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Oscar Romero and the Texas State Board of Education

March 24, 2010

“To those who are hungry, give bread. To those who have bread, give a hunger for justice.

Archbishop Oscar Romero

On the anniversary of Oscar Romero’s death, it seems appropriate to discuss the legacy of this great man. Except, of course, if you live in Texas.

If you are a resident of Texas, you will no longer find any mention of Romero’s work, beliefs, or activism in the Texas schools. It has been forbidden by the Texas Board of Education, per a vote they took on March 10. He used to be a featured part of a unit in the Texas curriculum about leaders who stood up to political oppression and social injustice. The TBE removed Romero from that unit because they said he wasn’t as important as Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, and others. One member commented that Romero “didn’t have his own movie like the others.”

Actually, however, there is more behind Romero’s consignment to obscurity in Texas than his lack of film cred. In the Lone Star State, he’s now in the company of people like Thomas Jefferson, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Abigail Adams, among others. The Texas Board of Education is relentlessly right-wing and heavily Christian fundamentalist in make-up. They are tailoring the state’s teaching requirements to their political agenda. Here are a few other changes that they have made this year to the state’s curriculum:

• Removal of any mention of Dolores Huerta, a co-founder of the UFW and important activist. The board decided that she is a bad role model for children because she was a socialist.

• A ban on teaching anything about the holiday of Martin Luther King Jr. Day in Grade One. Instead, teachers must instruct children about Veterans Day.

• A ban on the teaching of a unit about Harriet Tubman. It was replaced with one on Clara Barton.

• Required teaching of the McCarthy era as a part of the “fight against the communist infiltration of the U.S. government” in the 1950s and 1960s. One TBE member insisted that the curriculum specifically teach that Joseph McCarthy’s actions had been “vindicated” by current political events.

• A required unit on “conservative heroes” such as the Heritage Foundation members, the Moral Majority, and Phyllis Schlafly.

• The removal of specific units about the struggle for civil rights by women and minorities, with one TBE member noting that women and minorities owed thanks to men from the majority (e.g., white men) for their rights. The board was forced at another meeting to back down in part from this decision.

• The removal of a high school unit about American imperialism, and the replacement of it with a unit on the positive effects of U.S. “expansionism” instead.

• The removal of a unit from Grade Three based on a book called Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? because the board was concerned that the author, Bill Martin, had the same name as the Bill Martin who wrote Marxism and the Call to the Future. Under heavy protest from teachers, this decision was also reversed.

• Removal of any mention of Thomas Jefferson from a middle-school world history unit about important political thinkers. Jefferson was replaced with, of all people, John Calvin.

• A ban on a former requirement to teach “the reasons the Founding Fathers protected religious freedom in America by barring government from promoting or disfavoring any particular religion over all others” in discussions about the Constitution.

Here’s what’s particularly scary about decision-making like this. Educational companies gear their textbooks and supplemental educational materials to the two largest states in the country. Those states are California and Texas. Authors and editors are told to follow the curriculum of those two states when creating new materials. If something forbidden or removed from the Texas state curriculum ends up in a book, educational publishers know that its sales can go down by as much as 50 percent—because those two states represent so much business.

So the shock waves of this type of skewed decision-making will quickly find its way into the country’s published educational materials. Heroes like Oscar Romero will virtually disappear from instruction across the country, not just in Texas.

It is up to grass-roots movements to stop this under-the-radar type of change before it reaches the classroom. One way to do so is to carefully monitor the curriculum choices in our own states to see that they are not influenced by the decisions of boards like Texas. If teachers are required to continue teaching about people and topics like Thomas Jefferson, the separation of church and state, or the civil rights movement, they will do so even if they have to research and create their own materials.

To read an NPR synopsis of the Texas Board of Education’s recent work, click here.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. March 24, 2010 8:33 pm

    The TBE members must have missed “Romero” 1989.

  2. Heather McCance permalink
    March 24, 2010 10:23 pm

    Actually, Romero does have his own movie. Called “Romero.” Stars Raul Julia.

  3. Kate Wheeler permalink
    March 24, 2010 11:08 pm

    Chuck and Heather, I did not know about this movie…and apparently the TBE didn’t either.

    Sadly, I suspect that its existence is not going to restore Oscar Romero to the state curriculum.

    On the other hand, I’m going to try to track it down and watch it. Thanks for mentioning it.

  4. March 25, 2010 1:00 pm

    Thank you for this article. I have provided a link in my recent blog post commemorating the 30 year anniversary of Oscar Romero’s death:

  5. stelle permalink
    March 25, 2010 1:27 pm

    A very fine film, the “Romero” DVD is available to borrow from The Bloom Collective

  6. audrey permalink
    March 25, 2010 3:11 pm

    I don’t see why having a movie makes you a more favorable historic figure. Have we become so obsessed with television, movies, marketing, and commercial goods that we forgot what was really important? Are we that naive? I can honestly say that I am very ashamed of my Texas roots right now.

  7. aaron Meyers permalink
    March 29, 2010 9:36 pm

    I wonder if anyone told the TBE that Phyllis Schlafly is a woman. That may have changed their minds about including her.

  8. Kate Wheeler permalink
    March 30, 2010 3:52 am

    Good point, Aaron–except that Schlafly was a woman who, the TBE might say, “knew her place.” She waged war against the ERA, and considered the equal rights movement as threatening to what she felt were women’s
    special privileges. She also told the press that she would cancel speeches and events whenever her husband told her that she was spending too much time away from home.

    Later, Schlafly spoke out against marital rape laws, noting that the marriage ceremony was blanket consent on the part of a woman to sex whenever her husband wanted it.

    So, forget Harriet Tubman leading missions to save slaves before the Civil War. Phyllis Schlafly is what the TBE considers a good role model for elementary and high school girls.

  9. May 22, 2010 9:26 pm

    Hi guys,

    My name is Peter and I am from Stirling in the UK. I have recently discovered this forum and I like it very much.
    I am a little bit shy so I will not talk much about me but maybe when I will get confortable, you guys will get to know me better!
    My main hobbies are playing piano and watching movies. I also like outdoor activites but the temperature has been horrible for the last weeks or so here in Stirling.

    I was wondering if anyone else here is from the united Kingdom too?

    I am happy to have joined this forum!


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