What does Texas want?

Texas’ newly approved social studies standards swing to the right to counter perceived liberal bias, writes the Washington Post.

The new standards say that the McCarthyism of the 1950s was later vindicated — something most historians deny — draw an equivalency between Jefferson Davis’s and Abraham Lincoln’s inaugural addresses, say that international institutions such as the United Nations imperil American sovereignty, and include a long list of Confederate officials about whom students must learn.

Not true, writes Ann Althouse, who links to the text of the standards.

The students are required to “describe how McCarthyism, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), the arms race, and the space race increased Cold War tensions and how the later release of the Venona Papers confirmed suspicions of communist infiltration in U.S. government…” . . . One can be informed of the reality of what the Venona Papers revealed about communist infiltration into the U.S. government and still understand and deplore the excesses of “McCarthyism.”

Students are required to “analyze the ideas contained in Jefferson Davis’ inaugural address and Abraham Lincoln’s ideas about liberty, equality, union, and government as contained in his first and second inaugural addresses and the Gettysburg Address,” Althouse quotes.  “Analyze” is the key word.

On the United Nations and American sovereignty:

What I’m seeing is “explain the significance of the League of Nations and the United Nations” and “analyze the human and physical factors that influence the power to control territory, create conflict/war, and impact international political relations such as the United Nations (UN), the European Union (EU), or the control of resources.” Where is the language that can be paraphrased “imperil American sovereignty”?

On the “long list of Confederate officials” students must learn:

Students are required to “explain the roles played by significant individuals and heroes during the Civil War, including Jefferson Davis, Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee, Abraham Lincoln, and congressional Medal of Honor recipients William Carney and Philip Bazaar.” Only Davis and Lee were Confederate officials! There is also this: “describe the role of individuals such as governors George Wallace, Orval Faubus, and Lester Maddox and groups, including the Congressional bloc of southern Democrats, that sought to maintain the status quo [in the Civil Rights Era].” That’s obviously not from the Civil War, but I can see why it’s annoying to Democrats.

I’m always queasy about standards that go into excruciating detail about what to teach, often falling victim to “mentionism.” But Althouse’s critique of the Post’s analysis is devastating: You can’t pan the standards without referring to what the standards actually say.

Update: Althouse has updated her post to concede that last-minute changes to the Texas standards — mentioned in an earlier Post story — did require students to be taught a list of Confederate generals and about how international groups threaten U.S. sovereignty. Those changes were not posted on the Texas board of education web site.

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  1. I’m always queasy about standards that go into excruciating detail about what to teach, often falling victim to “mentionism.”

    To actually serve as a standard, a standard must be excruciatingly detailed (unless the standard is the actual assessment: student will score above 90% on the exam). If it is not, then it’s merely aspirational blather that won’t guide or inform instruction and won’t determine what the teacher must actually teach and what the student must learn.

    Mentionism is the opposite extreme and happens when educators write standards with out a clue how much the students are capable of learning.

  2. As annoying as such excruciating detail is, the alternative is for the state to say “We’re basing your funding, your grade, your job, your very existence on this test, but we won’t tell you what’s on it.”

    Such byzantine regulations and high-stakes testing are the inevitable result of attempting to maintain accountability, credibility, and fairness in a massive educational bureaucracy. This should be our first clue that such bureaucracies are a bad idea.

  3. The State cannot pay for education without a definition of “education”. In most US States the current definition is “whatever happens to 6 through 18 year-olds in institutions (a) operated by dues-paying members of the NEA/AFT/AFSCME cartel or (b) institutions which look sufficiently like (a) to please accreditation agencies (unless what happens is bad, then we blame parents or the students themselves)”.

    One hundred and fifty years of State-worshipful indoctrination cannot overcome rising public skepticism about the wisdom of a State-monopoly school system and rising anger over perpetually rising costs and intractible poor performance, so the bureaucracy throws distractions such as “standards” into the discussion to keep the fraud alive as long as possible.

    Get real.

    A measure is an order relation on a set.
    A test is a device or procedure used to establish a measure.
    A standard is a unit of measure. A kilogram weight is a standard. A meter stick is a standard.

    Academic standards are to intellectual growth what meter sticks and kilogram weights are to physical growth. Platinum yardsticks will not make children taller. Elaborate academic standards will not make children smarter.

    If the NEA/AFT/AFSCME cartel’s exclusive position in receipt of the taxpayers’ $600 billion+/year pre-college education subsidy is NOT an employment program for dues-paying members of the cartel, a source of padded construction and supply contracts for politically-connected insiders, and a venue for State-worshipful indoctrination, why cannot any student take, at any age, an exit exam (the GED will do) and apply the fraction of the education subsidy that s/he would have received toward post-secondary tuition or toward a wage subsidy at any qualified private-sector employer?

  4. Richard Aubrey says:

    Interesting critique.
    I figure people lie when they look at the cost/benefit of telling the truth and decide it isn’t a good idea. Won’t get them where they want to go.
    Clearly, this hit piece is designed to mislead. If the standards were sufficiently bad by themselves, the writers wouldn’t have to lie.

