The Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) has faced national scrutiny and ridicule in recent months for its right-wing revisions to the state’s social studies and history curriculum. Changes have included requiring students to learn the difference between legal and illegal immigration, examine “documents that supported Cold War-era Sen. Joseph McCarthy,” and study prominent right-wing political figures.
This massacre to the state’s educational system is engineered by the SBOE’s bloc of far-right conservatives, who have little to no background in education policy. Members include Cynthia Dunbar, a Republican who has called public education a “tool of perversion.” There’s also Chairman Don McLeroy, a dentist who has stated, “The way I evaluate history textbooks is first I see how they cover Christianity and Israel.”
There’s beginning to be a backlash against these far-right members, however. McLeroy lost his primary to a more moderate Republican candidate, and Dunbar is not running for re-election. Yesterday, ThinkProgress spoke to Judy Jennings and Rebecca Bell-Metereau, two Democrats who are running for SBOE in Districts 10 (Dunbar’s area) and 5, respectively. Both of them stated that the SBOE has lost focus and abandoned other areas of its mission in the quest to politicize the Texas’ curriculum, said that constituents are frustrated with the negative attention, and promised to try to repeal the textbook revisions:
Plans to review the far-right changes:
— JENNINGS: The worst case scenario — if they choose to make the changes that they’re proposing this week, at the absolute least, the science textbooks are up for adoption in 2011, the social studies are up for adoption in 2012, and so the Texas education code requires that textbooks be accurate and they contain all the essential knowledge and skills that are in the curriculum, but there’s nothing that says they can’t contain more. So at the very least, I would work to be sure that the textbooks we approve are inclusive. But, before that, one thing that I will be pursuing in January is to rescind the changes that they make this week, if they choose to push their ideology instead of listening to the teachers and the subject area experts who have worked so hard to provide them with information.
— BELL-METEREAU: Rep. Martinez Fischer who is the head of the Mexican-American Legislative Caucus, just finished speaking and said he would like to see the board put off this decision on the curriculum, send it back to the review committee and the experts, and put it off until January. There’s nothing in the law that says there’s any specific timeline, but we are required to have public input that’s transparent, and to make sure that all the information is accurate. And that’s been a concern, because there’s parts of the curriculum that contain plagiarism, and so we really have to go through this curriculum again.
Local reaction to the SBOE:
— JENNINGS: When I first started over a year ago, people were not quite as — they weren’t quite as aware as they are now. Unfortunately for teachers and students, what the board has been doing, has been created a lot of bad publicity for education in Texas, and so now, when I am out talking with people, they are…thrilled that people care about education, and they are thrilled to know that there’s a common-sense, non-ideological solution to the board.
Problems with what the far-right bloc of the SBOE is doing:
— BELL-METEREAU: It’s turned into a battle against teachers, scholars, and experts in the field, which is just absurd. We should let the experts do the curriculum formation, and the board should have oversight and be looking at some broad general goals, rather than doing hundreds of line-by-line educations.
— JENNINGS: I have a PhD in education, and I know I shouldn’t be writing curriculum for 4.7 million children. So why, people who aren’t even educators, think that they’re qualified to write curriculum is beyond me.
Both also said that they want to improve the relationship between the SBOE and the local school boards, teachers, parents, legislators, and the Texas Education Agency, saying that the board was currently “disrespectful” to outside entities. They also expressed concern with the state’s drop-out rate and the need to retain “good teachers.” The SBOE is expected to hold a final vote on the curriculum this week.
9:27 – Paige: “We have allowed ideology to drive and define the standards of our curriculum in Texas. It has swung from liberal to conservative.” (We’re waiting for evidence that the Republican-dominated board and then-Gov. Bush’s education commissioner in 1998 adopted “liberal” curriculum standards.) The swing has been too broad, Paige says.
9:29 – Paige wants the board to reconsider how the standards cover the history of slavery and the civil rights movement: “I’m of the view that the institution of slavery and the civil rights movement are dominant elements in our history and shape who we are today.” […]
9:37 – In making decisions about which historical figures to include in the standards, Paige says rely on established historians.
,The Texas Observer writes, “Yesterday, many people–including several Texas House members–testified and asked that the adoption of the social studies standards be delayed. Most asked for the delay to continue until January, 2011. Several more moderate Republicans and Democrats will be elected in November, 2010, and take office the following January. This would mean that the social studies standards would probably revert to the excellent and better ones originally written by the professors, teachers, and curriculum experts. Several legislators intimated that the Legislature will ignore standards adopted by this State Board and not fund purchase of social studies textbooks because they are unhappy with the standards and with the process by which they were adopted, specifically, the 300 amendments to the standards made by State Board members, many of which greatly degraded the quality, accuracy, and intent of the original standards.”