The debate over how race and LGBTQ issues are taught in Texas public schools has become part of the state’s political backdrop. The State Board of Education held its first public hearing Monday for its once-in-a-decade rewrite of the state’s social studies curriculum – and it looks like those issues will be top of mind for those pushing for changes to the curriculum, as well as those drafting it.
Edward McKinley, a state government and politics reporter based in Austin for the Houston Chronicle, said nearly 130 people signed up to testify at Monday’s hearing, including state Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, the author of a bill signed into law last legislative session targeting how racism and current events are taught in K-12 public schools in Texas. Deemed the “critical race theory” bill – though CRT isn’t taught in Texas public schools in the first place – the measure bans requirements to teach white supremacy is “morally wrong,” as well as particular writings by women and people of color.
This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:
Texas Standard: As the State Board of Education begins the process of rewriting the social studies curriculum for public schools, what are some of the issues of contention that have come up?
Edward McKinley: The author of the critical race theory bill came by yesterday and he was offering reassurances to the board saying, ‘Despite what some have said, this bill does not make it illegal to teach about America’s historical racism or slavery, or not to provide multiple perspectives on the Holocaust.’ He said this bill is just about not teaching kids that they should feel bad about something their ancestors did and that they didn’t do.
What was the reaction from those on the board, or could you could you make anything of it?
Honestly, I think people were perhaps a little surprised based on some of the comments that the senator has made in interviews about the bill. He was blaming it all on the media, although I will say, you know, despite what you think about the media, if you speak with parents who are anti-CRT, who believe that there’s progressive indoctrination in schools or whatnot, they think that this bill bans discussion of discrimination sometimes at all, based on the conversations I’ve had.
How do LGBTQ issues come up in this context?
The Gay Pride Movement is included in the social studies curriculum standards as of now. Some of the Christian groups that testified yesterday and some of the parent groups had an issue with that and were saying basically that they worked on health textbooks last fall and they said, ‘Well, we didn’t put LGBTQ stuff in the health textbooks, so you shouldn’t be putting it in the social studies curriculum now.’
Who have they been hearing from in these hearings?
There were 126 people who signed up to testify yesterday. There were 20 people who were testifying in favor of the draft curriculum and there were 34 that testified against. But just because of a quirk in the way they signed up, they got two more people testifying in favor than those that testified against.
What can be derived from the makeup of the State Board of Education at present that might suggest where all of this may be headed?
The board is dominated by Republicans, but generally it’s pretty moderate-ish right now, especially compared to what it was like in 2010. The watchdog group the Texas Freedom Network has described the 2010 changes as particularly egregious. You know, trying to get Moses in there, discussing whether the Civil War was about slavery. The only holdover from that board is a member named Pat Hardy. But late last night, after a lot of the newspapers went to print, they discussed maybe even taking past this year to finish up the social studies curriculum, which they would need special permission from the Legislature to do. And if they do that, there will be several new members of the board to take office that will shift the overall composition of the board significantly to the right.
I think a lot of people are wondering if there will be an opportunity for more voices to be heard. How is this hearing process supposed to move forward?
That’s right. So yesterday was a special meeting just to have a public hearing, and there’ll be additional opportunity for public comment at their next regular meeting, which is at the tail end of this month and early next month.