The Texas Board of Education is scrambling to explain how a proposal that used a two-word description for second-graders to grasp slavery — "involuntary relocation" — came before it during a June 15 meeting.
In a meeting that lasted 13 hours, 27 minutes, the board of education spent less than five minutes in the meeting's waning moments discussing the proposed language, and it would have never been if board member Aicha Davis didn't say something.
"The phrase involuntary relocation is used when we're talking about the slave trade," said Davis, a Democrat representing the Dallas-Fort Worth area. "I don't know if that's a fair representation of what we should be saying about that journey."
The Texas Tribune first reported the issue, which described it as happening late in the meeting. It was clear that many of the board of education members had not seen the proposed changes because they were delivered the day before the June 15 meeting.
Davis, however, asked the question about slavery in the final five minutes of the meeting — not one other member questioned the phrase. Earlier, member Patricia Hardy railed against what she thought was a non-traditional way of teaching world history.
The proposal came from a working group of educators looking to improve the Texas Essential Knowledge Standards or TEKS, and there was a lengthy defense of the effort.
"There was some conversation about thinking what would make sense to second graders while also recognizing there are certain ideas that the work group members felt strongly needed to be addressed throughout kindergarten through eighth grade," said Monica Martinez, the Texas Education Agency assistant commissioner for standards and support services. "I think there's going to be more work done on that, and we can certainly share with them that comment about what is the best way to address something. They were looking at some trade books that exist and how would you explain to second graders that a lot of people got to this country in very different ways some of which were voluntary and were not."
Board President Kevin Ellis, who represents Lufkin, said that he and Vice Chair Pam Little had similar concerns about social studies instruction in kindergarten through the third grade. Ellis, however, didn't specifically address the slavery issue.
Ellis said the working groups tasked with recommending social studies curriculum would receive board feedback, including Davis' concerns.
Ellis later clarified his comments via a nitpicky Tweet that said the Texas Education Agency doesn't make recommendations to the board of education — that work rests with the working groups.
See @teainfo's post on Twitter.
However, at least one member of a social studies advisory board, which examines the working group recommendations, said that "involuntary relocation" is the wrong approach.
"I think it was a ham-fisted way of trying to spare the feelings of second graders," said Schreiner University's Don Frazier, who is a member of Social Studies TEKS Review Content Advisors. "I think we need to speak truth to those kids, and others, that slavery was an institution at that time, talk about how it worked and the implications of it, and how slavery still exists today. We live close to an international border where human beings are trafficked."
Frazier is the head of Schreiner's The Texas Center and is also a member of Gov. Greg Abbott's 1836 Committee — a group dedicated to reviewing how Texas history is taught in the state's schools.
"Tell the kids the truth," Frazier said. "We need them to grow up knowing these things so they can fix them."
The issue touched off a social media explosion of criticism about Texas' ongoing effort to define history. The last legislative session banned the teaching of so-called Critical Race Theory — an academic of race in the legal system — in public schools. It also scaled back the legislature's requirements about what is taught in the schools regarding slavery and racism — instead deferring to the board of education.
Just some of the criticism:
See @DonLew87's post on Twitter.