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The Texas Board of Education voted to remove Hillary Clinton and Helen Keller from school curriculum

Hillary Rodham Clinton
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Hillary Rodham Clinton

Last week, the Texas State Board of Education held a preliminary vote to streamline social studies curriculum standards in all public schools. That included the removal of several historical figures, including Hillary Clinton and Helen Keller.

In the past, Texas high school students studied Clinton, the former U.S. Secretary of State who was the first woman to win a major party's nomination to the presidency, and third graders studied Keller, the famous deaf-blind activist and author.

The Dallas Morning News reports how a special work group consisting of teachers, professors and curriculum experts made recommendations to the Texas Board of Education. The group assessed famous figures and assigned them scores of zero to 20, based on their historical significance. Clinton was given a five, Keller was given a seven and both were therefore recommended for removal.

The group's suggestions also included removing evangelist Billy Graham from the curriculum, revising sections describing the Civil War as a states' rights issue and removing mentions of Moses' influence on the nation's founding documents. The state board voted to keep these elements of the curriculum.

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The decision sparked outcry from Democrat lawmakers like Texas state legislator Chris Turner. "SBOE needs to reject these changes. If Helen Keller was an important historical figure when I was in school (and she was), then she still is today," he tweeted. "Hillary Clinton is the first and only woman to be the presidential nominee of a major party in U.S. history. Enough said."

In an op-ed published in The Washington Post, Donna Bahorich, chair of the Texas State Board of Education, defended the board's preliminary vote, writing that social studies teachers must rush through material in order to cover all of the current requirements. "In terms of sheer numbers, eighth-grade social studies includes 110 standards, compared with 64 in reading and language arts, 52 in mathematics and 37 in science," she explains, adding that Republican presidential nominee Barry Goldwater will also be cut as part of the streamlining effort.

Bahorich also defends the board's decision to keep references to Moses' influence over founding American documents, pointing to artistic representations of the biblical lawmaker at the U.S. Supreme Court building and in the U.S. Capitol Building.

She adds that since the state would not be ordering new textbooks, historic figures cut by the streamlining process will remain in textbooks.

While the removal of figures like Clinton and Keller has earned much coverage, the recent curriculum changes in Texas raise bigger questions about how history is taught across the country.

"The focus on whether Hillary Clinton or Helen Keller are in the standard obscures the big point," Dan Quinn, Communications Director of the Texas Freedom Network (TFN), a public education and religious liberties watch group, tells CNBC Make It. "You can have fair debates about which names, which details, you want to include, but get the big ideas right first. The board's not doing that."

In particular, Quinn points to the decision to continue teaching that the Civil War was a states' rights issue. The idea that the Civil War was fought over issues other than slavery has long been taught in public schools across the South. But researchers, historians and academics consistently dismiss this argument as a racist remnant of America's past.

"'States' rights' is a fundamental aspect of the 'Lost Cause' myth that was promoted in the late-19th and early-20th century to erase the African-American experience and historical memory of slavery and the Civil War," Dr. Shirley Thompson, a historian at the University of Texas writes in a statement. "This pro-Confederate interpretation of history also went hand-in-hand with and helped to authorize Jim Crow segregation, the disenfranchisement, lynching and terroristic violence and the relegation of African Americans to second-class citizenship. This relic of early 20th-century thought has long been discredited by the historical profession."

The board has until November to make further changes to the curriculum standards before a final vote.

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