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Wrapping up the SBOE social studies debate

Apparently, the debate over the new social studies standards went on so long that the SBOE decided to put the rest of it off till March, meaning the final adoption will be in May. If only they could push it even farther back, say till 2011 or so. Anyway, take it away, TFN.

Texas Freedom Network President Kathy Miller pointed at the blatant politicization of social studies curriculum standards today as yet more evidence that the Legislature must act to protect the education of Texas schoolchildren.

“When partisan politicians take a wrecking ball to the work of teachers and scholars, you get a document that looks more like a party platform than a social studies curriculum,” Miller said. “The video archive of this week’s meeting would be a great primer for parents and lawmakers on how politics is undermining the education of Texas schoolchildren.”

Texas lawmakers in the last legislative session failed to pass any reforms that would rein in the board’s authority over curriculum and textbooks.

On Thursday and today, the state board moved to gut a year’s worth of work by teachers and scholars who drafted new curriculum standards for Texas public schools. Among the actions the board took this week:

– The board accepted an amendment that suggests McCarthyist smear tactics in the 1950s were justified.

– The board adopted a standard that specifically promotes the views of conservative icons such as Phyllis Schlafly, the Contract with America, the Heritage Foundation, the Moral Majority and the National Rifle Association, while deliberately ignoring progressive political figures.

– The board removed a specific requirement that students learn about the efforts of women and ethnic minorities to gain equal rights, replacing it with vague language about “various groups.”

– Board conservatives won approval for a variety of proposals that would promote partisan political positions on the role of government and taxation.

– The board even removed the concepts of justice and the common good from a list of characteristics of good citizenship.

On Thursday and Friday the state board debated and amended draft curriculum standards for Grades K-8 social studies classes and high school U.S. history. Board members voted today to postpone debate on other high school standards until March. That means the board will not be able to take a final vote on adopting new social studies curriculum standards until May.

You can read their final liveblogs here and here, along with the Trib’s reporting here, here, and here. We can’t vote some of these idiots out fast enough, that’s all I can say.

The SBOE takes on social studies

Somewhat surprisingly, nothing too horrible appears to have happened. Yet.

Kindergartners would learn about a Texas revolutionary and first-graders would discuss the idea of holding public officials accountable under proposals approved Thursday by the State Board of Education, which began reshaping the guidelines for social studies lessons.

The board was wading through dozens of amendments before an expected first vote on the new standards, which will dictate what some 4.8 million students from kindergarten through 12th grade are required to learn in social studies, history and economics classes for the next decade. A final vote is expected in March.

What’s decided in Texas could affect what school children elsewhere learn as well. The guidelines will be used by textbook publishers who develop material for the nation based on Texas, one of the largest markets.

Do remember that as was the case with the science standards, what happens now isn’t final. It’s the vote in March that really matters. For the full gory details of the testimony and debate, see the TFN blog here, here, and here – they’re on a dinner break right now, so there’s still more to come – and the Trib here and here.

SBOE prepares to screw up social studies

From a TFN press release:

The state’s leading religious liberties group today joined with clergy and scholars in calling on the State Board of Education to approve new curriculum standards that don’t undermine religious freedom in Texas social studies classrooms.

“Curriculum writers have drafted proposed standards that rightly acknowledge the influence of faith on the Founders and in our nation’s history,” Texas Freedom Network President Kathy Miller said today. “But those writers also respected religious freedom by rejecting political pressure to portray the United States as favoring one faith over all others. Doing otherwise would aid the teaching of bad history and promote something that is fundamentally un-American.”

Miller spoke in advance of a Wednesday public hearing on proposed new social studies curriculum standards. Teachers, academics and community members from around the state have spent the last year crafting the new standards. Publishers will use the standards to write new textbooks scheduled for adoption by Texas in 2011. The state board will debate the standards drafts on Thursday and has scheduled a final vote in March.

Derek Davis, dean of humanities and the graduate school and director of the Center for Religious Liberty at Mary Hardin-Baylor University, a Baptist institution in Belton, called on the board to respect the work of teachers and other experts who helped write the new standards.

