The Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) performs a crucial role in reviewing the material taught in our public schools. Among all of the educational disciplines, our Texas history is among the most important to be taught to our children.
History itself is full of ironies. I have the distinct honor to serve Senate District 18 in the Texas Senate, an area that encompasses the town where William Barrett Travis lived most of his life in Texas. I am now called to protect Travis’ defense of the Alamo, where he faced certain martyrdom for a cause he believed. Ironically the threat to Travis' legacy comes from within the SBOE, which meets in a building named for Travis in a county likewise named for this hero.
Travis wrote his famous letter as an inspiring call to action by the “People of Texas & All Americans in the World.” Communities in my district responded to his words. Gonzales’ reinforcements made it into the Alamo and died there with Travis. San Felipe’s militia did not make it in time, but Gail Borden printed the letter at his San Felipe press which shared the stirring message throughout the world. Delegates at Washington-on-the-Brazos were inspired to create a government for an independent Texas and to organize an army to defend it.
I appreciate the SBOE Work Group and their efforts to streamline topics taught in fourth and seventh grade Texas history, but I cannot believe that Travis’ letter — arguably the most quotable primary source of Texas history — is one of the elements they recommend to be cut. His letter, written in the face of certain death, defines heroism. It should be taught to our students as an example of someone’s willingness to sacrifice their life “in the name of Liberty, of patriotism & everything dear to the American character.”
The heroism of William Barret Travis still resonates with Texans today. His letter and deeds are not mere footnotes, rather they are embedded in the genetic code of Texas and have enabled us to become a worldwide symbol of success, independence and liberty. For the sake of saving 90 minutes of classroom teaching, we risk sacrificing the very heart of Texas greatness which took the last 182 years to build.
What Texans from 1836 teach us is that everyday citizens from all walks of life can unite against an oppressive government. It's a timeless message that was brought about by heroic Texans who were from a wide variety of backgrounds. Lorenzo de Zavala. Sam Houston. Juan Seguin. Why would we ever not look at this as heroic? Who believes this is not worthy of study by our students? I would argue that in today’s world, rather than cut 90 minutes from teaching this valuable lesson, we should add an another 90 minutes.
Indeed Texas history is too important to be left exclusively to schools. We must also create and adequately fund historic sites, such as the State History Museum in Austin and our State Historic Sites such as Washington-on-the-Brazos, San Felipe de Austin, Goliad, Gonzales, and many others.
Our history must be told in compelling ways to families, scout groups, schools and tourist audiences. We must create new and innovative collaborations with our schools to harness the power of hands-on site experiences, primary documents and original artifacts that make history come alive.
I will do my part in the upcoming 86th Legislature by advocating for funds to help tell the iconic story of Texas.
The SBOE should do its part by not removing Travis’ famous letter, nor the word “heroic," and maintaining the 90 minutes of class time we currently use to teach our young that anyone can rise up when a government no longer serves its people. Don’t mess with Texas history.