Texas’ Native American studies program should move forward

We’d bet most people have no idea that the name Texas is derived from the Native American word “teyshas,” a greeting meaning “friend.”

Or that the names of American Indian tribes that once populated North Texas remain imprinted all around us: Waco, Wichita Falls, Comanche Peak, to name a few. Very deep are the Native American roots in our landscape, and widespread are their contributions to Texas and national culture, geography, art, science and technology.

Yet the State Board of Education has delayed an initial vote on a statewide curriculum studying these early inhabitants. Now advocates of the state’s first American Indian/Native Studies program are worried time is running out for the course to be approved in time for it to be offered to high school students next school year.

Board chairman Aaron Kinsey, a Midland Republican appointed chairman by Gov. Greg Abbott in December, hit the pause button on the planned discussion of the new program to give board members more time to “review its contents” to ensure it’s in keeping with the agency’s standard “of high quality for Texas students.”

That was surprising given that in July 2023 the commissioner of education approved the program and former Chairman Keven Ellis said in November that it would be placed on the agenda for the next meeting in late January. We urge the board of education to place this item on its April agenda and give it the first of two necessary stamps of approval.

If adopted, the American Indian/Native Studies program would be the third such ethnic studies curriculum approved by the state as a high school elective. It approved a Mexican American Studies program in 2018 and an African American Studies course in 2020.

School districts already can offer the Native studies elective with the approval of their local boards. But that would become easier and more widespread if the state agency were to adopt a uniform curriculum, advocates say.

That should happen. We first applauded the program last spring when it was being piloted in the grand prairie Independent School District. It’s designed to debunk the terrible “savage” stereotype of natives and go far beyond historical accounts of deadly confrontations with Anglo settlers in the 1800s.

According to a Texas Education Agency description of the course, it explores “the roots of American Indian/Native cultures, especially as it pertains to social, economic and political interactions.” It also analyzes their “important ideas, social and cultural values, beliefs and traditions.”

The more we know about the rich history of Native Americans, throughout the nation as well as in our region, with all their triumphs and struggles, the better we can appreciate our culturally diverse society. The State Board of Education should move forward with bringing this important curriculum to high school students.

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