Let’s Just Educate

It’s time to change the process that fills the State Board of Education in Texas. Since 2006, its elected members have put partisan politics and ideologies ahead of their duties, and even ahead of the welfare of Texas students.

The State Board of Education was created to provide guidelines on educational curricula and content guidelines for the state’s textbooks, and to oversee the permanent school fund, a $17.5 billion taxpayer funded account. The 15 publicly elected officials who serve on the board are elected to provide guidance, and resources for nearly 1,300 school districts and 4.7 million students.

The current board has ignored requests by educators, historians and policymakers, including myself, to include significant Hispanic and other minority role models in textbooks. Instead, they have opted to resist the inclusion of a large part of our community, in favor of majority figures who represent their status quo.

While Texas lags in every educational category when compared with other states, the State Board of Education has not addressed any educational deficiencies; instead, its members have spent the past few years adopting new rules, guidelines, and standards that have been criticized by policymakers and ridiculed by columnists and even comedians. The board’s conservative ideological impact on Texas education and its potential to impact national textbook curriculum debate has garnered national media attention and concern.

For example, the Board’s recently adopted textbook recommendations seriously water down teaching of the Civil Rights movement, religious freedoms, and other aspects of Texans’ shared social history that are extremely important to our education.

Leading the effort in Texas to educate the public about the board’s antics is the Texas Freedom Network. TFN identifies the following grave concerns with current SBOE board members:

·  Extremists on the SBOE undermine science education, call evolution a lie and claim separation of church and state is a myth.

·  They appoint unqualified political activists to help rewrite history and twist the curriculum in our children’s classrooms to promote political agendas.

·  They want public schools to censor authors, important historical figures and ideas that don’t fit into their own narrow worldview.

SBOE candidate Judy Jennings notes, “Because of Texas’s out-size impact on the textbook market, a good part of the world is indeed taking notice. But the impact, of course, is even greater here, where the whims of the board determine what must be taught in our classrooms.”

Rebecca Bell-Metereau, a Texas teacher and current SBOE candidate, wrote about her experience in the schools and identified the strong disconnect current SBOE members have with actual classroom education.

“This board has exactly the same problems I recognize in my students: poor critical thinking, research, language, and problem-solving skills. They mix up big concepts with specific examples. Their method for making the curriculum ‘fair’ is simply to throw in a name from ‘their side’ every place they recognize someone from the ‘other side,’ thus muddying such concepts as the Enlightenment or reform and muckraker movements by trying to add in totally unrelated figures who represented completely different schools of thought.”

The Texas Board of Education could be one of the more important agencies in Texas. Ironically, in this era of budget cuts, the State Board of Education is one of the few state agencies with the resources it needs to succeed. It has billions of dollars and a captive audience. Instead of forcing their political and ideological agenda into Texas classrooms, board members should be preparing the next generation for 21st Century jobs. When it comes to social studies, the board should call for textbooks that focus on Texas’s valuable and diverse history.

On November 2, eight of the current board members will seek re-election to the SBOE. Texas voters have the power to elect fair-minded and experienced board members to board instead of returning the status quo to power. Candidates such as Judy Jennings, Michael Soto and Rebecca Bell-Metereau will help balance the board and work to restore the priority of educational quality for all Texas children.

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