The posthumous imprints of labor and civil rights leader Cesar Chavez can be found in the namesakes of places dispersed throughout the country and even in a holiday in some states. However, this may not be enough to salvage his legacy in Texas classrooms.
As part of an evaluation on the current social studies standards, conservatives appointed to the Texas Board of Education are advising curriculum writers to eliminate the heroic status given to Chavez and other historical figures, including Thurgood Marshall, from future classes and textbooks.
“Cesar Chavez may be a choice representing diversity but he certainly lacks the stature, impact, and overall contributions of so many others,” said adviser David Barton in his review of the social studies curriculum.
Barton, president of WallBuilders, a faith-based organization in Aledo, is one of six advisers making recommendations to the state for new social studies standards for public schools. Under the category “Heroes of History,” Barton said Chavez is not “praiseworthy to be heralded to students as someone â??who modeled active participation in the democratic process.'”
Chavez co-founded the National Farm Workers Association — now the United Farm Workers — to improve conditions for union laborers, eventually winning the passage of a landmark statute to give farm workers the right to unionize.
In a press release on March 31 commemorating Chavez's birthday, President Obama said Chavez's work as an “educator, environmentalist and as a civil rights leader who struggled for fair treatment and fair wages for America's workers is important for every American to remember.”
“I think anytime you try to eliminate from your curriculum individuals like Cesar Chavez and Thurgood Marshall, you start sending a message that you're not going to be representative of all segments of the community, of all individual contributions,” said Linda Bridges, president of Texas AFT, the state affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers. “I don't think that is what public education is about.”
Because Texas is a large market for textbooks distributed across the country, the recommendations could cause national repercussions, Bridges said.
“I think that this has enough possibility to go through, which is why I'm concerned,” she said. “The State Board of Education has really shifted toward the conservative right, and the individuals on the committee are appointed by the state board members, so they represent to a great degree their viewpoint.”
Adviser and evangelical minister Peter Marshall addressed “general concerns” in his feedback to the state, including the lack of references to the “influence of the Christian faith in the founding of America.” He pointed out “deficient” entries in the curriculum. Of these, he wrote justice Thurgood Marshall was “not a strong enough example” of historical figures who have positively impacted American history.
Prior to becoming the first black U.S. Supreme Court justice, Marshall was the lawyer who argued the landmark case Brown v. Board of Education, which led to school desegregation.
According to the Texas Education Agency Web site, SBOE members nominated the six reviewers in April.
“There are a lot of concerns in different quarters about the behavior of the SBOE, and if this goes through, this concern will be heightened,” Bridges said. “I think people need to be watching it very closely. The people who get elected at the State Board are public servants, and they have to represent all of the public, and if they don't then the public needs to look at who gets elected.”