Alamo visitors take a guided tour of the cenotaph along Alamo Street.
Alamo visitors take a guided tour of the Cenotaph, a memorial to the Alamo's defenders. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

As a fight over Alamo Plaza’s physical layout rages in San Antonio, a new debate flared last week over how the historic siege of the Alamo will be characterized in classrooms around the state.

Amid the process of revising state social studies standards, the State Board of Education heard testimony in Austin Tuesday morning on proposed changes that would remove a reference to “heroic defenders” of the Alamo in seventh-grade Texas History curriculum. Another suggested change would strike a reference to William B. Travis’ famous letter that called for “victory or death.”

The changes, suggested by working groups that had reviewed social studies standards for all grade levels, were met with significant opposition from state leaders with the Nov. 6 midterm election looming. Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted last week, calling for the end to “political correctness in our schools.”

Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush released a statement Tuesday morning, describing the proposed changes as an effort to dilute Texas history.

“We must preserve the Alamo and the ideals of the Texas Revolution so future Texans know who we are, where we came from and our place in the nation and the world,” Bush said. “As the Alamo’s guardian, and a son of Texas, I urge the State Board of Education to remember the Alamo – and its heroes – and teach our children about them.”

U.S. Rep. Ted Poe (R-Humble) also testified before the state board Tuesday morning, sharply rebuking any effort to teach Texas history without including the Travis letter. Poe called the letter one of the “greatest treasures in Texas history.”

He was one of about 65 people who signed up to speak at the hearing.

The last time social studies curriculum standards were updated was in 2010.

A member of the working group that initially suggested the change told the SBOE that the criticism around the revision was misguided. The group’s proposal was driven by a desire to streamline, and would still allow teachers to use the Travis letter and teach about the heroism of the Alamo’s defenders, member Stephen Cure said.

“The recommendation to remove the Travis letter was made because the specific reference was repetitive and unnecessary since it is impossible to teach the Siege of the Alamo without teaching about the letter … ,” Cure said. “Second, and maybe most importantly, the recommendation to strike the phrase ‘and all the heroic defenders who gave their lives there,’ also a 2010 addition, was based partially on its repetitive nature but more importantly the impossibility of the task to teach [about] all of the heroic defenders.”

Cure went on to admonish those who had taken the changes out of context. He said he had contacted his working group over the weekend and the majority of members agreed to suggest an alternative text for the standard, which if approved by board members, would continue to include the Travis letter, and “the heroism of the diverse defenders who gave their lives” at the Alamo.

The new proposal states: “Explain the issues surrounding significant events of the Texas Revolution including the Battle of Gonzales; the siege of the Alamo, including William B. Travis’ letter “To the People of Texas and All Americans in the World” and the heroism of the diverse defenders who gave their lives there…”

SBOE Chair Donna Bahorich (R-Houston) indicated Tuesday morning that many board members would be supportive of this change. Board members will debate all of the proposed revisions on Wednesday.

Other controversial changes to state standards were also discussed Tuesday. Several people commented on proposed changes to remove reference to Moses as an influence on United States founding documents and a change to list slavery as the first in a list of causes of the Civil War. Previously, slavery was listed as third in the list of causes, behind sectionalism and states’ rights.

The SBOE will take a final vote on the revised standards in November. A full-scale review of state standards is scheduled to take place in 2023.

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Emily Donaldson

Emily Donaldson reports on education for the San Antonio Report.