Lower grades in school don’t need more Texas history classes

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Ever heard of having too much of a good thing?

When it comes to Texas, we hate to ever come across as anything less than #TexasForever, but expanding Texas history classes in schools seems unnecessary. Hear us out.

The State Board of Education is in the middle of a yearlong process to review what students learn in social studies, or history class. Right now, kids learn about Texas history in fourth and seventh grades, but the State Board of Education voted earlier this month to add the subject to kindergarten, first grade, second grade, sixth grade, and eighth grade.

Board Chairman Keven Ellis, R-Lufkin, said during the April 6 meeting that new standards will “appropriately emphasize the significant role that Texas has had in the growth of our county and also the importance of Texas on the world stage.”

The new standards suggest teaching history chronologically, going back to the 1400s, with Texas still “front and center,” Ellis said.

IMG_Alamo_7_1_UQEEQ546_L419122408.JPG
The Alamo in San Antonio is best known as the site of a legendary 1836 battle, but it was originally built in 1718 as a Spanish mission. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File) Eric Gay AP

If we know our history, it was William Shakespeare who said, “All the world’s a stage and all the men and women, merely players.”

It might just be a catchy line now from an ancient comedy but it has some truth: We are proud Texans who would nonetheless advise caution in making Texas, rather than the world, front and center in a child’s history class, especially if there’s a particular Effort to highlight Texas history at the expense of US, world and ancient history.

The world is the stage for today’s children, and they should learn not just about the state they live in today but the entire world as we have seen it progress: the fall of Rome, the rule of Alfred the Great, the rise of Genghis Khan — you get the idea.

Right now the youngest students learn first about broad concepts such as how to be a good citizen, then advance to more specific names and events. The new standards would reverse that and teach kindergartners about Texas-centered people and events, the United States and the world. Children are more wired than adults to remember people, places, and events, and so this new standard would teach the way they learn best.

Ellis said the new standards would set “clear and direct student expectations that would emphasize Texas history from eight grades K.”

The new proposed standards wouldn’t abandon US or world history altogether. Texas students from third to eighth grade would learn history chronologically, but from the vantage point of Texas first.

In the meeting, board member Pam Little of Fairview said she is worried Texas history might be taught as an afterthought. “[W]e don’t want to give up just a single second of that history,” she said.

But there’s only so many hours in the school day, so tradeoffs are inevitable.

Of course Texas history is special, and we’re not just talking about Juneteenth or the Alamo. Plus, “Come and take it” has to be the most renegade unofficial state motto a state can borrow from the ancient Spartans.

There are states outside Texas, a world outside the United States, and an ancient history that goes back to when time began. It’s not all victories and bluebonnets, but learning about how empires rose and fell is vital for kids to understand the world they live in. They learn valuable perspectives about their problems, their successes, and themselves. (Imagine getting your phone taken away for the day only to learn that in the early 1900s, a 9-year-old could be forced to work in a dangerous cotton mill and earn less than a dollar a day.)

Kids will still be learning this but if Texas is “front and center” isn’t that a little misleading for them? World history hardly revolves around the Lone Star State: One of the oldest countries in the world, Egypt, began some time around 3150 BC; Texas became a state in 1845.

A more broad focus on history will help kids appreciate Texas’ past. The history of Texas itself cannot be understood without realizing how vital independence was to America, and nor can that be fully appreciated without understanding England’s attempts (and failures) to conquer so much of the world, as Rome and others did before.

There’s danger, too, that the war over how race and history are taught could mix badly with this new push. More Texas history must include more of its blemishes, including the importance of slavery to its founding and revolution.

With TikTok and YouTube at their fingertips, kids can learn a lot about nothing and very little about the origin of ideas, history or literature. History classes that teach about Texas within an appropriate perspective of the rest of the world would benefit kids lacking depth and scope.

We urge the State Board of Education, which isn’t adopting final revisions until November, to encourage children to learn about Texas throughout their elementary education in a way that presents an accurate view of history — Texas as a part of history, not the center of it — and also still underscores the importance of learning about the rest of the world as well.

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This story was originally published April 19, 2022 10:29 AM.

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