Proposed Change To College History REQs Faces Skepticism

Some legislators are looking to change what counts toward the history requirement at Texas colleges.

Rep. Giovanni Capriglione (R-Southlake) and state Sen. Dan Patrick (R-Houston) want to change the way U.S. history is taught in Texas, but their proposal is likely to face resistance from both the academic community and fellow legislators.

Seeking to amend a 1955 law, twin bills in the Texas House and Senate will require U.S. history courses to provide a “comprehensive survey” of American history. The move is seen to counter a purported over-emphasis on topic courses in American history that currently count toward the legislative requirement.

As first reported by the Austin American Statesman, the National Association of Scholars—publishers of a controversial report on U.S. history teaching at UT and Texas A&M University—call the move “carefully calibrated.” The Texas Public Policy Foundation, which released the report alongside the NAS, agrees. TPPF higher education director Thomas K. Lindsay says the measures will “enhance civic education for nonhistory-major underclassmen” in the spirit of the 1955 law.

The original statute read simply that in order to earn a degree at a public university, students must complete six hours of U.S. history, of which three hours may come from Texas history. The legislation filed adds the words “comprehensive survey” to the Education Code.

Experts have been quick to find fault with the broadly-worded change. UT history professor Jeremi Suri spoke out against the NAS report in the Alcalde, calling it “misleading” and taking issue with the study’s methodology.

In a letter shared with the Alcalde, UT history department chair Allan Tully said the bills open the door for further mandates and requirements, and noted that few existing courses might fit the description put forward by Capriglione and Patrick. Tully called the measure “profoundly at odds” with historical scholarship and the carefully created core curriculum.

“This Bill is pernicious, and if passed has the potential to be destructive of the educational excellence we have labored to foster in this institution.”

“This Bill [sic] is pernicious, and if passed has the potential to be destructive of the educational excellence we have labored to foster in this institution,” Tully wrote.

Texas Monthly senior executive editor Paul Burka weighed in on his blog Wednesday afternoon. “This seems to be the season for micromanaging universities,” Burka wrote, adding that he believed “the line should be drawn at legislating what should, and should not, be taught at the state’s two flagship universities.”

Senate higher education chair Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo) supports a dialogue that includes academics but is unconvinced that government should define curriculum.

The Legislature prescribing what constitutes a thorough study of history “speaks to the role of government as much as to the role of education,” Seliger told the Alcalde. “I have some concerns about that, as any smaller government advocate ought to.”

The outcome of the proposals will depend on committee recommendations. The House version has been referred to the higher education committee, chaired by Rep. Dan Branch (R-Dallas). The Senate version had not been referred at press time. If the bill does come to the Senate higher education committee, Seliger says he expects some disagreement over the proposal.

From left to right, Sen. Dan Patrick, Rep. Dan Branch, and Sen. Judith Zaffirini. Photo courtesy of the Texas Tribune via Flickr Creative Commons.


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