By Michael Birnbaum
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 22, 2010; A16
The Texas state school board gave final approval Friday to controversial social studies standards that minimize the separation of church and state and say that America is not a democracy but a "constitutional republic."
The changes, which passed in a series of 9 to 5 votes, could have reverberations far beyond the Lone Star State's schools and its 4.7 million students. The state's large textbook market has traditionally led the way for others; at minimum, Texas students will get very different history lessons than does the rest of the country, as early as next year. Many teachers, academics and politicians on both sides of the aisle have condemned the standards.
But the seven-member conservative bloc on the board successfully pushed through changes that they said restored balance after what they called years of liberal bias in history education. The board began the day with a prayer from conservative board member Cynthia Dunbar (R) that laid out some of the beliefs of those who made the changes.
She said that the origins of the country were "a Christian land governed by Christian principles."
Democrats on the board lamented the changes, which come at the end of days of meetings that have stretched more than 12 hours apiece.
"I have let down the students in our state," said board member Mary Helen Berlanga (D). "What we have done today is something that a classroom teacher would not even have accepted," she said, sweeping a pile of history books from her desk onto the floor.
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.
They also removed references to capitalism and replaced them with the term "free-enterprise system."
Earlier in the week, an opportunity for public comment drew 120 people in support of and against the standards, including Benjamin Todd Jealous, the president of the NAACP, and Rod Paige, who was education secretary under President George W. Bush. Both men spoke against the changes.
Teachers will be trained in the new standards starting this fall, and they will be instituted in classrooms in fall 2011. But new textbooks would lag behind, and some have questioned whether the standards might be revised again before they are ordered. Some members of the conservative bloc are leaving the board at the end of the year.