Texas State Historian

You may not know this, but Texas now has an official State Historian, whose job is to promote and encourage the teaching of Texas history in the public schools. Houston Public Radio's Jim Bell has more.

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Dr. Frank de la Teja is a noted historian who is also Chairman of the History Department at Texas State University in San Marcos, and Governor Rick Perry swore him in for a two year term as the state's first "official" State Historian several weeks ago. The legislation that created the position says the state historian will enhance the public's knowledge of Texas history and heritage; encourage the teaching of Texas history in public schools; and generally be the state's consultant on all matters related to the promotion of Texas history. De la Teja is the first to agree that there should be more Texas history education in the schools, but he believes it needs to be brought up to date. He says it's not just the story of the Alamo, San Jacinto, cattle drives and indian wars.

"It's also the story of NASA. It's the story of Texas Instruments, and Michael Dell, and it's the story of the Lower Colorado River Authority, and all of those things in the 20th century that have made Texas what it is today."

People of a certain age can remember when Texas History was required in the high schools, but it's now taught only at the seventh grade level. De la Teja says he wants to get it back into the high schools, but he'll settle for the seventh grade if it's done right. He says history is one of those things young people need to know about, and he rejects the idea that it's not relevant to today's world.

"We have a very large increasingly urban population that needs to be grounded in understanding the state's past, so that it understands its present, and there is able to make decisions about its future."

Dr. de la Teja says he plans to spend as much time as he can promoting history education, and using his powers of persuasion on anyone who'll listen.

"It's not a paid position. I'm going to rely on peoples' good will to get me around, but I'm more than happy to stretch myself as much as I possibly can, given my day job, to do this work because I firmly believe in it."

Jesus Francisco de la Teja was born in Cuba in 1956. His family moved to the United States where he graduated from Seton Hall University and took his Ph.D in History from UT Austin in 1988. He's been at Texas State University since 1991, and he became History Chairman two and a half years ago. Off the campus he's President of the non-profit Texas State Historical Association, and he's written a number of books and articles on the history of Texas, Mexico and Latin America. He says he learned a lot about writing by helping one of this country's greatest novelists write a book. He was a research assistant for James A. Michener, for his novel Texas in the late 1980s. Frank de la Teja is now the official Texas State Historian. Jim Bell, Houston Public Radio News.

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