School board re­turns ‘he­roes’ to Alamo

The Washington Times Weekly - - Culture, Etc. - BY JAMES VARNEY

The Texas State Board of Ed­u­ca­tion ap­pears to have de­cided the hero­ism of the Alamo is worth teach­ing to stu­dents af­ter all.

State politi­cians erupted in protest this month af­ter a vol­un­teer team of ed­u­ca­tors, look­ing for ways to “stream­line” the state’s so­cial stud­ies cur­ricu­lum, rec­om­mended scrub­bing ref­er­ences to “all the heroic de­fend­ers” at the Alamo from class­room teach­ing plans.

Gov. Greg Ab­bott and Lt. Gov. Dan Pa­trick, both Repub­li­cans, ac­cused the panel of al­low­ing the dic­tates of po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness to run wild and de­manded that Tex­ans call the board to com­plain.

Rep. Ted Poe showed up per­son­ally be­fore the board last week to de­mand re­spect for his­tory. He quoted from Wil­liam B. Travis’ let­ter to “the peo­ple of Texas and all the Amer­i­cans in the world” seek­ing re­in­force­ments for about 200 men holed up at the Alamo Mis­sion in 1836, mak­ing a doomed stand against a Mex­i­can army about 10 times that size led by Gen. An­to­nio Lopez de Santa Anna.

The board, hav­ing been suf­fi­ciently chas­tened, voted Wed­nes­day to main­tain ref­er­ences to hero­ism — but with an ad­di­tional nod to di­ver­sity.

Un­der the lat­est plan, sev­en­th­graders asked to “ex­plain the is­sues sur­round­ing sig­nif­i­cant events of the Texas Rev­o­lu­tion” will now be ex­pected to know “the hero­ism of the di­verse de­fend­ers who gave their lives” at the Alamo.

The vote, which must be con­firmed in fi­nal adop­tion of the cur­ricu­lum this year, was unan­i­mous.

Chair­woman Donna Ba­horich, want­ing to make sure ev­ery­one was ac­counted for, said a voice vote wasn’t enough.

“We’ve taken so much heat, I want a recorded vote on this,” she de­clared.

The panel of ed­u­ca­tors who pro­posed the change — for good mea­sure, they rec­om­mended throw­ing out the fa­mous Travis let­ter too — said it wasn’t about his­tory as much as pre­ci­sion: The prob­lem with “the heroic de­fend­ers,” ac­cord­ing to the panel, was that “heroic” was a “value-charged word.”

The panel also said “all the de­fend­ers” was im­pre­cise.

As crit­i­cism poured in, they sought to re­cast their ef­forts, say­ing they didn’t in­tend to di­min­ish the hero­ism of the Alamo stand.

“We know the me­dia some­times gets things wrong, like they did with this Alamo busi­ness,” board mem­ber Rueben Cortez Jr. said this week.

Stephen Cure, di­rec­tor of the Texas State His­tor­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion and a vol­un­teer mem­ber of the panel, sug­gested that the cur­ricu­lum ask teach­ers to cover the broader con­text of the Texas rev­o­lu­tion, in­clud­ing the com­pro­mise ref­er­ence to “di­verse de­fend­ers.”

He said the Travis let­ter could be left in the cur­ricu­lum.

Texas re­searchers said the ker­fuf­fle should have been an­tic­i­pated.

“My quick read is that this seems like a pretty easy po­lit­i­cal is­sue,” said Kirby Goidel, di­rec­tor of the Pub­lic Pol­icy Re­search In­sti­tute at Texas A&M Uni­ver­sity. “Who in Texas doesn’t want to be on the side of the ‘heroic de­fend­ers’ of the Alamo? On the other hand, the change in lan­guage seems fairly mi­nor with re­spect to the Alamo.”

The ed­u­ca­tion board is no stranger to lan­guage de­bates.

Prior to the Alamo mat­ter, it spent hours wran­gling over words such as “re­spect­ful” and “ci­ti­zens” while dis­cussing the ad­di­tion of a Mex­i­can his­tory class to the cur­ricu­lum. It also de­bated whether the phrase “il­le­gal im­mi­grant” was deroga­tory.

As they then went through the state’s so­cial stud­ies text­books grade by grade, board mem­bers strug­gled to make clear that their ef­forts to stream­line the cur­ricu­lum meant ex­cis­ing dates and fig­ures, not adding el­e­ments.

At one point, the board was torn over a rec­om­men­da­tion to re­move Sam Hous­ton from a list of im­por­tant his­tor­i­cal fig­ures in a first-grade text­book that in­cluded Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton, Abra­ham Lin­coln and Martin Luther King Jr.

A 7-6 vote left Hous­ton, the vic­to­ri­ous gen­eral in the de­ci­sive bat­tle that won Texas its in­de­pen­dence and the re­pub­lic’s first pres­i­dent, off the list.

“We just got rid of Sam Hous­ton, and I don’t think we should re­place Sam Hous­ton with Ce­sar Chavez,” Ms. Ba­horich, the panel’s chair­woman, blurted deep into the dis­cus­sion. “The idea is to re­duce, not to do some­thing dif­fer­ent.”

The board also added lan­guage declar­ing slav­ery as hav­ing “the cen­tral role … in caus­ing the Civil War,” as op­posed to hav­ing it on a list of causes that also in­cluded sec­tion­al­ism and states’ rights.

In that de­bate, a speaker ref­er­enced the spec­ta­cle with pub­lic com­ment against the Alamo lan­guage, not­ing that the “he­roes” from there in­cluded Sam Bowie, a slave trader; Travis, a failed fam­ily man; and Davy Crock­ett, a “failed politi­cian.”

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