Case Study  

Beyond the Sound and Fury: The Landscape of Curricular Contestation in Texas

In this new Occasional Paper from the Allen Lab for Democracy Renovation, Hannah Kunzman and Danielle Allen offer a case study on contestation over K–12 civics curriculum in Texas.

Download the PDF

Beginning in 2021, state legislators introduced or passed numerous bills intended to shape appropriate content in K–12 social studies curricula. The majority of these bills were, in the language of advocates, “essential knowledge” bills or “CRT [Critical Race Theory] abolition” bills. However, at the same time that these bills were making their way through state legislatures, there were also efforts to introduce, again in the language of advocates, “culturally responsive” curricula or “education equity” bills. Culturally responsive, a term coined by education professor Geneva Gay, describes a curriculum that acknowledges the diversity of experiences and identities that students bring to the classroom. Educational equity also often refers to the inclusion of instruction around structural racism and ethnic studies. In other words, distinctive substantive views about education have motivated two different strategies for shaping K–12 education through state legislation.

These different substantive views have become the site of intense political contestation and have sparked a new iteration of the so-called culture wars. Politicians have hit upon curricular contestation as having the potential for partisan political gain. Their engagement can often distort our view of what are very real and substantively important debates about how young people should be taught. These debates have the political salience they do because they touch upon deeply important ideas and questions. To have productive civic conversations, we must focus on the substantive issues at stake in current debates over K–12 education. This paper aims to shift the focus back to these crucial questions.

Contemporary debates over curriculum introduce questions about what it means to be a parent, what it means to be a citizen, and the role of both parents and educators in raising children who can fulfill the demands of citizenship. The full landscape of contestation is an exchange about models of citizenship and the relationship between private and public actors in shaping the lives of young people. It is also a debate about history. Whose voices matter in our historical narrative? How should we discuss the dark sides of the American story? How should we engage across differences in a democratic society?

This paper offers a case study on contestation over K–12 civics curriculum in Texas. The key takeaways are as follows. First, on-the-ground exchanges are complex and substantive between two camps, an “American greatness” camp and a “systemic transformation” camp. Second, there are many and various spaces of contestation requiring attention, including legislatures, school board elections, and classroom libraries. Third, the debates represent competing interpretations of civic values as articulated by both camps.

More from this Program

Conference on the Political Economy of AI Podcast Episodes
Photo of participants from the conference.

Podcast

Conference on the Political Economy of AI Podcast Episodes

Check out the podcast episodes from the Allen Lab for Democracy Renovation’s Conference on the Political Economy of AI to glean insights from each panel.

AI and Democracy Summer Reading List
Graphic that includes all of the book covers mentioned in this list.

Feature

AI and Democracy Summer Reading List

This list, curated by the GETTING-Plurality Research Network at the Allen Lab for Democracy Renovation, highlights a mix of foundational texts and new thinking on the timely issue of how AI will impact democracy, especially as we head into election season.

Conference on the Political Economy of AI

Feature

Conference on the Political Economy of AI

Experts gathered at the Allen Lab conference to examine the incentives and structures of AI development, as well as to discuss the past, present, and potential future of steering AI towards better serving the public interest.

More on this Issue

What led to the rise — and then fall — of participatory democracy in Colombia?
A ballot box reads

Feature

What led to the rise — and then fall — of participatory democracy in Colombia?

Research by Democracy Postdoctoral Fellow Jamie Shenk highlights how referendums in Colombia served as a powerful tool to block the expansion of mining and oil enterprises before the practice was curbed by the country’s Supreme Court.

Avoiding conflict over conflicts of interest
A sign reads,

Feature

Avoiding conflict over conflicts of interest

Developing and enforcing conflict of interest policies is no simple task for anti-corruption advocates and ethics officials alike. Archon Fung and Dennis Thompson help to better understand the problem and examine when risk is underestimated and when it is overestimated.

Laws That Govern Jail-Based Voting: A 50-State Legal Review

Additional Resource

Laws That Govern Jail-Based Voting: A 50-State Legal Review

As part of the Ash Center’s ongoing work examining the legal, political, and policy implications of advancing jail-based voting, Aaron Rosewood and Tova Wang examine the statutory basis for jail voting in each state.