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Students from Texas will soon learn that slavery played a central role in the civil war: NPR



Abraham Lincoln is shown in Richmond, Virginia, being applauded by ex-slaves in 1865.

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Culture Club / Getty Images

Abraham Lincoln is shown in Richmond, Virginia, being applauded by ex-slaves in 1865.

Culture Club / Getty Images

The Texas Board of Education voted on Friday to change the way its students learn about the Civil War. From the 2019-2020 school year, students will learn that slavery played a "central role" in war.

The previous patterns of social studies of the state listed three causes for the Civil War: sectionalism, state rights, and slavery in that order. In September, council Democrats proposed to list slavery as the sole cause.

"What the use of the states' rights is doing is essentially to cover, or to circumvent, the real fundamental issue, which is slavery," said Democrat council member Marisa Perez-Diaz , of San Antonio.

Republican board member David Bradley of Beaumont argued for keeping the other causes in the curriculum. He said, "Each state had differences and made individual decisions about whether or not to participate in the conflict, correct? That is, this is the definition of states' rights."

In the end, the Republican-led committee made a compromise: moving on, students will learn about "the central role of the expansion of slavery in causing sectionalism, disagreements over state rights, and the Civil War."

Houston Democrat Lawrence Allen Jr., the only African American council member, helped write the new language. He believes that he traces a straight line between slavery and the Civil War than previous standards.

"I do not think we actually have this as a consensus in our state," he said on Friday. "And if we can not reach a consensus in our state, we need to let our students look at it from every point of view."

The council also decided to keep Hillary Clinton and Helen Keller on the curriculum, reversing a decision that made headlines in September. Clinton and Keller were initially removed, along with other historical figures, in an effort to "simplify" state social studies standards.

The approved resume lists only one of the causes of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: "the rejection of the state of Israel by the Arab League and by most Arab nations."

University of Texas, Rio Grande Valley historian David Fisher was part of a working group that gave the board suggested revisions. He said that listing a cause for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has no nuances and promotes a single point of view.

"This really tells the student what to think, rather than suggesting that the student study a problem and learn the facts about a problem."

Shifa Bhatti is a Pakistani-American teacher in the suburbs of Fort Worth. At a public hearing on Tuesday, she warned of the potential for anti-Muslim bias.

"I taught high school because when I was in the eighth grade on 9/11/2001, it was the day I got my first death threat.

About one in ten students in American public schools live in Texas.

Lawrence Paska, executive director of the National Council for Social Studies, says that what these students learn in school has a major impact on how they understand the history and current events.

"Students need opportunities to have a thoughtful discussion," says Paska; they need to be "exposed to sources of information that may include conflicting perspectives on controversial issues."

The state board of education said these changes will not affect the books used in Texas classrooms. The standards take effect at the medium and medium level in August 2019 and at the elementary level in August 2020.


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