  5. The fundamental lie that precedes all others in the education business is the contention that society as a whole benefits from any State (government, generally) presence in the education business beyond training of State employees (boot camp, Ranger school, etc.).

    Humans are not standard. Perhaps the routine of writing for a mass audience inclines journalists to believe otherwise.

    What theory of government or economics suggests that citizens benefit from State operation of cafeterias or shoe stores? What makes the education business an exception from the general argument for competitive markets?

  6. BadaBing says:

    God bless Ann Althouse.

  7. Ann Althouse is a queen amoung women. Joanne’s not to bad either. 🙂

  8. Go Texas!

  9. These new “standards”, which sound a lot more like a curriculum than standards, are much more indepth and interesting than anything I recall learning in high school American history.

  10. My compliments to Malcolm, Richard, Geena and BadaBing for thoughtful posts.

    The Washington Post article is very poor journalism and for Althouse to make such a strong case against it was easy.

    I’m a liberal (very liberal) and I have no problem at all with the curriculum changes. In fact, I think most of the changes will deepen the study of American history.

    What I do have a problem with is the article in The Washington Post. It’s one of the most inaccurate, biased pieces of news reporting that I’ve seen in a long time.

    The Washington Post is supposed to be a good paper. Maybe their quality is now a thing of the past.

  11. “The Washington Post is supposed to be a good paper. Maybe their quality is now a thing of the past.”

    This has been true for quite some time, as it is with most of the major daily newspapers.

    Oh, and God Bless Texas!

  12. As a resident of Austin, I knew the state was really in trouble when I found out that the new standards require the students to learn about Thomas Jefferson. Imagine!

    Joking aside, a close review of the new standards reveal a surprisingly mild shift towards a right-wing viewpoint of the world. I presume that next time they’re in power, the left will change that to a mild shift towards a left-wing viewpoint of the world. Since the kids don’t actually seem to be learning anything anyway, I doubt the standards really matter that much.

  13. I can understand why the K-8 kids get watered down versions of U.S. & World History (“My child isn’t ready to learn about death / sex / violence yet!”), but why the Grades 9-12 kids? They should get U.S. & World History as it was, “warts and all,” as the old English saying goes.

    It’s not like the kids today can’t consult Wikipedia, The History Channel, their local library, their local community college library, and a multitude of other sources to check what their ‘official’ textbooks are telling them anyway.

  14. Joanne, I think you need to update…
    Ann Althouse was commenting on an old version of the changes, NOT the ones actually voted on… it appears the washpo story is indeed factually correct on the standards that were finally approved.


  15. Gee, you mean Althouse was wrong? And the conservative commenters here don’t know what they’re talking about, and engage in bitchy triumphalism anyway? Wow. Who’d have thunk it?


  16. Jab, thanks for the link. It sheds more light on how crazy some of the Texans are, but the Post story still remains an embarrassment. The birther-type proposals were not adopted.

    Somebody on the board was adament that Obama’s middle name should be spelled out. Texas has more of those types than, say Northern California. But the fact is, that proposal and others like it didn’t pass.

    Mike, I read your link, and in my opinion, the liberal bias sinks pretty close to the level of the Tea Party Texans.

    Texas has been strange since its beginning. Politics there is like NASCAR. Nothing to be upset about. Nothing to take very seriously.

    What upsets me, as a liberal, is the declining standards of journalism in the liberal press.

    Texas doesn’t upset me.

  17. (Mike): “Gee, you mean Althouse was wrong? And the conservative commenters here don’t know what they’re talking about, and engage in bitchy triumphalism anyway? Wow. Who’d have thunk it?”

    Who’d a thunk? People who throw loose labels around with abandon, if one can call what they do “thinking”.

    If “conservative” designates someone dedicated to the preservation of the current system, it’s defenders of the NEA/AFT/FSCME cartel’s exclusive position in receipt of the taxpayers’ K-12 education who merit the label.

    I made no comment on the Altouse critique. I addressed the topic of curricular standards, generally. If you intended to include me among those “conservative commenters here” (although no one I know applies the label “conservative” to someone who supports legalization of recreational drugs, of prostitution, and of abortion to the end of the fifth trimester) would you be more specific? With what factual assertion of mine do you take issue? With what definition? With what argument?

    Years ago, the sociologist David Reaiman recommended that schools reserve social studies instruction to post-secondary education because, he said, some teachers could not resist the temptation to indoctrinate students. Socialists and religious traditionalists and others will contend for control of the History curriculum so long as the State provides the venue of K-12 schools.

    I see several ways out of the contest:
    1. As Reisman says, remove Social Studies from the curriculum.
    2. Subsidize school choice.
    3. Offer a Chinese menu style of curriculum, where students could select some number of books from a large list, from Paul Johnson to Howard Zinn, from Karl Marx to Milton Friedman.
    4. Repeal compulsory attendance statutes and compulsory (tax) support of school.

  18. Malcolm, I question Riesman’s premise that secondary school teachers are able to indoctrinate their students to any significant degree. Other than that, I find your suggestions reasonable.