“The eyes of Texas are upon you” is the most memorable line from the state’s fight song, but recently, at least over the last two years, the eyes of the nation have been on Texas, particularly its State Board of Education (SBOE) and the controversies swirling around a number of changes it proposed, most notably the erasure of the topic of slavery from textbooks.

Among a bevy of changes debated by the 15-member SBOE–11 Republicans and four Democrats–and of significance to African-Americans concerned about the abrogation of their civil and human rights, was the issue of slavery.

Were the SBOE standards of social studies being determined along ideological lines, with the conservative majority “watering down” slavery and the impact of the Civil Rights Movement?

This is a critical question, because school systems all over the nation take their lead from the Lone Star State in purchasing textbooks. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the American Civil Liberties Union both were aroused by the SBOE’s final vote on the social studies and history curriculum.

“This has become a real spectacle,” said Benjamin Todd Jealous, president and CEO of the NAACP, at the time of the vote two years ago. “It’s on national news; it’s on national comedy shows. Texas is a state that leads this country, and they need to accept that responsibility, slow down, back up and move in a new direction towards the truth.”

Terri Burke, executive director of the state ACLU, was in agreement with Jealous. “The State Board of Education has amended, re-amended and approved curriculum standards that are more ideological than ever, despite pleas to not politicize what is taught to Texas schoolchildren.”

That was two years ago. What’s the current situation?

A cursory examination of the SBOE standards and guidelines for the eighth grade in social studies shows several mentions of slavery, including an explanation of “the development of the plantation system and the change of Atlantic triangular growth of the slave trade to the transatlantic slave trade,” which appears to be a modification without any real difference.

“I wouldn’t say I was satisfied with the changes that were made to the standards,” SBOE member Lawrence Allen Jr. told the Amsterdam News in a recent interview, “but I am confident with 95 percent of the document we produced. The other 5 percent was the result of personal ideology, and the standards we vote on should never be about personal ideology.”

Allen, a Democrat from the Houston area and one of two African-American board members, said the guidelines decided by the SBOE are just one factor in the process of determining what is taught in the Texas classrooms.

“Our decisions are about guidelines and not about curriculum or lesson plans,” he emphasized. “That’s left to the individual teacher. What I would like to see take place for our students is critical thinking and testable standards, and a holistic approach to the acquisition of the core knowledge each student should possess.”

As for the textbook controversy, Allen, who at one time was a vice chair of the board and who is up for re-election on Nov. 6, says the standards in Texas once played a decisive role, but that’s been minimized by national standards. “Texas used to lead the way in this area, but the national standards are now in place,” he said, “and that will be the case in Texas, unless we find them all-inclusive.”

Even so, the textbooks have to adhere to the standards approved by the SBOE, Republican member Patricia Hardy said in a recent phone interview. “While the textbooks can have their own interpretations, they must be in accordance with our standards,” said Hardy, a 10-year board member (the length of time in which the board meets to set new standards) from the town of Weatherford. “They must cover these standards 100 percent. Sure, they can add things, but they must be evaluated and approved by our review committee.”

Hardy took exception to the charge that slavery wasn’t discussed broadly enough in the eighth grade guidelines. “If you look carefully at the guidelines, you will see that it’s mentioned in several places,” she asserted. Reading through the guidelines, the word “slavery” does not appear in the discussion about the Civil War, Reconstruction or the Emancipation Proclamation. However, as Allen has advised, those are really curriculum items and may appear in the teacher’s lesson plans.

There are only a couple of citations on civil rights and only James Farmer Jr. is mentioned among the prominent leaders, perhaps because he was from Texas. And maybe Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and other notable activists come up at other grade levels; Hardy explained that Kwanzaa, for example, is examined in the third grade, and Juneteenth in the seventh grade.

Another factor that mitigates the power and hostility of the SBOE and Texas textbooks is the increasing utilization of new technology that allows teachers to supplement course materials with online publications, iPads and other digital learning tools. For example, there is the Biobook developed at Wake Forest University that facilitates accessing content from the web.

“Now with the miracle of technology,” Tom Luna, an Idaho school superintendent, told a reporter, “states and school districts can customize what they want their textbooks to look like.”

Such a trend is in accord with the vision of Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who believes that in the next few years textbooks will be extinct. “The world is changing,” Duncan said during a recent appearance at the National Press Club. “This has to be where we go as a country.”

The new technology and digital developments, notwithstanding, these innovations will still have to adhere to the SBOE standards, said Mavis Knight of Dallas; a 10-year member of the board. “True enough, in this digital age it is easier for the publishers to make changes in the textbooks, but they still have to conform to our standards here in Texas,” she said.

Knight agreed that the impact of the SBOE has been somewhat minimized with the advent of national standards and that the majority of states will go along with a “common core”–45 or 48 states and the District of Columbia have adopted this standard for higher achievement in math and reading–when it comes to the content of textbooks, because “it may be more economically feasible to go that way,” she related.

“Each individual school district in the state has its own local board of trustees and they can determine their own textbooks and materials, so long as they don’t contradict the state’s standards,” Knight said.

Even so, she contends, there is no equal distribution of funds for the school districts, with the poorer ones getting the short end of the stick.

A recent study conducted by the Center for Scholastic Journalism at Kent State University confirmed Knight’s conclusion. The survey found that schools with no media outlets for students tended to have a large percentage of low-income or minority students. “The schools that had no media for students had an average student body where minorities made up 56 percent of the student body,” the survey found. While this was a study mainly of high schools, the findings would probably be no different for intermediate and elementary schools.

It is not difficult to imagine impoverished school districts with budgets incapable of equipping their students with laptops, tablet computers or e-readers. Or some so strapped for funds that can’t afford the bandwidth.