- From the Editorial Board Problematizing Recent Educational Decisions
At The High School Journal, we are commited to maintaining a conversation about relevant issues in education and how they speak to the general purpose of schooling. In our last issue we addressed the paradox associated with groups of stakeholders having different notions of the purpose of schools (e.g., creation of an educated work force, or a vehicle for social justice). As academics, educators, parents, and school reformers, we should answer this question before our work in improving schools begins: What is the purpose of school? This question is multifaceted and has many possible, even conflicting answers, but the purpose of schools is an important part of the conversation surrounding educational reform. Without determining the purpose of our reform, we have no idea if our reform efforts are moving schools in the right direction.
In this issue, our portion of this conversation continues, drawing from recent decisions in education made at the state and local level which have become political juggernauts. The recent debates have brought new questions into this discussion such as: Who should teach our students? What should our students be learning? And how do we determine who attends which schools?
The Texas School Board Curriculum Revisions
The Texas School Board recently updated the standards of Texas's history curriculum. Televised excerpts of the process have shown school board members going through lists of people and topics while discussing as a panel whether or not these items should be included in the Texas history curriculum. Curriculum has always been selective, leaving out certain issues in favor of others, sometimes in an effort to promote the ideology of particular groups. In a study (Romanowsli, 2009), for example, researchers found that textbooks consistently left out important information about the 9/11 attacks in order to legitimize current US policies. Revisions of the Texas curriculum would continue to leave out what some consider important information in favor of a particular groups and mindsets. Such exclusions have led to a contentious debate over what should and should not be part of world and American history.
The revisions have supported a Euro-centric version of history. As a result of an increase in the Hispanic population in Texas, certain interest groups have sought to increase the number of historic figures from Latino and South and Central American backgrounds in order to give Hispanic students a sense of their own history and a pride in their own heritage. The school board has denied the addition of these new figures into the curriculum, however, and eliminated some previously-included figures of Latino and African American history, like Cesar Chavez and Harriet Tubman. The revisions also illustrated the dominance of the American democratic and capitalist systems above others. They have also had an arguably conservative slant as they include triumphs of groups like the Republican party and even the NRA. [End Page 151]
School board members argue that these changes add a conservative ballast to the curriculum. Texas School Board member Dr. Don McLeroy said, "We are adding balance. History has already been skewed. Academia is skewed too far to the left" (McKinley, 2010). The conservative slant on standards has also led to much conversation on topics such as whether or not to include Thomas Jefferson based on his beliefs about separation of church and state and how to handle Darwinism versus Creationism. Some have criticized the partisan stance on curriculum, though. A member of the Texas House of Representatives, Michael Villarreal, spoke out about the revisions saying, "[the school board members] have ignored historians and teachers, allowing ideological activists to push the culture war further into our classrooms. They fail to understand that we don't want liberal textbooks or conservative textbooks. We want excellent textbooks, written by historians instead of activists" (CBS, 2010). Political partisanship is only one factor of the issue in the Texas School Board curriculum debate; more worrisome to other critics is the focus on religion and the lack of focus on racial issues.
The debates over these changes have garnered much media attention and public backlash, but the school board is acting within their rights as elected officials who...