AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — In a soaring debate on the nature of historical knowledge, Texas lawmakers on Wednesday considered a proposal that would alter the curriculum for a degree from a state university.
"I believe that the purpose of our American history requirement is to enhance a civic education," said Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, a Southlake Republican.
On that point, the freshman lawmaker found broad agreement. But the implications of his proposal drew criticism from witnesses who used terms such as "reprehensible."
Texas college students already have to study American history to earn their degrees. Conservatives in the Legislature want to make sure that means taking broad courses on such topics as Thomas Jefferson, the Civil War and the Great Depression, not narrowly tailored ethnic studies.
The proposal would require students to take at least six hours of classes that include a "comprehensive survey" of American history. A Texas history class or ROTC service would continue to count toward that requirement, which is consistent with current policy.
Capriglione filed the bill after a report criticized the University of Texas and Texas A&M. The National Association of Scholars questioned whether boutique or special study classes that narrowly focus on subjects such as American naval history or African-American history satisfy the American history requirements that have been in Texas law since 1955.
His proposal has drawn support from the Texas Public Policy Foundation, an influential group with the Republican majority in the Legislature. It has been criticized by university professors who question the need for lawmakers to dig deeply into specific college classrooms.
As the bill's hearing before the House Committee on Higher Education stretched into the evening, Capriglione heard from those factions and more. Seeking to anticipate some criticism, he said the bill "encourages the teaching of all history topics."
But members of Librotraficante, a group seeking to undermine a law that limited ethnic studies classes in Arizona, quickly drew parallels to Capriglione's proposal for Texas.
Tony Diaz, an organizer of the group, recounted his upbringing as the son of migrant workers who believed in education. He said the bill "appears to be part of the GOP attack on ethnic studies."
"(The bill) would take American history back to 1938, before there was ethnic studies," Diaz said. He added: "It will effectively eliminate Mexican-American studies, African-American studies and women's studies."
The proposal's supporters included Richard Fonte, a government professor at Austin Community College who, citing Thomas Jefferson, sought to emphasize the link between historical knowledge and citizenship. He said the bill would foster an appreciation of the meaning of unity and diversity.
Thomas Lindsay, the Texas Public Policy Foundation's director of higher education, said comprehensive survey classes would naturally include the historical contributions of Latinos, blacks and women.
"You cannot tell the American story without telling of the vital contributions of all those groups," Lindsay said.
The bill also received the endorsement of Micah Coleman, 20, who was passing through the building dressed as Paul Revere on his way to organize a pro-gun rally.
"This country was founded on guns and resistance to tyranny," Coleman said, "and that's something that's not taught in our schools."
The bill is HB 1938.