“Religious liberty stands as one of our nation’s bedrock principles,” Davis said. “Yet it seems always under siege by those who fail to appreciate the astute thinking of the founding fathers that caused them to write into the Constitution the principle that guarantees religious liberty: the separation of church and state. This distinctly American value continues to set our nation apart from those embroiled in religious conflict in the rest of the world.”

Miller and Davis were joined at a press conference by the Rev. Marcus McFaul of Highland Park Baptist Church in Austin and Steven Green, a professor of law and of history and director of the Willamette Center for Religion at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon.

“The instruction of religious faith, discipleship, and a life of service and piety is the responsibility of each faith community, whether church, synagogue or mosque,” Rev. McFaul said. “It is the responsibility of parents and parishes, not public schools. We all note – as the curriculum writers did – the role and influence of religion in American history, but not to advance, promote or seek advantage for any particular religion’s point of view.”

The state board has revised curriculum standards for language arts and science over the past two years. In both cases the board either threw out or heavily revised standards crafted by curriculum writing teams that included teachers, curriculum specialists and academic experts. Last year, for example, creationists on the state board pushed through science standards that call into question long-established scientific evidence for evolution.

“This is not a good way to make sound education policy,” Miller said of the board’s habit of rejecting the work of teachers and experts. “It’s past time that state board members stop playing politics with the education of Texas children, respect the hard work teachers and other experts have put into writing standards, and acknowledge that experts – not politicians – know best what our children need to learn.”

Just a reminder that no matter how positive the electoral prospects are, there’s an awful lot of damage the SBOE clown chow can do before it is hopefully ushered off stage. Martha and the Trib, which has yet another depressing report about yet another ignorant, aggrieved wingnut wreaking havoc on the social studies commission, have more.

You can try, but you can’t out-embarrass the SBOE

The Court of Criminal Appeals has had a good run lately as the public institution that has caused the most embarrassment to Texas, thanks in no small part to the ongoing Keller saga and the recent hot judge-on-prosecutor ruling. But never count out the State Board of Education, where it’s not just a clown show, it’s a way of life, as seen in these clips from the recent hearings on social studies textbooks gathered by TPM Muckraker.

In these clips, the seated officials are members of the GOP-majority board of ed. The woman standing up is the representative of the high school U.S. history textbook standards writing team. Keep in mind, the writing team is supposed to incorporate in its next revision of the standards the input of the board members.

First up, board member Don McLeroy explains the importance of recognizing how “the majority” has helped “minorities” like African-Americans and women. “For instance, the women’s right to vote. … The men passed it for the women.”

(An incredulous female board member can be heard asking in the background, “How many years did it take?”)

I suppose by McLeroy’s logic, I ought to be grateful to all of the people in high school who could have beaten me up but didn’t. That came out almost two weeks ago but just came to my attention, via Twitter. Which means that no matter what ultimately happens, that will be the lasting impression a lot of people have of the SBOE. If only it were an inaccurate one.

The new social studies curriculum, so far

There’s no reason to believe that the lunatic fringe of the State Board of Education will do anything but push an unrealistic and ideological change to the state’s social studies curriculum. They’ve made that clear by the kind of “expert” they’ve added to the committee that’s doing the review. But so far, at least, so good.

The first draft of new social studies standards for Texas public schools is out and, as expected, it contains little to stir up controversy. The curriculum standards, written by teams of teachers and academics, spell out what should be taught in government, history and other social studies classes in all elementary and secondary schools. The standards also will be used to write textbooks and develop state tests for students.

Debate is expected to pick up when the standards go before the State Board of Education this fall. Board members clashed over proposed science standards earlier this year, and the social conservative bloc on the panel is expected to press its views – including the importance of Christian values in U.S. history – when the document comes up for consideration.

Although three curriculum experts appointed by social conservatives called for some dramatic additions in the curriculum proposal, their suggestions were largely ignored by the writing teams – which pursued a more mainstream approach to U.S. history, government and other subjects. The draft is available here.

It would have been much better, of course, for those three so-called “experts” to have never been selected to serve on the committee. But given that they’re there, the more they can be ignored, the better. Again, in the end I am sure they will make their presence known. For now, at least, sanity is prevailing. EoW has more, while the Texas Freedom Network has a few bon mots from (former) Chairman Don.

