5 Reasons Removing Hillary Clinton from Texas Curriculum Was Not About Politics or Rewriting History
Updated: Sep 24, 2018
The recommendations made to the Texas State Board of Education to shorten the Texas history standards by removing a lengthy list of historical figures--including, but not limited to, Hillary Clinton, Helen Keller, George Marshall, and Wallace Amos--was not about rewriting history, it was not about politics, and it was most certainly not about changing textbooks.
These recommendations had everything to do with teachers and providing them with the time and clarity they need to teach their students.
Here are five reasons we know this.
1. The recommendation to remove historical figures was the result of a scoring rubric, and those rubrics are public.
Every historical figure from the social studies TEKS (all 18 pages of them) was scored by a work group of teachers and curriculum specialists. Each figure was scored based on whether they met multiple criteria, such as:
- Does the individual best exemplify the student expectation?
- Is the individual developmentally appropriate for the grade level?
- Has the individual stood the test of time and had a lasting impact?
- Did the individual impact society in multiple ways?
- Was the individual a member of an under-represented group?
- Did they represent diverse perspectives?
These scores were then used to determine the necessity of including each individual historical figure in the TEKS. Most of the individuals removed were removed based on two reasons:
1) They didn't BEST exemplify the standard (i.e. the work group decided that the individual wasn't the ONLY PERSON IN HISTORY who teachers could use to teach the that specific concept);
2) Those same individuals were taught at some other point in another grade level (either later or earlier).
These scores are available online, and if you look through the other work group documents, you can find additional commentary on the specific reasoning behind some of the recommended changes.
2. Streamlining is about reducing, not politicizing, the history standards.
I covered this topic in a previous post when I discussed similar recommendations made to the SBOE regarding the defenders of the Alamo; however, let me reiterate my argument.
These changes were a part of the streamlining process. The goal of the streamlining process is simple:
Streamlining should produce fewer and clearer standards that are teachable in the time allotted without diluting the rigor of the standards.
Fewer. Clearer. No loss in rigor.
Regardless of what anyone may think, attempting to teach the lengthy list of TEKS required by the state in the time allotted is a difficult task. And while on paper teachers' time looks like this:
It actually looks more like this:
Every minute saved by removing anything not absolutely essential to the specified standard really does matter.
3. Teachers, not politicians, recommended the removal of the historical figures.
Similar to the rubrics for historical figures, the full list of teachers and other members of the work group that scored the historical figures is also public information. While you could argue that the individuals will obviously have their own biases, these teachers represented a diverse set of districts from across the state.
It is unlikely that they all are leaning in one direction politically.
4. Specificity is needed for state tests, not for general classroom instruction.
One of the few times specificity is truly needed in learning standards is to make certain teachers understand how a standard is assessed. If a standard does not result in a question on a STAAR assessment, we should provide teachers with the autonomy and professional discretion to make a decision on how to address any specific area of the TEKS.
For example, imagine if in the 8th grade, teachers were only provided the following text for one of their TEKS:
Identify the effects of legislative acts during the Reconstruction Era
While the list of acts from that time period wouldn't be enormous, the lack of specificity would make a question like the one below quite difficult if a teacher failed to cover the Dawes Act:
Luckily, teachers are provided with this text instead:
Identify the effects of legislative acts such as the Homestead Act, the Dawes Act, and the Morrill Act.
Specificity can help. Drastically.
But sometimes, specificity can, well...
Summarize the significant contributions of individuals such as Texans William B. Travis, James Bowie, David Crockett, George Childress, and Sidney Sherman; Tejanos Juan Antonio Padilla, Carlos Espalier, Juan N. Seguín, Plácido Benavides, and José Francisco Ruiz; Mexicans Antonio López de Santa Anna and Vicente Filisola; and non-combatants Susanna Dickinson and Enrique Esparza
This sort of specificity is not helpful.
5. History standards will never cover all aspects of history.
You will never have a curriculum that covers all of history.
You are ALWAYS going to miss some person, some event, or some group.
The best you can do is provide a well-balanced overview of what we’ve done right as a society and what we’ve done wrong. You can do your best to pick people who are inspiring, intelligent, crazy, heinous, and whatever you want, but in someone’s opinion, there will always, ALWAYS be someone better.
So, before jumping into an outrage, or claiming political bias, or berating the Texas education system as an "insult to democratic values," ask this question:
“Does removing individual X allow teachers the professional discretion to teach an array of historical figures, all of whom would satisfy the requirements of the standard?"
In the case of Hillary Clinton, the standard she was removed from requires teachers to "evaluate the contributions of significant political and social leaders."
Is it feasible that a teacher could evaluate the significant contributions of Michelle Obama or Kay Bailey Hutchinson or Sonia Sotomayor and provide a similar, and possibly more culturally relevant, learning experience for their students?
Obviously, yes. It is very feasible.
We need to trust teachers as professionals.
We trust lawyers to try cases as they see fit.
We trust doctors to make medical recommendations as they see fit.
Architects, engineers, programmers: we trust them all to design things with freedom and autonomy.
Sure there are basic codes and standards that professionals in those careers must follow.
But for teachers, the standard practice seems to be to let politicians, the media, and the general public decide what’s the best way for teachers to teach students.
There is no doubt that the autonomy and freedom to cover certain topics in certain ways comes with a caveat: diverse views, diverse perspectives, and diverse ways of thinking must be respected and accounted for in every lesson.
That is a huge responsibility.
But I think teachers accept that responsibility. We just have to get out of their way and let them be professionals.
If you are critical of the decision to remove Hillary Clinton from the TEKS, let's be logical for a moment:
Do you really think Hillary Clinton won’t come up as a part of the natural dialogue in multiple parts of history:
- As the wife of the former governor?
- A former first lady?
- A secretary of state?
- A presidential candidate?
If you think a teacher could possibly gloss over everything she has accomplished without being met with a 1000 questions, then you obviously have never been in a classroom with 30 little inquiring minds. The kind of gaps in the historical narrative that a teacher would create by jumping completely over Hillary Clinton would be absolutely hilarious.
Please, please, please:
Let teachers teach.
It’s what they signed up to do.
And they take their job seriously.