The concept of defenders of the Alamo being heroic is ingrained in the history of this state—and in the psyche of most Texans. The Alamo has been compared to the ancient Battle of Thermopylae, in which an outnumbered Greek army fended off a much larger Persian army for several days before being annihilated. But a committee streamlining the state’s history curriculum standards has removed the word “heroic” from a proposed revision of the curriculum because it is “a value-charged word.”
Last month, the advisory group, called the State Board of Education Social Studies TEKS Streamlining Work Groups and made up of educators and historians, voted to approve a final recommendation making a number of changes to the state’s history curriculum standards. The paragraph in the seventh-grade curriculum, in which Texas history is taught, currently reads as follows:
explain the issues surrounding significant events of the Texas Revolution, including the Battle of Gonzales, William B. Travis’s letter “To the People of Texas and All Americans in the World,” the siege of the Alamo and all the heroic defenders who gave their lives there, the Constitutional Convention of 1836, Fannin’s surrender at Goliad, and the Battle of San Jacinto.
But the committee is recommending to the state board that it delete several of these passages and add one so now the standards, if adopted, would read like this:
explain the issues surrounding significant events of the Texas Revolution, including the Battle of Gonzales, the siege of the Alamo, the Constitutional Convention of 1836, Fannin’s surrender at Goliad, and the Battle of San Jacinto and Treaties of Velasco.
“‘Heroic’ is a value-charged word,” the group explains in recommending the elimination of the word. The group went on to explain that “all ‘defenders’ is too vague.” Similarly, the ten-person group recommends deleting the current standard that requires students be able to explain Travis letter from the Alamo. The streamline committee said the letter can be mentioned as context for lessons about the siege of the Alamo so that “teachers will spend less time on the analysis of the letter.” There are fewer than 250 words in that letter, but they go to the heart of what Texans think about themselves and about this state. Sometimes called the “Victory or Death” letter, it has been compared to Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s “Charge of the Light Brigade,” which immortalized a British battle in its defeat by Russians in the Crimean War.
To the People of Texas and all Americans in the world: I am besieged by a thousand or more of the Mexicans under Santa Anna...The enemy has demanded a surrender...I have answered the demand with a cannon shot... I shall never surrender or retreat ...
— William B. Travis
The recommendations regarding the Alamo come as several committees work to streamline the standards that are at the heart of the state’s Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills test. They have been at this process for the better part of a year, said SBOE spokeswoman Debbie Ratcliffe. The state board does not control curriculum in Texas, but they do set the standards that are the foundation of the state’s curriculum. And, in this case, they are addressing complaints that the standards in a variety of courses are too long. So committees of educators and interested parties such as historians have been reviewing the standards with the goal of streamlining them. In the case of standards surrounding the teaching of the Texas revolution, including the Battle of Alamo, the committee estimates it will shave off 90 minutes of teaching time.
Despite the implications of getting rid of the concept of heroes as it relates to one of the most revered shrines of Texas history, there has been surprisingly little objection to the recommendation. Ratcliffe said they have received one email critical of the proposal.
Later Thursday, Governor Greg Abbott tweeted that people should complain to the SBOE against the proposal.
Stop political correctness in our schools. Of course Texas schoolchildren should be taught that Alamo defenders were ‘Heroic’! I fully expect the State Board of Education to agree. Contact your SBOE Member to complain. @TXSBOE #txlege #tcot https://t.co/Ph9oBoBzKF— Greg Abbott (@GregAbbott_TX) September 6, 2018
And Land Commissioner George P. Bush called the proposal “nonsense.”
This politically correct nonsense is why I’ll always fight to honor the Alamo defenders’ sacrifice. His letter & the defenders’ actions must remain at the very core of TX history teaching. This is not debatable to me. https://t.co/4QADkAIZIt— George P. Bush (@georgepbush) September 6, 2018
A public hearing on the recommendation is scheduled before the State Board of Education next Tuesday. The SBOE’s Committee of the Whole will vote on the proposal the following day and, if successful, the board may take its first vote on adopting the change as early as next Friday. A final vote would not occur until the board meets again in November.