An early reference to “involuntary relocation” — as a euphemism to define slavery — has been scrubbed from the social studies standards being considered by the Texas State Board of Education at a special meeting on Monday morning.
The Texas State Board of Education goes through a roughly seven-year review cycle for Texas subject standards. In the rewrite being considered by the SBOE Monday, slavery was defined as “involuntary relocation” in an early draft of second-grade standards on migration; specifically, why people made the journey to America.
Board member Aicha Davis of Dallas raised concerns when SBOE board members were handed an early draft of the K-8 social studies standards in June. Afterwards, Board President Keven Ellis issued a statement that the SBOE had directed the work group to revisit to language as it referred to slavery.
During a Zoom listening session with the Texas Council for the Social Studies on July 19, Ellis called the idea the board was trying to downplay slavery a misconception.
“That unfortunate choice of words created a whole firestorm,” Ellis told social studies teachers. “I think there was truly a misconception that we were trying to whitewash slavery or come up with a different word for that with the ‘involuntary relocation.’”
The revised standards, in fact, now have a whole separate section entitled “enslaved people in America that has three different student expectations,” Ellis said.
The Texas Freedom Network, which monitors Texas textbook revisions, also downplayed the work group’s intentions, while raising the ultimate specter: How the new Texas critical-race theory bill — which limits some aspects of teaching race — will be implemented in Texas classrooms.
“It was clearly a bad choice of wording because the drafts published since then are actually clear and explicit about slavery,” said TFN communications coordinator Caleb Ajinomoh. “But the fact remains that elected leaders like (Lt. Gov.) Dan Patrick recklessly fueled the controversy, by ramming through legislation last year to restrict what students learn about topics like this.”
Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, who carried the critical-race theory bill last session, insisted topics like slavery, eugenics and racism would be taught. Texas standards mention Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., as often as George Washington, Hughes said.
“I defy anyone to find one word of this bill that says we don’t teach the ugly parts of our history,” Hughes said on the floor of the Senate, defending Senate 3. “Yes, we teach them, and we teach how we’ve overcome them. Not by dividing ourselves based on race, and that’s what Critical Race Theory seeks to do.”
Critics of the Critical Race Theory bill question — unlike Hughes — whether slavery and racism have been fully addressed. They say the broad language of the critical-race theory bill, also known as Senate Bill 3, will leave quicksand for more complicated race discussions in Texas classrooms.
“The question now is whether political pressure to censor and whitewash our history will lead the state board to water down the drafts going forward,” Ajinomoh said. “It’s important that parents and other voters speak out to insist that the board let public schools teach the truth.”
Conservatives also have separate concerns about the rewrite of certain sections of the social studies standards. Texas Values urged its own members to protest deleting the historical figure of Moses and the national motto “In God We Trust” from the high school standards, which are also under review.
“It is important that Christian values and references are not censored in U.S. History and Government classes just to be politically correct,” Senior Policy Advisor Mary Elizabeth Castle said. “Social studies classes should also not be weighed so heavily to one extreme political point of view. It is important that the SBOE gets the standards right so that Texas students can be educated and well-rounded citizens.”
SBOE will spend six hours Monday listening to testimony on social studies standards. Then board members will spend hours offering amendments to various sections of the standards, known as the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, or TEKS.
These amendments typically are where more controversial elements are debated in curriculum standards.
Board members are expected to approve a first reading of the social studies standards on Monday. That will be followed by a second reading at the November SBOE meeting.
Social studies teachers on the Zoom session with Ellis and SBOE Board Member Rebecca Bell-Metereau grappled with the topic Ellis raised: When and how should slavery be introduced in the classroom? What would young children easily understand?
“Do you teach, first, about freedom? Because slavery is the absence of freedom? Then you have to start with freedom,” Ellis asked. “Or how slavery has occurred cross the world, and then move it into the context of Texas, and use it as we go up the grades?”
Social studies teachers on the call said younger students are capable of grasping the idea of slavery, often more so than adults. The concept can be introduced as early as children enter school, using references like “friends” or “Juneteenth.”
It’s a complicated topic to tackle, but an important one, said participant Amber Godwin, a professor at Sam Houston State University who supervises social studies teachers.
“You have students that go home and have family stories. You’re never going to get away from hard history ever, period. Because our students are humans that live human lives, and they have human histories,” Godwin said. “If they’re not hearing it at school — whatever ‘it’ is — that is also sending a message. And that’s a difficult place to be in making that decision.”