AUSTIN — The State Board of Education tentatively approved new standards for social studies Friday with members divided along party lines — some blasting them as a fraud and conservative whitewash, others praising them as a tribute to the Founding Fathers that rightly portrays America as an exceptional country.
The standards, which will influence history and government textbooks arriving in public schools in fall 2011, were adopted by 10 Republicans against five Democrats after weeks of debate and across a racial and ideological chasm that seemed to grow wider as the proposal was finalized Thursday.
The document faces a public hearing and a final board vote in May.
The often contentious process has been watched closely across the nation, particularly this week as the board gathered to debate and vote on the proposed standards. Because of Texas' size, decisions by the board on what should and should not be included can influence publishers whose textbooks may be adopted by other states.
Democrats on the board — all of them black or Hispanic — complained the new standards dilute minority contributions to Texas and U.S. history.
"We have been about conservative versus liberal. We have manipulated the standards to insist on what we want to be in the document, regardless whether it's appropriate," said Mavis Knight, D-Dallas. "We are perpetrating a fraud on the students of this state."
But Terri Leo, R-Spring, called the proposal "a world class document" and told her Democratic colleagues the board has "included more minorities and historical events than ever before ... I am very disappointed at those allegations because they are simply not true."
Ken Mercer, R-San Antonio, said the proposed standards reflect the desires of his constituents to emphasize "personal responsibility and accountability" and "to honor our Founding Fathers, and our military."
Mary Helen Berlanga, D-Corpus Christi, said the standards ignore the Ku Klux Klan in Texas, Texas Rangers "killing Mexican-Americans without justification" and the U.S. Army's role in the attempted extermination of American Indians.
"Until we are ready to tell the truth about history, we don't have a good history or a good social studies curriculum for Texas," she said.
She had failed in an attempt earlier in the meeting to get the history standards to identify Tejanos who fell defending the Alamo.
The board majority's conservative approach to "culture, government and the changing political landscape" was impossible 13 years ago when the social studies curriculum last was updated, said David Bradley, R-Beaumont.
"There's been a cultural and political shift in Texas, at least in the policy-making level," he said. "We all represent a constituency. Elections matter."
In 1997, Bradley was on the losing end of an 11-4 vote. Every conservative-pushed amendment got tabled then, he recalled.
Shifting demographics and political winds likely will produce yet another outcome when Texas tackles the standards again sometime after 2020, Bradley acknowledged.
"Mary Helen may have her wish, and it will be the Hispanic Education Agency," he said.
At least until then, the proposed standards are aligned with the Republican Party platform's traditional call for limited government, regulation and taxation.
Although the proposal is "fair, accurate and well-balanced," it could stand improvement before final action, said Bob Craig, R-Lubbock.
Craig and Lawrence Allen Jr., D-Houston, said they were concerned about its length. It has nearly 300 historical figures and prominent people for students to study.
Some board members failed Friday to restore "hip- hop" music to the draft proposal's high school social studies standard on culture.
Experts had recommended students study the impact of cultural movements in art, music and literature, such as Tin Pan Alley, the Beat Generation, rock and roll, the Chicano Mural Movement, country-western music and hip-hop. The board's seven social conservatives, joined by Geraldine "Tincy" Miller, R-Dallas, considered some of the hip-hop lyrics offensive and voted to eliminate hip-hop as an option for students to consider.
Rick Agosto, D-San Antonio, said it was a double standard to delete hip-hop, but retain the Beat Generation, a genre that rejected mainstream values and celebrated illegal drugs and alternative sex. He pushed for it to be dropped from the standard, but was unsuccessful.
The board's success in exposing students to more conservative government and cultural principles follows similar efforts in recent years to put a more conservative imprint on other public school subjects, including a back-to-basics English language arts and reading curriculum two years ago and adding caveats to the teaching of evolution when adopting new biology curriculum standards last year.