Tempers flared throughout 2010 over the State Board of Education's proposed changes to the Texas public school curriculum. The standards, known as Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS), are reviewed, amended and adopted about every 10 years and guide what material is included in Texas textbooks for about 4.7 million public school students.
In 2010, the changes put forward by the board's socially conservative members were criticized by educators and minority groups for being largely ideological and distorting history. Teachers also have said the document is too long and will force students to memorize lists of names rather than thinking critically. Proponents argue they are correcting a long-standing liberal bias in education. Member and former chair Don McLeroy sees his job, along with that of other conservatives on the board, as bringing it back into balance.
The changes that elicited the most concern included diminishing the role of Thomas Jefferson — principal author of the Declaration of Independence — and dropping references to a landmark court case that barred schools from segregating Mexican-American students. Proposed changes also included referring to the slave trade as the "Atlantic triangular trade." Other proposals would tone down criticisms of the Red Scare and U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy's anti-communist hearings of the 1950s. They would also portray the U.N. General Assembly, funding for global humanitarian relief and global environmental initiatives as threats to individual freedom.
The new curriculum would emphasize the role of religion in America's founding, challenge the doctrine of separation of church and state and heavily promote the superiority of the capitalist system. The board insists, though, that capitalism will only be referred to as "free enterprise system," largely because conservative board members perceived negative connotations had been attached to the word capitalism, largely by liberals in academia, as in "capitalist pig," as one board member put it.
Texas is the second-largest consumer of textbooks in the country, after California. Opponents of the changes have long worried that textbooks sold in other states will be written to comply with the new Texas standards, meaning that the alterations could impact curricula nationwide. But Texas' impact on the market has recently been exaggerated and has been on the wane, due to changes in the politics of individual state standards and the rise of publishing technology and digital classroom materials.