* This story has been updated to add comments from the State Board of Education.
How “heroic” were the defenders who died at the Alamo?
That’s a question that the State Board of Education will likely take up during hearings next week, as it considers recommended changes to the state’s seventh-grade history curriculum standards.
And it’s one that’s drawn attention from top state lawmakers, including Gov. Greg Abbott, who has encouraged Texans to call members of the SBOE and tell them to “stop political correctness" from affecting how students are taught about the attack by Mexican troops.
The board’s social studies work group — a committee of approximately 100 historians and educators who applied to review the state social studies curriculum — has suggested eliminating a line in seventh-grade history standards about “all the heroic defenders who gave their lives” at the Alamo, knowing they would die while protecting the former mission.
“‘Heroic’ is a value charged word,” the committee wrote in a June draft of its recommendations, while “all defenders” is “too vague” and “too many if taught as worded.”
The committee also suggested removing the requirement that students explain William B. Travis' letter, "To the People of Texas and All Americans in the World,” in which the commander calls for more soldiers and ammunition.
Debbie Ratcliffe, a spokesperson for the SBOE, said the proposed changes are no more than a recommendation from an advisory group, which has been tasked with shortening the curriculum standards.
“They’re looking towards things that could be eliminated or combined with another standard,” she said, noting that the Travis letter, for instance, would not be struck entirely from seventh-grade classrooms.
“It would still be taught, but the teachers wouldn’t spend as much time having their students analyze it if it wasn’t called out separately,” Ratcliffe said.
While the board will not be taking a final vote on these and other suggestions until November, the issue has already drawn controversy among Texas politicians on social media.
SBOE Chair Donna Bahorich said on Twitter early on Friday afternoon that she does "not support deleting one of the most iconic letters in US History" from the seventh-grade curriculum standards.
In an interview with The Texas Tribune, Bahorich, a Houston Republican, said that even as the board looks to streamline the seventh-grade curriculum, the story of the Travis letter — and the actions of the defenders who fought with him — must be made explicitly clear.
“The sacrifice they're willing to make is pretty heroic and I think there's some value in pointing that out," she said.
Officially, 189 people are listed as defenders of the Alamo, though that tally may increase to as many as 257 based on ongoing research.
Land Commissioner George P. Bush had posted his take on Twitter on Thursday, sharing a Texas Monthly piece about the proposed changes and calling them “politically correct nonsense.”
Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, meanwhile, both encouraged Texans to call the SBOE against the change.
Stop political correctness in our schools. Of course Texas schoolchildren should be taught that Alamo defenders were ‘Heroic’! I fully expect the State Board of Education to agree. Contact your SBOE Member to complain. @TXSBOE #txlege #tcot https://t.co/Ph9oBoBzKF— Greg Abbott (@GregAbbott_TX) September 6, 2018
Ratcliffe said their office had received dozens of phone calls and emails about the proposed change — most of them in opposition to it — as of midday on Friday.
“It’s certainly been the topic of the morning,” she said.
The SBOE’s main phone line had been disconnected since Thursday evening, but Ratcliffe said that it was a technical issue and unrelated to the controversy. A second phone line was working.
SBOE member Ruben Cortez, Jr. called the tweets from Abbott and Patrick "a form of political grandstanding,” and warned about keeping political views out of the classroom.
"Is this coming from a place where educators in the district are driving this decision, or is it just a personal view?” said Cortez, a Brownsville Democrat who also serves as the board's secretary. "Obviously, the Alamo is important to everybody, but I want to hear the side of these educators and hear what their perspectives are.”
But Bahorich said that she welcomed any and all forms of feedback regarding the proposed changes.
"We would never want to discourage the public from weighing on anything," she said. "This is part of the beauty of the board having the right kinds of processes in place to elicit feedback."
In its recommended changes, the SBOE committee also added a line about Treaties of Velasco, which it says “are vital to understanding the conclusion of the Texas Revolution.”
Notably, it did not touch a sentence in the eighth-grade curriculum about the role of “heroes” such as William Carney and Philip Bazaar during the Civil War.
Carney, a former slave, and Bazaar, a Chilean immigrant, both fought for the Union and were awarded the congressional Medal of Honor for their acts on the battlefield.
The group had discussed removing the two figures from the curriculum, according to its draft recommendations, but ultimately “determined that there is a strong rationale for keeping this … as is.”