A couple of months can make a big difference. Can.
A difference which way?
Two months ago the Texas State Board of Education suspended its revamping of social studies standards — the efforts to grind the standards into a right-wing crutch were so controversial that hearings, discussion and amending proposed standards took up more time than allotted. SBOE delayed final votes until March 10.
Last week Texas voted in primary elections. Several board members’ terms are up. Two incumbents lost primary challenges, Don McLeroy, the Boss Tweed of the right wing cultural war ring, and Geraldine Miller, a long-term veteran from Dallas, whose very conservative views cast her as a moderate among SBOE members. Both are Republicans.
How will those primary losses affect them and their work on the board?
In addition, other members of the culture war ring are retiring, including Cynthia Dunbar. Will the lame ducks be content to vote up the changes urged by history and economic professionals and professional educators, or will they do as McLeroy suggested they need to do earlier, and fight against the recommendations of experts?
How will the lame ducks walk and quack?
Stakes are high. New York Times Magazine featured the culture wars on the cover on Valentine’s Day (you should read the article). Texas Monthly weighed in against the culture wars, too — a surprise to many Texans.
Cynicism is difficult to swim against. I expect McLeroy to try as best he can to make social studies standards a monument to right wing bigotry and craziness. We’ve already seen SBOE vote to delete a wonderful children’s book from even being mentioned because the text author shares a name with a guy who wrote a book on socialism earlier.
Most of us watching from outside of Austin (somebody has to stay back and grade the papers and teach to the test . . .) expect embarrassments. On English and science standards before, the culture war ring tactics were to make a flurry of last-minute, unprinted and undiscussed, unannounced amendments apparently conspired to gut the standards of accuracy (which would not make the right wing political statements they want) and, too often, rigor. Moderates on the board have not had the support mechanisms to combat these tactics successfully — secret e-mail and telephone-available friends standing by to lend advice and language on amendments. In at least two votes opponents of the culture war voted with the ring, not knowing that innocent-sounding amendments came loaded.
In a test of the No True Scotsman argument, religious people will be praying for Texas kids and Texas education. Meanwhile, culture warriors at SBOE will work to frustrate those prayers.
Thomas Jefferson toyed with the idea of amendment the U.S. Constitution to provide a formal role for the federal government in guaranteeing education, which he regarded as the cornerstone of freedom and a free, democratic-style republic. Instead, American primary and secondary education are governed by more than 15,000 locally-elected school boards with no guidance from the national government on what should be taught. Alone among the industrial and free nations of the world, the U.S. has no mechanism for rigorous national standards on what should be taught.
For well over a century a combined commitment to educating kids better than their parents helped keep standards high and achievement rising. Public education got the nation through two world wars, and created a workforce that could perform without peer on Earth in producing a vibrant and strong economy.
That shared commitment to quality education now appears lost. Instead we have culture warriors hammering teachers and administrators, insisting that inaccurate views of Jefferson and history be taught to children, perhaps to prevent them from ever understanding what the drive for education meant to freedom, but surely to end Jeffersonian-style influences in the future.
Texas’s SBOE may make the case today that states cannot be trusted with our children’s future, and that we need a national body to create academic rigor to preserve our freedom. Or they will do the right thing.
Voters last week expressed their views that SBOE can’t be trusted to do the right thing. We’re only waiting to see how hard McLeroy is willing to work to put his thumb in the eye of Big Tex.
- Steve Schafersman will live blog the meeting today at http://www.texasobserver.org/stevenschafersman/ . Social studies agenda doesn’t start until 11:00 a.m. Central
- Curricublog from Tony Whitson discusses Texas’s sorry standards, and how the right spins them. Watch this blog generally for good and incisive comments from the meeting; Tony often follows the webcasts, and his writings are always, always informative.
- Texas Freedom Network gives you the background; watch TFN’s blog, TFN Insider, for more timely updates (heck, head over there now and learn a lot about today’s meeting). When you read the New York Times piece, you noted incisive comments by Kathy Miller — she’s the director of TFN. TFN is the tape that has held together the good parts of education standards so far, against the swords of the culture warriors. TFN’s blog will probably be updated through the meeting.
- National Center for Science Education is the always stalwart, working-for-the-good organization on Texas education standards — alas, we’re talking social studies now
- Paul Burka’s story on the culture war, at Texas Monthly
- Fox News’s Shannon Bream cites Jay Sekulow of the Pat Robertson forces urging more cultural war before the will of Texas voters can change things.
- McLeroy won the first annual UpChucky Award from NCSE
- The new, online newspaper, Texas Tribune, covers SBOE very well; watch that space
- Kelly Shackleford’s religious issues group will live blog at their site