Thursday, July 5, 2012

Curriculum Wars and the Texas State Board of Education

Last week's column for the Hill Country News and the Jarrell Star Ledger.  These columns will also be running in a new publication, The Georgetown Advocate, beginning July 12.

[Independence Day] ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.
-John Adams, 1776

Last month I had the opportunity to spend a weekend touring historic Boston. Known as the “Cradle of Liberty,” the city of Boston is like your grade-school history book come to life; a great reminder of the remarkable people that founded a new kind of nation. Their courage, foresight, and faith led them to craft a unique system of governance that has served us well for over 200 years. Thanks to their efforts, we will celebrate American exceptionalism “with pomp and parade” on Independence Day next week.

Unfortunately, not everyone wants to celebrate America, and there is a movement within public education to teach a very different perspective of the United States.

In recent years, Texas has been on the front lines of what might be called the Curriculum Wars. In 2009, unelected appointees of the Texas Education Agency attempted to revise the state's social studies curriculum standards. These leftist ideologues wanted to teach that America is “imperialistic, oppressive, and exploitative.” They also wanted to remove mention of Judeo-Christian holidays while retaining other religious festivals, replace the term “American” with “Global Citizen,” and remove mention of many iconic historic Americans such as Thomas Edison and Albert Einstein.

Fortunately, the State Board of Education (SBOE) must approve any curriculum changes, and the majority of the board found the proposals unacceptable. Instead, the SBOE voted for standards that by no means whitewash the darker aspects of our history, but also celebrate the extraordinary successes of the American political experiment.

But the Curriculum War is far from over. The 'anti-American Exceptionalism' crowd has been trying to undermine Texas SBOE authority, but also to transform the board via elections. Due to redistricting, this year all 15 seats on the SBOE will be on the ballot. Locally, Republicans will choose between Tom Maynard and Rebecca Osborne in a runoff election for SBOE District 10. A local teacher, Osborne ran as a Republican in 2010, but did not fare well when it was discovered she had previously voted in Democrat Primaries. Long-time Republican Tom Maynard has 13 years of teaching experience and is the executive director of the Texas FFA Association.

The winner of the runoff will face Democrat Judy Jennings in November. In 2010, Jennings opposed the social studies curriculum on numerous points. She expressed outrage that students were required to learn the difference between legal and illegal immigration, and that high school students would be exposed to the Venona Papers, recently declassified Cold War documents that demonstrate the scope and power of the American Communist Party in the 1950's. Jennings has vowed to radically change history curriculum.

The runoff for SBOE 10 may not garner much attention, but it is extremely important. Since Texas purchases such a large number of textbooks, publishers develop text based on our standards, and we exert a great deal of influence on education nationwide. The winner of the SBOE 10 race will help define curriculum for a vast number of American children both in and out of Texas. We must choose our candidates carefully.

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