Social studies train wreck at Texas State Board of Education: Live! A Nation at Risk


Steve Schafersman will live blog the hearings on social studies standards before the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) today, at Evo-Sphere.  Schafersman is president of Texas Citizens for Science, and a long-time activist for better education in Texas on all topics.

Rapid updates or live-blogging should be available at the blog of the Texas Freedom Network, TFN Insider.

It’s Item #6 on the SBOE agenda, with a title that tips off the trouble:

Item #6 — Public Hearing Regarding Proposed Revisions to 19 TAC Chapter 113, Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills for Social Studies, and Chapter 118, Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills for Economics with Emphasis on the Free Enterprise System and Its Benefits.

Schafersman e-mailed an introduction to the meeting:

Some say the Social Studies public testimony by the religious right, liberals, etc., then the SBOE debate, motions to amend, votes, etc. is a bigger circus than adopting the science standards. Judge for yourself. You can watch the entire circus, carnival, and sideshow on the webcast video at http://www.texasadm in.com/cgi- bin/tea.cgi

This is Texas democracy in action, when sullen and tight-lipped State Board members listen to public testifiers for 3 minutes each and profoundly ignore them since they already know what they are going to do. But I, at least, feel better after speaking so I don’t later feel responsible for the crappy amendments, changes, and policies that come out of this horrible Board because I did nothing. The proposed Social Studies standards written by the panels composed of teachers and professors are excellent (when have I heard this before), but the SBOE can’t wait to shamelessly impose their own Religious Right agenda on them.

You’ll recall that SBOE has at every possible turn disregarded the advice of famous and serious historians, respected free-market-advocating economists, geographers and educators on these standards.  Economists, for example, want Texas kids to learn about “capitalism,” since that’s what it’s called by economists and policy makers, and colleges.  SBOE thinks “capitalism” sounds too subversive, and wishes instead to require Texas kids to learn about “free enterprise” instead.

‘A rose by any other name’ you think, until you start thinking of how Texas kids do on standardized tests, college admission exams, and the punchline on the joke, about Texas kids being told not to study capitalism.  No siree, no capitalism in the fictional home of J. R. Ewing, never mind the real-life capitalists like T. Boone Pickens or H. Ross Perot (Jr. and Sr.).

In Dallas, the city prepares to name a street after Cesar Chavez, the great Hispanic union organizer and advocate for working Americans.  In Austin, SBOE works to strike all mentions of Chavez, because they dislike the politics of heroes of our ethnic minorities (soon to be a majority in Texas).  In Washington historians and policy-makers follow the legacy of Thurgood Marshall, the great civil rights attorney and first African-American to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court.  In Austin, SBOE thinks Marshall should be left out of history books.  Many of us suspect he’s anathema to the white right-wing in Austin:  A smart, successful and noble man of color.

Mel and Norma Gabler died years ago, but their history lingers in the halls of education policy in Austin.  It’s Shakespearean.

This is a massive battle.  David Barton worked for 30 years to gut history standards nationally to teach a history of America that never was, and as the official religionist appointee of the right-wing SBOE members, he stands on the brink of accomplishing much of the revisionism he’s advocated.  See the Texas Tribune story on the issue, “Hijacking History.”

Generally we shouldn’t negotiate with terrorists, Ronald Reagan said.  At the SBOE, we’ve put the terrorists in charge of history and economic curricula — if not the terrorist themselves, at least the terrorists’ camels’ noses.  Texas’s process has earned flashing red-light, claxon-sounding repeating of the words of Ronald Reagan’s Commission on Excellence in Education:  If a foreign nation did this to us, we’d consider it an act of war [excerpt below the fold].

Make no mistake about it.  SBOE’s goal is to roll back any of the reforms left from Reagan’s Commission’s work.  Our nation is more at risk from foreign competition than ever before.  SBOE plans to give away a bit more of our future to China, this week.

Our saving grace is the general incompetence of SBOE members to make significant reform in Texas’s wounded schools, reeling from unworkable and damaging requirements under the No Child Left Behind Act and a testing program that severely limits what can be taught in any social studies course other than those bastions of learning left in International Baccalaureate programs and Advanced Placement courses (estimates are that between 5% and 10% of Texas high school students can take one of those good courses).  Whatever silliness, craziness or lies SBOE orders to  be taught, it can’t be taught and tested well.  Inertia preventing change works to save America in this case.

In business, most CEOs at least appreciate the value of having good front-line employees who are the ones who really deliver the service or product and produce the profit of the enterprise (even if they don’t treat those employees so well as the employees deserve).  Education may be the last bastion of flogging the horse that should be pulling the cart instead.  In this case, having well-trained teachers in the classroom is the last hope for Texas, Texas parents and Texas students — and Texas’s economic future and future in liberty.  Teachers are the last defense of freedom in Texas.  Today SBOE will make another assault on the ramparts that protect the teachers in their work.

When will the French fleet arrive to lend aid?  Will it arrive at all?  And if it arrives, will Texas kids know better than to shoot at the ships?