What kind of patriot are you, anyway?

The Contrarian reports on more SBOE follies.

A reader passed along a link to this Nacogdoches Daily Sentinel story that shows just how much some members of the State Board of Education are trying to slant social studies classes in Texas.

The newspaper reports:

‘Would you consider yourself a conservative when it comes to patriotism, the constitution, the heritage of our forefathers, etc?’

That was the last question that State Board of Education (SBOE) member Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, asked SFA’s Education Coordinator Rhonda Williams in an e-mail interview for a spot on the state’s world history curriculum writing committee last December.

Williams was nominated to sit on a writing panel that would help shape the state’s social studies curriculum for the next 10 years. She was hoping that she would be selected for the world history writing committee where she felt her expertise could be best utilized. The writing teams are usually made up of high school and college level educators who help to draft curriculum standards in their respective fields.

Now, a lot of people hold politically conservative views of the Constitution, and that’s perfectly fine.

But can someone explain to me how on Earth anyone could consider themselves conservative or liberal about “patriotism” and “the heritage of our forefathers”?

Clearly, he doesn’t think about these things the way that our SBOE does. You have to be an expert to truly understand the nuances of such a question. In case you’re curious, Ms. Williams apparently did not meet muster for sufficiently conservative patriotism. I guess her education in code words was lacking.

For what it’s worth, at least one member of the SBOE is insisting that we’ve got it all wrong about the social studies review.

There’s been some angst about reports that children biographies of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Stephen F. Austin could be yanked from early grades in new social studies/history curriculum standards currently in the drafting stage.

State Board of Education member Patricia Hardy, R-Fort Worth emphatically says such is not the case.


“Those suggested biographies are still expected reading,” Hardy says. “To bring consistency to the formatting of the TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) it was decided to remover all reference of specific books from one section of the TEKS.”

Critics simply don’t understand, she says.

“Never did the teachers say that those bios were not to be taught,” Hardy says. “Only the listing in that particular section of the TEKS no longer lists specific books.”

If you say so. I’ll wait and see for myself. The SBOE doesn’t have a whole lot of credibility right now.

Defining “expert” down

The Statesman editorial board lets us know how Don McLeroy defines an “expert” on something.

Don McLeroy, who couldn’t muster enough votes in the Republican-dominated Texas Senate to win confirmation as chairman of the State Board of Education, has a curious notion of what qualifies someone as an expert.

“If two (board) members think they’re qualified, they’re qualified,” McLeroy said. McLeroy, a Bryan dentist who retains his seat on the board, was discussing the selection of experts chosen to make recommendations on the state’s social studies curriculum to be adopted next year.

Give the doctor points for candor, but securing two votes of people who agree with your views on religion and politics — religion in politics in this case — should not an expert make. McLeroy’s comment reveals what is horribly wrong with the way curriculum is developed by an elected board that serves as a platform for the ultra-conservative members to promote a religious ideology.

You have to admit, that explains a lot. One wonders: If, say, two board members of the Texas Freedom Network produced a list of experts on the Bible, do you think Don McLeroy would accept it? I’m kinda thinking the answer to that is No.

The best way to fix a mistake is to avoid making it in the first place

In re: the fight over social studies now brewing in the State Board of Education, the problem is described as follows.

About 75 teachers, principals, social studies coordinators, college professors, retired teachers and ordinary citizens are developing the new curriculum standards. The so-called “writing teams” are taking guidance from six expert reviewers appointed by the board. The group’s first draft is expected to be finished before the board’s September meeting. Public hearings will follow before the board acts next spring.

But some of the expert recommendations are already stirring controversy, suggesting for example that biographies of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Stephen F. Austin should not be included in books for early grade-school children. And some of the experts want to emphasize the role of the Bible and the Christian faith in the settling of the original colonies.

The suggestions also are attracting the attention of the national media, which lampooned Texas earlier this year when the board struggled with the teaching of evolution in public schools.

In an article earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal noted that two of the expert reviewers appointed by the socially conservative state board members have strong Christian perspectives.

