The Terrible Texas Textbook Showdown
On May 19th, the Texas Board of Education will meet to approve the final Social Studies curriculum and textbook changes that caused such a stir back in March.
Since that meeting, even more changes have been proposed which, if adopted, promise to rewrite history for Texas schoolchildren to the conservative narrative. Uber-winger Don McLeroy's proposals:
- Undermine the doctrine of separation of church and state. McLeroy wants to substitute an unintelligible standard asking students to "contrast the Founders' intent relative to the wording of the First Amendment's Establishment Clause and Free Exercise Clause, with the popular term 'Separation of church and state.'"
- Attacking social programs. McLeroy proposes children "discuss alternatives to long-term entitlements such as Social Security and Medicare" as a solution to the current ratio of workers to retirees. This is a particularly odious theme, given that the ratio will be entirely different by the time these children are at the peak of their careers.
- Skew focus toward conservatives. McLeroy's logic:
"This is relevant to assessing the policies of the various ideologies that have shaped where we are as Americans," said McLeroy, who has joined with other members of his board bloc to put a more conservative slant on the social studies standards.
For example, high school students will have to learn specifically about leading conservative groups from the 1980s and 1990s in U.S. history, but not about identified liberal or minority rights groups.
- Removal of all references to the terms "justice" and "equality".
This artificially inflated controversy points to a larger issue: The people must not develop the habit of blind deference to academic experts. Just as war is too important to be left entirely to the generals, so history education is too important to be left to the historians. It is through our conception of our history that we define ourselves as a country. The fundamental question is this: Shall we continue to have a government ruled by the people, or shall we instead yield to a self-perpetuating caste of "experts"?
How ironic. A professor of Philosophy at the University of Texas, someone whose editorial was published because of his "academic expertise", argues that education should not be left to "experts". If it weren't so ridiculous, it would be comical.
Last week I asked Texas school board candidates Judy Jennings and Rebecca Bell-Metereau if they believed the conservative effort to alter history was part of the larger conservative goal to destroy public education. Jennings' response was a flat "yes." Bell-Metereau agreed, and pointed at the larger anti-intellectual trend evident not only in Texas, but throughout the nation as an additional motive.
The Texas Permanent School Fund
In Texas, there is a "Permanent School Fund", which is administered and managed by the Texas Board of Education. Established in 1854, the fund consists of land and revenues from land placed into permanent trust for the exclusive benefit of Texas public schools. All revenue from oil and gas leases on earmarked land flows into the Permanent School Fund, and is invested for the exclusive use of the public schools. In addition to the land and oil leases, there was approximately $19 billion invested in stocks and bonds as of August, 2009.
If a school district purchases textbooks approved by the Texas State Board of Education, the Permanent School Fund will pay for those books, releasing that district from the financial obligation.
This exposes two fronts for conservatives to attack public schools. First, to control and shape the education children receive in Texas; and second, the destruction of public schools in general statewide. The Permanent School Fund has already opened the door to charter schools as if they were equivalent to public schools. Once the conduit is open between private industry and public schools, the cash valve opens as well. How better to take over public education than via a cynical, bold-faced money grab?
It's not just happening in Texas
The assault on public schools, teachers' unions, and public education in general isn't unique to Texas. Jennings and Bell-Metereau stressed the urgency for all citizens in all communities to become involved and engaged in their own school districts' struggles to survive. Some examples of other efforts around the country to undermine the value of a public education include:
- Arizona's new laws banning Ethnic Studies classes and English teachers with accents
- South Dakota's Republican debate about cutting education programs
- The 30-year erosion of California's once-stellar public school system as a result of Proposition 13 and draconian cuts to education funding.
This is the conservative war on education -- a fundamental pillar of our democracy is being threatened by corporate interests who sense a cash cow head-butting the door.
David Stratman delivered this speech to the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents in 1997. His words proved to be prophetic then, and urgent now.
At the heart of the public education system, there is a conflict over what goals it should pursue. On one side stand educators and parents and students, who wish to see students educated to the fullest of their ability. On the other side stand the corporate and government elite, the masters of great wealth and power. Their goal is not that students be educated to their fullest potential, but that students be sorted out and persuaded to accept their lot in life, whether it be the executive suite or the unemployment line, as fitting and just. The goal of this powerful elite for the public schools is that inequality in society be legitimized and their hold on power reinforced. This conflict is never acknowledged openly, and yet it finds its way into every debate over school funding and educational policy and practice, and every debate over education reform.
The fierce urgency of now
A key question for us is, "What are we educating our students for?" The choices, I think, come down to two. We can prepare students for unrewarding jobs in an increasingly unequal society, or we can prepare our young people to understand their world and to change it. The first is education to meet the needs of the corporate economy. The second is education for democracy.
I'll be watching the Texas Board of Education debate this week. They are at a crossroads. If even one conservative is elected to to replace an outgoing member, these standards will be incorporated into Texas Social Studies curricula and textbooks for the next 10 years. As Jennings said last week, they are at a point where it's "do or die".
If we stop paying attention, they'll win.
cross-posted to MOMocrats