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Texas Education Board Workgroup Changes Course On "Heroic" Alamo Defenders

Dan Chandler of Plano waits to testify before the State Board of Education studying social studies language on Alamo "heroes" during a committee of the whole on Sept. 11, 2018. Bob Daemmrich for The Texas Tribune

After submitting a recommendation to remove the word "heroic" from seventh-grade history textbooks, a Texas State Board of Education workgroup backed off its proposal after outcry from officials and the public.

By Kathryn Lundstrom, Texas Tribune

Editor's note: Correction appended.

A Texas education board workgroup that had recommended not describing Alamo defenders as "heroic" in seventh-grade social studies curriculum standards changed course Tuesday after public backlash.

The board has been streamlining curriculum standards for social studies for the past several months, with the aim of cutting back on the instructional time for teachers and allowing them to go into depth in their courses. The workgroup's recommendations, submitted to the State Board of Education in April by a volunteer working group of area experts, called the term “value charged” and recommended its removal. They also struck out a reference to a letter Col. William B. Travis wrote just before the siege titled “To the People of Texas and All Americans in the World.”

The board took up the issue this week at its September meeting, beginning with a public hearing of over 60 advocates and opponents of the changes. Early in the testimonies, Stephen Cure, a historian and volunteer member of the workgroup, presented an alternative to the language in the initial recommendation that replaced the reference to Travis’ letter and added a line on the “heroism of the diverse defenders” of the Alamo. Several board members appeared receptive to the new recommendation.

The workgroup’s backpedaling came after Gov. Greg Abbott and other elected officials took to social media to defend the use of “heroic” in schoolbook descriptions of Alamo defenders.

“I think the truth of the bravery and heroism of the defenders of the Alamo is self-evident,” said Cure, adding that the intention was never to imply anything other than that. The workgroup was tasked with streamlining the curriculum, he said, and the only goal in removing references to the letter was in pursuit of that goal.

Several people lined up to testify on the language, beginning with U.S. Rep. Ted Poe, R-Humble, who quoted from Travis’ letter: “If this call is neglected, I am determined to sustain myself as long as possible and die like a soldier who never forgets what is due to his own honor and that of his country—Victory or Death.”

Poe went on to question how Texas history could be taught without the letter, ending his statement saying he had “no doubt the people of Texas will stand in defiance, just as Lt. Col. Travis did and fight this ridiculous recommendation like only Texans can do.”

Board members will discuss the workgroup’s recommended changes to the social studies curriculum Wednesday and take preliminary votes Wednesday and Friday. The final decision won’t be made until the board's next meeting, which is scheduled for November.

Those in support of the workgroup's initial proposal argued that using language like “heroic” for the defenders of the Alamo and minimizing the contribution of civil rights leaders whitewashes the history of Texas. “The curriculum standards that guide what we learn in our public school classrooms don’t teach enough and don’t teach the truth,” said Lamontria Edwards, a student at Paul Quinn College in Dallas.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified the text under discussion. The committee's recommendation was over seventh-grade social studies curriculum standards.

Carlos Morales is Marfa Public Radio's News Director.