Static: Wednesday, May 21, 2008
Send the Board Back to School

Education has long been one of the places where the radical right in this country tends to reveal its true colors. Many of them think of public education simply as The Government’s most successful method of brainwashing their children with horrific concepts like sexual and racial equality, separation of church and state, and independent thinking. Unfortunately, the most recent battlefield in that long-running guerrilla war has been the Texas State Board of Education.
Everyone expects a big fight over the science curriculum — i.e., over anti-evolution ideas — later this year, but few foresaw a major battle over English. In February, the conservative-dominated board managed to piss off teachers, Hispanic leaders, and others by tossing out an updated English and reading curriculum that teachers had worked on (at the board’s request) for about two years. Instead, the board tentatively adopted a curriculum that had been rejected by earlier SBOE members a decade ago, a plan that the Texas Classroom Teachers Association says is outdated and fails, for instance, to include any Latino authors on a mandated reading list, despite Texas’ rapidly growing Hispanic population.
Static remembers high school English as the classes where wonderful discussions of issues and great thoughts were most likely to take place. Education board members apparently either missed those classes or remember them with fear, because they also disagreed with the teacher panel’s suggestion that critical thinking is one of the things that English classes should be about.
“Teachers realize content needs to be measurable by evaluation,” said Brock Gregg of the Association of Texas Professional Educators. “But they also need to teach kids how to think critically.”
Au contraire, said board vice chairman David Bradley, who has no background in education. “I’m sorry, this critical thinking stuff is gobbledy-gook,” he told the Houston Chronicle’s Lisa Falkenberg.
According to several teacher-friendly sources, Bradley and a few other board members seem suspicious of educators in general. (Pat Hardy, board member from Tarrant County, is a lifelong teacher, but she’s one of only three on the 15-person board.) The conservative bloc includes several folks who home-school their children; nothing wrong with that, but if they’re not committed to public education, why are they on the public school board?
The board sets a dangerous precedent by asking teachers to spend time designing curricula then disregarding their recommendations in favor of a curriculum designed by a single person. In a phone interview, former TEA director of science curriculum Christine Comer, ousted by the powers-that-be last November, said the board-selected English curriculum “stands to make one person a whole lot of money” — a person who happens to be the conservatives’ darling.
Don’t take the teachers’ — or Static’s — word for it, though. Read a summary of a compromise curriculum on the Texas Education Agency web site. Then e-mail the board at with your comments. And hurry up: Public comment closes on Friday, May 23.
Then stay tuned. Next battle: science curriculum, for which the public comment period may start as early as July. If you miss this year’s debate, you can’t fix it next year. The decisions made by state board this summer are likely to affect what gets taught in Texas schools for the next decade. Yikes.

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