The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Texas board votes to keep Hillary Clinton in social studies standards. But historians say they remain riddled with inaccuracies.

Hillary Clinton speaks at the 2018 Glamour Women of the Year Awards in New York. (Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images for Glamour)

Hillary Clinton gets to stay after all. The people who decide what is taught — and what is not — in the schools of Texas declared Clinton warrants a mention in the state’s social studies classes.

So does Moses — who is already in a high school U.S. government standard as someone, along with John Locke and others, "whose principles of laws and government institutions informed the American founding documents.”

But former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt is out, and while the Texas Board of Education voted to finally, for the first time, include slavery as a “major” cause of the Civil War, it would not remove states' rights as a cause, too (though historians note states’ rights was a euphemism for slavery).

The board just voted on big changes to its K-12 social studies standards after months of controversy about what would stay in and what would come out. A final vote is set for Friday, and anything can change but is not likely to.

The changes in standards, which take effect for the next school year, exploded into public view in September when board members took a preliminary vote to remove several historical figures, including Clinton, the first female presidential nominee from a major U.S. party as well as a former secretary of state, U.S. senator and first lady.

The board aimed to streamline the standards — though as is common in Texas, the debate became political, with educators and historians complaining that political views influenced some decisions. A letter just sent to the board and signed by nearly 200 scholars from colleges and universities across the country called on the panel to correct historical distortions and align the standards with “settled historical knowledge.”

Among the actions the board took, spurning the recommendations of scholars and historians:

  • Rejected amendments to remove the myth that defending “states’ rights” was a cause of the Civil War and failed to correct the false portrayal that opposition to civil rights progress came exclusively from Southern Democrats. The letter from the scholars says the standards effectively resurrect the “Lost Cause” myth, “a long-discredited version of history first promoted in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to glorify the Confederate past and reinforce white supremacist policies such as the disenfranchisement of African Americans and Jim Crow segregation."
  • Rejected an amendment to remove Moses from a list of political thinkers who were major influences on the American founding documents. The current standards says: “Identify the individuals whose principles of laws and government institutions informed the American founding documents, including those of Moses, William Blackstone, John Locke, and Charles de Montesquieu.”
  • Rejected an amendment to correct a standard that suggests separation of church and state is not a key constitutional principle. 
  • Rejected a recommendation to remove a reference to the “heroism” of the defenders of the Alamo, meaning, as a Board of Education release said: “Texas schoolchildren will still learn of the heroic ‘Victory or Death’ letter penned by Lt. Col. William Barret Travis while besieged in the Alamo.”
  • Clinton and Helen Keller stayed in the curriculum after at least one board member was besieged with phone calls about their removal. Some other historical figures are being removed, including Eleanor Roosevelt and Republican Sen. Barry Goldwater, who ran for president in 1964.  

Controversies about Texas standards are hardly new. Four years ago, scholarly reviews of 43 proposed history, geography and government textbooks found numerous inaccuracies, biases and exaggeration such as:

  • The idea that Moses and Solomon inspired U.S. democracy. 
  • That in the era of segregation only “sometimes” were schools for black children “lower in quality.” 
  • That Jews view Jesus Christ as an important prophet. 

In 2010, controversy erupted over a bid by conservatives on the Board of Education to label the grotesque U.S. slave trade by the innocuous term the “Atlantic triangular trade.”

Carisa Lopez, political director of the nonprofit Texas Freedom Network (which describes itself as the “state’s watchdog for monitoring far-right issues, organizations, money and leaders”), reacted to the latest vote by the board:

“When it comes to writing curriculum standards for our kids’ schools, it’s painfully clear that the personal beliefs of politicians on the state board matter more than what countless historians and teachers have told them is factually true. Rather than teaching the truth, too many board members stubbornly mislead students on fundamental facts from our nation’s history. Texas kids deserve a lot better than a politicized version of history that fuels so many of the divisions in our country today.”

And the conservative Fordham Institute has said about previous versions that “Texas combines a rigidly thematic and theory-based social studies structure with a politicized distortion of history. The result is both unwieldy and troubling, avoiding clear historical explanation while offering misrepresentations at every turn."