In 2006, lawmakers in the Lone Star State were horrified that a large percentage of Texas high-school graduates required remedial courses to gain the skills needed to succeed in college.  So they directed the commissioner of higher education and the commissioner of education to assemble teams of college and high-school faculty to recommend changes to the state curriculum that would incorporate college-readiness skills.

They made one costly mistake, however: They let the education bureaucracy run the process.  It should come as no surprise, then, that the first draft of the standards proposed by the social-studies “Vertical Teams” on October 25, 2007, does not require students to know much of anything about American or Western civilization.  It does, however, expect students to understand and regurgitate the prevailing ideology found at most American universities.

“The Vertical Teams (VTs) chose deliberately not to identify lists of facts that students must master to be ready for college,” reads the introduction to the proposed social-studies college-readiness standards:

This should not be interpreted to mean that students should not be mastering a range of specific information about social systems and phenomena.  Instead, the standards assume that students will utilize their understanding of events, social systems, and human behavior to develop greater insight into how the various parts fit together into a more unified whole and into how seemingly contradictory explanations or points of view can be analyzed for greater understanding instead of simply taking sides.

Completely absent from the social-studies standards is any discussion of Ronald Reagan, Adam Smith, the causes of the American Revolution, the fall of the Soviet Union and its causes, the development of English common law, the Magna Carta, or the Federalist.  The Declaration of Independence is mentioned once, when students are invited to “Analyze the Declaration of Independence from the perspective of men and women, and people of Native American, European, and African descent.”

Where it addresses the importance of diversity and multiculturalism, however, the document is very specific.  Students are expected to “Identify the different racial and ethnic classifications used by the U.S. Census Bureau,” “Describe and list several examples of Latino contributions to U.S. popular culture since 1980,” and “Assess how concepts of ethnicity have been used to allow one group to dominate another.”

Immigration, a topic that is on the minds of myriad citizens of the Lone Star State, is mentioned in this document.  Students are invited to “Provide a [sic] historical perspective of xenophobia and its impact on immigration policies in the United States.”

In tackling the topic of homosexuality, the standards direct students to “Analyze how various Supreme Court decisions or federal government initiatives have shaped individual or group identities over time (e.g., Plessy v. Ferguson, Brown v. Board of Education, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Lawrence v. Texas).”  Of course, in the last example, the U.S. Supreme Court declared the Texas law banning homosexual sodomy to be unconstitutional.  Students are also directed to “Identify examples of how gender [sic] is socially constructed.”

What’s scary about these standards is that they probably do reflect what a substantial portion, if not a majority, of the social-science faculties of America’s universities expects arriving students to know (or believe).  More and more schools are little concerned about teaching concrete facts and are placing great emphasis on the study of vague “processes” and broad pronouncements condemning the “racist” history of America.

Standing in the way of the leftists is the elected State Board of Education.  The education bureaucracy has often tried to abolish this board or strip it of its powers (usually quietly at the end of legislative sessions), but, as it stands, the board still has power over the curriculum.

The original version of the bill calling for the curriculum rewrite turned the entire process over to liberal academics and high-school teachers.  When the State Board of Education and conservative Texans raised strong objections, the legislature rewrote the legislation to give the elected board the final say.

So far, conservatives on the board are not impressed with the work of the Vertical Teams.  “Any history standards document that substitutes pillars such as the U.S. Constitution and The Magna Carta for air-headed multiculturalism diversity mush should be deposited in the nearest trash bin,” said Republican State Board of Education member Terri Leo of Houston.  “The draft is so awful that I call upon the commissioner to start completely over or face clear opposition from this member when the draft reaches the State Board of Education.”

The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, which must approve the standards before they are submitted to the State Board of Education, was scheduled to review them in January.  And several major conservative organizations drafted numerous objections during the allotted public-comment period.

Supporters of the Vertical Teams’ draft claim that the new p.c. standards were included not as required parts of the state’s social-studies curriculum but as examples of how schools could comply with the broader standards outlined in the document, which require students to “Evaluate sources from multiple perspectives,” “Understand the concept of ethnicity,” and “Evaluate to what extent a society is multicultural.”

There are two problems with this claim.  First, under Texas law, everything that is written into the state curriculum—even examples—must be used to evaluate school textbooks.  (The state approves textbooks and tells districts which portions of the curriculum standards they satisfy.)  And any of these examples may appear on the state’s standardized tests.

Second, the vast majority of the examples are critical of Western civilization and traditional values.  If the authors were simply interested in helping students “evaluate sources from multiple perspectives,” they could have offered an example such as this: “Compare and contrast Edmund Burke’s views on the French Revolution with those of Thomas Paine.”  Of course, such an example might cause a high-school student to understand, and therefore appreciate, something of the tradition that gave birth to our system of government—which obviously isn’t the goal of the Texas educrats.

The education bureaucracy’s leftist game plan—downplay facts, push multiculturalism, blast Western civilization—is nothing new.  What is new—and encouraging—is that the power players in Texas education are beginning to stand up to the education bureaucracy.

Beginning in 1995 and stretching forward into 2001, every action taken in Texas government was viewed through the prism of the George W. Bush presidential campaign.  Governor Bush wanted to be viewed by the national press as “pro-education,” so many educational fads were adorned with conservative rhetoric and became official policy.  The State Board of Education was attacked and ridiculed by Bush and his lieutenants, but the effort to abolish the board failed.

Things are different in Texas now that the presidential parade has passed us by.  The State Board of Education got near-universal support from Texas Republicans when it rejected an environmental-science textbook that bashed business and was full of environmental-activist propaganda.

More recently, the board rejected Everyday Math, a textbook used in elementary-school classrooms across the country.  Its basic premise is that exposing students to “mathematical ideas” is more important than teaching them how to perform such operations as addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division through traditional means (borrowing, carrying, long division, etc.).  The book calls for third graders to use calculators in math class.  This violates state standards, which, for example, require students to “learn and apply multiplication facts through 12 by 12 using concrete models and objects.”

In rejecting Everyday Mathematics, the board sent a message to publishers nationwide: “Fuzzy math” is not welcome in Texas.  In fact, we care more about our children’s ability to do math than about whether they like it.

In today’s educational theory—exemplified by the proposed social-studies standards and by Everyday Mathematics—facts are irrelevant.  Students need only to practice and learn “critical-thinking skills.”  But attempting to teach children “critical-thinking skills” without first teaching them concrete facts is like asking someone who doesn’t know a trombone from a bassoon to critique a symphony.  In the end, the student only learns to parrot the teacher’s (or the state’s) opinion (or propaganda).

On the other hand, when children learn basic facts, they have a foundation on which to build real “critical-thinking skills”—which may lead to intelligent criticism of the prevailing worldview of the school system.  Perhaps that is why today’s educrats shy away from teaching facts.