Carol Haynes, who claims to have a doctorate in some discipline, told the board how to rewrite the standards to completely change the history of the civil rights movement in their last hearing on the topic.  According to Haynes, apparently, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was opposed to civil rights and Barry Goldwater was in favor — the Board didn’t offer to correct her revisionism, but instead asked her to go beyond her three minutes in fawning acceptance. This appears to be SBOE’s approval of various Other Universe hypotheses offered by Star Trek, allowing any damned thing at all to be taught as history (except the right stuff).  Haynes is scheduled to testify again (#128), probably very late at night, but perhaps in time for the 10:00 p.m. Texas television news broadcasts.  Oy.

Excerpt from the Report of the Commission on Excellence in Education, A Nation at Risk, below the fold.

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Cover of A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform, the 1983 report that started the education reform mess. AFT graphic.

Stand up for your nation, it’s children and future; sound the alarm:

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Opening page of A Nation at Risk, the report of the President’s Commission on Excellence in Education:

A Nation At Risk – April 1983

A Nation At Risk

All, regardless of race or class or economic status, are entitled to a fair chance and to the tools for developing their individual powers of mind and spirit to the utmost. This promise means that all children by virtue of their own efforts, competently guided, can hope to attain the mature and informed judgement needed to secure gainful employment, and to manage their own lives, thereby serving not only their own interests but also the progress of society itself.


Our Nation is at risk. Our once unchallenged preeminence in commerce, industry, science, and technological innovation is being overtaken by competitors throughout the world. This report is concerned with only one of the many causes and dimensions of the problem, but it is the one that undergirds American prosperity, security, and civility. We report to the American people that while we can take justifiable pride in what our schools and colleges have historically accomplished and contributed to the United States and the well-being of its people, the educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people. What was unimaginable a generation ago has begun to occur–others are matching and surpassing our educational attainments.

If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war. As it stands, we have allowed this to happen to ourselves. We have even squandered the gains in student achievement made in the wake of the Sputnik challenge. Moreover, we have dismantled essential support systems which helped make those gains possible. We have, in effect, been committing an act of unthinking, unilateral educational disarmament.

Our society and its educational institutions seem to have lost sight of the basic purposes of schooling, and of the high expectations and disciplined effort needed to attain them. This report, the result of 18 months of study, seeks to generate reform of our educational system in fundamental ways and to renew the Nation’s commitment to schools and colleges of high quality throughout the length and breadth of our land.

That we have compromised this commitment is, upon reflection, hardly surprising, given the multitude of often conflicting demands we have placed on our Nation’s schools and colleges. They are routinely called on to provide solutions to personal, social, and political problems that the home and other institutions either will not or cannot resolve. We must understand that these demands on our schools and colleges often exact an educational cost as well as a financial one.

On the occasion of the Commission’s first meeting, President Reagan noted the central importance of education in American life when he said: “Certainly there are few areas of American life as important to our society, to our people, and to our families as our schools and colleges.” This report, therefore, is as much an open letter to the American people as it is a report to the Secretary of Education. We are confident that the American people, properly informed, will do what is right for their children and for the generations to come.

In Dallas, the city prepares to name a street after Cesar Chavez, the great Hispanic union organizer and advocate for working Americans.  In Austin, SBOE works to strike all mentions of Chavez, because they dislike the politics of heroes of our ethnic minorities (soon to be a majority in Texas).  In Washington historians and policy-makers follow the legacy of Thurgood Marshall, the great civil rights attorney and first African-American to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court.  In Austin, SBOE thinks Marshall should be left out of history books.  Many of us suspect he’s anathema to the white right-wing in Austin:  A smart, successful and noble man of color.

‘A rose by any other name’ you think, until you start thinking of how Texas kids do on standardized tests, college admission exams, and the punchline on the joke, about Texas kids being told not to study capitalism.  No siree, no capitalism in the fictional home of J. R. Ewing, never mind the real-life capitalists like T. Boone Pickens or H. Ross Perot (Jr. and Sr.).

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2 Responses to Social studies train wreck at Texas State Board of Education: Live! A Nation at Risk

  1. Tony Whitson says:

    As for “capitalism” versus “free enterprise,” Haynes said that the word “capitalism” was first used by Karl Marx, and that’s why “we” (kept referring to what “we want” without identifying the “we” — doesn’t understand how astroturfing [manufactured fake grass-roots activism, such as the “tea parties”] works) want the word “capitalism” taken out.

    Actually, “capitalism” was being used by others (e.g., William Thackeray) before it was used by Marx.

    On the other hand, one of her (their) favorite terms, “American exceptionalism,” WAS coined by an English Communist (Jay Lovestone), and not by Alexis de Tocqueville, as she (they) want you to think.

    Also, this correction: Haynes did not herself claimed to have a doctorate. She is an international fuel trader who introduced herself as also being an “educator,” having taught history and music in middle school, high school, and junior college. But when some Board members started addressing her as “Dr. Haynes,” she did nothing to clarify.

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