After spending most of Wednesday gathering public comment, the Texas State Board of Education began hashing out how history, government and economics are taught in Texas public schools.
The board's efforts to revise social studies curriculum standards had drawn national attention, from the Fox News Channel in particular. On Wednesday morning's broadcast of "Fox & Friends," co-anchor Gretchen Carlson sounded scandalized by what the network dubbed the "Texas Textbook Wars."
"Stage set for a bitter debate — the Texas Board of Education begins hearings today on proposed changes to textbooks that could change what students across the country learn," she said. "About history!"
Addressing Jason Moore, a Texas parent who planned to speak at Wednesday's hearing, Carlson said: "So, one of the proposed changes, Jason, is actually to start history class in the year 1877, which would be a big problem for a lot of people, would it not? And eliminate references to certain holidays, Founding Fathers, the Constitution! I mean, no surprise that Christmas, they want to get rid of that because they've been doing that for the last couple of years, but c'mon, the Constitution?"
Come again — we the people will not study the Constitution in school? Christmas nearly kaput?
Moore corrected Carlson on one count — he said the board had made clear that it's not considering eliminating references to the Christian holiday. Carlson didn't acknowledge her goof.
The Texas Education Agency, which oversees primary and secondary education, blasted Fox News for distorting the facts.
"The Fox Network in recent days has repeatedly broadcast highly inaccurate information about the State Board of Education’s efforts to adopt the new social studies curriculum standards," the agency said in a press release.
On Thursday, "Fox & Friends" co-anchor Steve Doocy backpedaled on his colleague's earlier statement. According to a Fox News transcript, Doocy said on the show: "I just want to clarify some stuff, a couple of points. First of all, they were upset that what we said that what they are doing down in Texas is they are developing standards for new textbooks. Technically, what they are doing is they are developing curriculum standards that will set what is taught in classes, and then those standards will become part of a framework that textbooks are based on. We were just trying to make it simpler…
"Also," Doocy said, "we talked about a suggestion that was made that history is, American history starts in the year 1877. That was a suggestion, made first of all, in North Carolina, and we thought we were pretty clear that these were just suggestions, and there have been a lot of suggestions, regarding the founding fathers, and some different dates that may or may not be included in the text . . . . We want to make sure you understand, they were just suggestions, and that is our clarification."
So Fox admits it erred on what the Texas board is debating: curriculum standards, not textbook content.
Now, what about those Christmas and Constitution deletions Carlson bemoaned?
Let's start with the Christmas brouhaha, which broke out last summer. In standards under revision for sixth-grade world culture courses, the board's Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills review committee recommended replacing Christmas and Rosh Hashanah with the Buddhist and Hindu holiday Diwali as examples of significant religious holidays.
Here's the wording of the committee's proposed July revision with deletions in parentheses: "Culture. The student understands the relationships among religion, philosophy, and culture. The student is expected to a) explain the relationship among religious ideas, philosophical ideas, and cultures; and b) explain the significance of religious holidays and observances such as (Christmas and) Easter, Ramadan, (and) Yom Kippur (and Rosh Hashanah) Diwali in (selected) various contemporary societies."
Critics immediately called the proposed changes "the war on Christmas." When the board met in September, it made clear that those holidays would be put back in — and they were restored in the committee's October revision.
Upshot: The board isn't considering removing Christmas from the list of holiday examples.
What about starting the teaching of American history in 1877, leaving out the drafting of the Constitution in 1787 and decades of events after that?
Doocy said on "Fox & Friends" that Carlson was referring to suggestions in North Carolina. He didn't elaborate on why his colleague referred to the Tar Heel State while talking about Texas. We confirmed that while updating its curriculum standards, North Carolina's education board came under fire for a proposed change to spread its teaching of history over several grades so that high school juniors would only study U.S. history post-Reconstruction, after 1877. Currently in that state, U.S history after 1789 is taught in high school.
Texas has long spread its teaching of history over several grades. The Texas Education Agency said: "Texas has and always will teach U.S. History from the beginning until present day. U.S. History through Reconstruction is taught in eighth grade... U.S. history since 1877 is taught in 11th grade."
We found eight references to the Constitution in the proposed revisions to the high school standard, and more than 20 in both the draft middle school and elementary school standards.
Nothing is final yet — the board is expected to give final approval to the standards in May.
So let's review.
First, the board is hammering out changes to state curriculum standards, not textbooks. Second, the board is not considering removing Christmas from a list of various religious holidays. And third, the board has never considered removing the Constitution from history textbooks or the state's curriculum.
The "Fox & Friends" anchor made things simple and irresponsibly far-fetched and wrong. We rate Carlson's ridiculous statement as Pants on Fire.