John Elford, a former teacher, told the board. “We’re misleading our students and we’re placing our public school teachers in a precarious position where they have to choose between teaching what they know to be true and teaching to a political ideology.”
Others suggest it’s time the board quit fueling Lost Cause myths crediting states’ rights and sectionalism for the Civil War. To quote Cook Children’s Medical Center neuropsychologist Carla Morton, a descendant of Confederate soldiers raised in Virginia to believe slavery was a marginal issue: “As an adult, I realized that my understanding of the Civil War was based upon mythology rather than truth. I was reminded of the continued glorification of the Confederacy when my 7-year-old asked about the state flag of Virginia — ‘you know,’ he said, ‘the red one with the blue X and white stars.’ I should not have to reteach my children the truth about the Civil War after they come home from school.”
Facts? The State Board of Education in the past has clearly sought to inject personal beliefs and preferred ideologies into classroom curriculum and textbooks. This must end, if only to prevent another generation of students from growing up with slanted views of our history. While he possibly didn’t mean the story quite the way it came off, board member Ken Mercer recalled with great humor a tour that he and others took of the U.S. Supreme Court building where tablets held by a likeness of Moses were described by a tour guide as representing the Bill of Rights. This took Mercer aback: “I said, ‘I think he’s actually carrying the Ten Commandments.’ And the tour guide said, ‘Oh, no, that would be a violation of separation of church and state.’” As we witness what at times seems the dumbing down of America, it’s the responsibility of all to better prepare the next generation to understand their history. The State Board of Education should lead in that effort.