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Texas School Board Puts on a Show

Terri Burke,
ACLU of Texas
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May 20, 2010

(Originally posted on the ACLU of Texas’ Liberty blog.)

There was a time when many of us thought the cheapest, best live theater in Texas was in the Pink Granite building at the end of Congress Ave. in Austin.

No more.

It’s the State Board of Ed. If you’re not attending — or at least watching — its hearings on the proposed new social studies curriculum standards, you must already be vacationing in the mountains of Colorado with no Internet.

The highlight, or should I say lowlight, of yesterday’s 13 or more hours of public testimony (I got to speak in hour 12) was the speaker who told us that Texas history curriculum should teach “that slavery was created by fallen angels.” Chairwoman Gail Lowe didn’t reprimand the speaker as she had earlier complained about T-shirts worn by a group of students. The fronts of the T-shirts were innocuous enough, “Save our History” but the wording on the backs offended the Chairwoman: “Students for a smarter state board of education now.”

Out of the 206 registered speakers, my rough count showed a good 60 percent spoke against the proposed standards or asked the board to delay the vote to revise them. And that doesn’t count the legislators and players from the national stage who showed up.

Bush-era Education Secretary and former Houston school superintendent Rod Paige told the board early Wednesday morning: “What students are taught should not be the handmaiden of political ideology.”

They heard, too, from Benjamin Todd Jealous, the national president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, who said that children need to learn the “whole truth, not half truths.” He said the standards threaten students’ ability to compete on advanced placement tests and SATs.

The room had thinned out dramatically at 9:45 p.m. when finally I was called to speak, and by then, they had changed the rules to strictly limit questioning of speakers. So, I was up and out in the allotted three minutes. I delivered a letter and a copy of our report, “Texas State Board of Education: A Case of Abuse of Power.”

Part of the timing problem stemmed from the latitude the board granted speakers early in the day. There was an emotional plea for more attention to Davy Crockett, who to my knowledge, is in no danger of being diminished in Texas history texts.

Considering this was a discussion of social studies, few of us understood the relevance of a rambling account of a distraught school child who didn’t get to sing her favorite song (“Jesus Loves Me”) in her first-grade classroom. Obviously, her teacher had not been educated by the ACLU of Texas about the Constitution’s freedom of religious expression clause. We are available to help.

The last speaker to really get questioned had come to warn us of the impending Islamic takeover of America, again not particularly relevant to the issue at hand.

When a critic noted the state has few standards for service on the State Board of Education, including no educational requirements for the Commissioner of Education, Board Member David Bradley of Beaumont asked: “So, should the head of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission be a drunk?” My response would have been, “No, but the top educator in our state should be educated.”

These people have our children’s future in their hands.

Their final vote is Friday.

P.S. For those of you on Twitter, make your voice heard and tweet the following to the Texas Education Agency: @teainfo Do right by TX kids & public school kids everywhere. Reject distorted Social Studies curriculum changes #savehistory

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