Elected officials have spoken out against proposed changes to Texas' seventh-grade history curriculum standards that would remove a line about "heroic" defenders at the Alamo. Credit: Marjorie Kamys Cotera for The Texas Tribune

How “heroic” were the defenders who died at the Alamo?

That’s a question that the State Board of Education will likely take up during hearings next week, as it considers recommended changes to the state’s seventh-grade history curriculum standards.

And it’s one that’s drawn attention from top state lawmakers, including Gov. Greg Abbott, who has encouraged Texans to call members of the SBOE and “stop political correctness” in how students are taught about the attack by Mexican troops.

The board’s social studies work group – a committee of approximately 100 historians and educators who applied to review the state social studies curriculum – has suggested eliminating a line in seventh-grade history standards about “all the heroic defenders who gave their lives” at the Alamo, knowing they would die while protecting the former mission.

“‘Heroic’ is a value charged word,” the committee wrote in a June draft of its recommendations, while “all defenders” is “too vague” and “too many if taught as worded.”

The committee also suggested removing the requirement that students explain William B. Travis’ letter, “To the People of Texas and All Americans in the World,” in which the commander calls for more soldiers and ammunition.

Debbie Ratcliffe, a spokesperson for the SBOE, said the proposed changes are no more than a recommendation from an advisory group, which has been tasked with shortening the curriculum standards.

“They’re looking towards things that could be eliminated or combined with another standard,” she said, noting that the Travis letter, for instance, would not be struck entirely from seventh-grade classrooms.

“It would still be taught, but the teachers wouldn’t spend as much time having their students analyze it if it wasn’t called out separately,” Ratcliffe said.

While the board will not be taking a final vote on these and other suggestions until November, the issue has already drawn controversy among Texas politicians on social media.

SBOE Chair Donna Bahorich said on Twitter early on Friday afternoon that she does “not support deleting one of the most iconic letters in US History” from the seventh-grade curriculum standards.

Land Commissioner George P. Bush had posted his take on Twitter the day before, sharing a Texas Monthly piece about the proposed changes and calling them “politically correct nonsense.”

Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, meanwhile, both encouraged Texans to call the SBOE against the change.

Ratcliffe said their office had received dozens of phone calls and emails about the proposed change – most of them in opposition to it – as of midday on Friday.

“It’s certainly been the topic of the morning,” she said.

The SBOE’s main phone line had been disconnected since Thursday evening, but Ratcliffe said that it was a technical issue and unrelated to the controversy. A second phone line was working.

In its recommended changes, the SBOE committee also added a line about Treaties of Velasco, which it says “are vital to understanding the conclusion of the Texas Revolution.”

Notably, it did not touch a sentence in the eighth-grade curriculum about the role of “heroes” such as William Carney and Philip Bazaar during the Civil War.

Carney, a former slave, and Bazaar, a Chilean immigrant, both fought for the Union and were awarded the congressional Medal of Honor for their acts on the battlefield.

The group had discussed removing the two figures from the curriculum, according to its draft recommendations, but ultimately “determined that there is a strong rationale for keeping this … as is.”

Teo Armus is a reporting fellow based in the Tribune's temporary Rio Grande Valley bureau, where he writes about immigration and the border. A recent graduate of Columbia University, he previously reported...