Former U.S. Secretary of Education and Houston Superintendent Rod Paige this morning asked the State Board of Education to delay adopting its new textbook standards, saying they had “swung too far” to the ideological right and diminished the importance of civil rights and slavery.
Asked after his comments by board member Rene Nunez, D-El Paso, whether the board should delay a final vote expected on Friday, Paige said: “Absolutely.”
In a prepared remarks and answers to board questions, Paige said the board needs to throw aside its history of making standards an ideological and political battleground. He acknowledged that previous boards dominated by more liberal members had committed the same offense, but asked the current board to “narrow the swing of the pendulum.”
“We in Texas have allowed ourselves to get into a position where we’ve allowed ideology to drive and define the standards of our Texas curriculum. We’ve swung from liberal to conservative with members of the board. It’s unreasonable to expect you to make decisions without some reference to your ideology, but we’ve swung too far from one way to the next, and I’m asking you to narrow the swing,” Paige said.
Paige asked the board to systematically review its treatment of slavery and civil rights, which some conservative members have been accused of minimizing, largely in service to a desire to quash negative aspects of national history.
“I’m of the view that the history of slavery and civil rights are dominant elements of our history and have shaped who we are today,” he said. “We may not like our history, but it’s history, and it’s important to us today.”
Members of the board’s conservative bloc did not seem to take the message well. Don McLeroy, R-Bryan, at one point blurted: “He’s been up there nine or 10 minutes now and we’ve got 204 people to go.”
Terri Leo, R-Spring, challenged Paige on points he never made. Inclusion of minority figures and events, she said, “shouldn’t solely be based on a skin color, but a balance in the curriculum.”
Paige corrected her: “You’re hearing me incorrectly. I don’t think I referenced skin color at all. I’m asking for an accurate representation of history.”
Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, quizzed Paige on specifics points in the curriculum he believed had swung too far into political ideology. Paige declined to get into a point by point, but repeated his broader point: That the standard for inclusion should be the impact those figures or events had on the shaping of the state or nation, not whether they cast history in a positive or negative light or adhere to a set of politics favored by a State Board of Education majority. Moreover, he said, the standards process tried to mandate entirely too many concepts. The standards, he said, should be “succinct as possible” out of respect for the judgment of teachers who will ultimately use them in the classroom.
In response to barrage of criticism, locally and nationally, board social conservatives have repeated said they merely want to “balance” the curriculum, which they say had been left-leaning. To Paige, that’s the wrong answer to the wrong question: “There’s been a lot of discussion of fairness. History it is what is it, whether it’s fair or unfair.”