First Amendment A Lonely Star in Texas
It speaks specifically to the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, and admittedly carries ideological baggage. While liberals hide behind a "wall" of separation between church and state, conservatives suggest that government endorsement of religion passes constitutional muster so long as it is not directed toward any one denomination. In short, one would sanitize the public square and the other would decorate it with religious ornaments. As usual, reality probably lies somewhere in the middle.
Public schools have long served as prime battlegrounds in our nation's culture wars. They serve an incredibly heterogeneous student population and are too often tasked with resolving an infinite number of societal failings. It should come as no surprise then that the Texas Board of Education is grappling with policies that encapsulate our remarkably polarized political system. The stakes are high given that the Lone Star State is surpassed only by California in terms of population, textbook publishers cater their offerings to these state standards, leaving schools in smaller states with their imprints.
While Knight's First Amendment foray failed, her conservative counterparts successfully pushed through standards addressing the impact of taxes and regulations on private enterprise and the importance of the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms. Religion also received a nod in that US History students are required to explain the "laws of nature and laws of God."
The ideological bent of each of these requirements, Knight's included, raises eyebrows over objectivity concerns, but a qualified educator can brush these aside. The larger point is that there is value in formal instruction of civics, government, US History, and law as demonstrated in the Illinois Civic Blueprint. Moreover, discussion of current and controversial issues of public concern takes center stage in every engaging social studies classroom.
Knight's First Amendment-centered proposal is also supported by researchers Kenneth Dautrich, David Yalof, and Mark Hugo Lopez in their 2008 book titled The Future of the First Amendment. According to their ongoing study, "...Those high school students who take classes with First Amendment or media and society are more likely to support the exercise of free expression rights." They find that student support for First Amendment rights is surprisingly lower than that of their teachers and administrators, but that their sentiments for the five freedoms grow stronger in application, such as music censorship, prior review of student newspapers, and perhaps a debate over religion's place in the curriculum.
The Texas State Board of Education would therefore be wise to put politics aside and stand behind teaching the First Amendment. It knows no ideology or party and has served us all quite well since its adoption in 1791. Its freedoms are foundational and should therefore form the bedrock of a solid social studies education.