David Barton is founder of WallBuilders, which pushes America’s Christian heritage. Another expert reviewer is the Rev. Peter Marshall, a Christian minister who preaches that Watergate, the Vietnam War and Hurricane Katrina were God’s judgments on the nation’s sexual immorality.

Board members said Thurs day they are optimistic they will avoid repeating the rankling that brought attention to the debate over new science curriculum standards. The TFN has more.

“I don’t see at all that we will divide into factions,” said new board Chairwoman Gail Lowe, R-Lampasas.

Bob Craig, R-Lubbock, said of the task: “It’s very difficult. It’s very emotional. I hope we would keep it factual.”

It would have helped if the “experts” hired to do the initial review had all been, you know, actual experts on the subject matter and had not included a couple of fringe wingnuts who want to push their bizarre worldview at the expense of genuine scholarship. Given that that ship has sailed, the only sensible thing to do now is to admit the mistake, throw out everything the current review panel has done, find a group of honest academicians to do a serious job of it, and apologize profusely to the people and especially the students of Texas for having wasted their time and insulted their intelligence. Needless to say, I do not expect this to happen. Good luck making something productive happen now.

The fight over social studies

We’ve talked before about how the State Board of Education wants to do to history what it’s been doing to science. The Chron adds some details to the discussion.

Biographies of Washington, Lincoln, Stephen F. Austin? Not fit reading material for children in the early grades.

Cesar Chavez? Not worthy of his role-model status.

Christianity? Emphasize its importance.

Such suggestions are part of efforts to rewrite history books for the state’s schoolchildren, producing some expert recommendations that are sure to inflame Texans, no matter their political leanings.

The State Board of Education expects to start discussing new social studies curriculum standards this week, with members of the public getting their first opportunity to speak this fall and a final board vote next spring.

The process is a long one with lasting impact: reshaping the social studies curriculum, including history, for 4.7 million Texas public school children.

As we know from the controversy over science textbooks, the decisions the SBOE makes affect schoolchildren outside of Texas as well. Expect this latest drama to get national coverage as well, which means expect Texas’ image nationally to take another hit.

“This is something that every parent would want to be paying attention to. This will determine whether or not the kids get the education needed to succeed in college and jobs in the future,” said Dan Quinn of the Austin-based Texas Freedom Network. “If we are going to politicize our kids’ education, that will put our kids behind other kids when they’re competing for college and good-paying jobs on down the road.”

Curriculum standards are updated about every 10 years; the last social studies update came in 1997.

According to a preliminary draft of the new proposed standards, biographies of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Stephen F. Austin have been removed from the early grades, said Brooke Terry of the Texas Public Policy Foundation.

The early draft, which is likely to change multiple times in the coming months, also removes Independence Day, Veterans’ Day, and anthems and mottos for both Texas and the United States in a section on holidays, customs and celebrations, she said.

“You have the ability to shape the next generation on the beliefs about the government and the role of personal responsibility but also understanding our history and the principles that we want to pass down to our children,” Terry said. “With many of the suggested changes, I think we would be backtracking on many of the important things that people fight for in defense of our country.”

You don’t see the TFN and the TPPF point in the same direction very often, that’s for sure. I hope that’s a sign that there will be enough pushback against this early draft to move it into non-ridiculous territory. Not that there’s a lot of precedent for that with the SBOE lately, but one hopes so anyway. TFN has more.

The SBOE’s assault on history

In my earlier post about the virtues of a pro-science PAC, I mentioned that the State Board of Education had turned its attention towards doing to social studies what it had done to science. Vince gives a great rundown of the so-called “expert” who is heading up the SBOE’s panel reviewing the curriculum. Check it all out, then tell me if you think I’m exaggerating about the need for those PACs I suggested.

In related news, the Texas Freedom Network chronicles the far right’s push to get Cynthia Dunbar appointed Chair of the SBOE, while the new Observer blog The Contrarian suggests that having Dunbar and her out-there in-your-face nuttiness would be better than having an equally conservative but much more presentable Chair like Barbara Cargill. On the assumption, which I’d made all along, that we’ll never get a sane Chair as long as Rick Perry is in charge, I have to concede the wisdom of that line of thinking. If nothing else, the likes of Dunbar will serve as good campaign material.