Monday, February 01, 2010

Confusion bars children's author from curriculum

Confusion bars children's author from curriculum

Updated: 12:05 a.m. Monday, Jan. 25, 2010
Published: 2:06 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 24, 2010

What do the authors of the children's book "Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?" and a 2008 book called "Ethical Marxism: The Categorical Imperative of Liberation" have in common?

Both are named Bill Martin and, for now, neither is being added to Texas schoolbooks.

In their haste to sort out the state's social studies curriculum standards last week, the State Board of Education tossed children's author Martin, who died in 2004, from a proposal for the third-grade section. Board member Pat Hardy, who made the motion, cited books he had written for adults that contain "very strong critiques of capitalism and the American system."

Trouble is, the Bill Martin Jr. who wrote the "Brown Bear" series never wrote anything political, unless you count a book that taught kids how to say the Pledge of Allegiance, his friends said this week. The book on Marxism was written by Bill Martin, a philosophy professor at DePaul University in Chicago.

Bill Martin Jr.'s name would have been included on a list with author Laura Ingalls Wilder and artist Carmen Lomas Garza as examples of individuals who would be studied for their cultural contributions.

Hardy said she was trusting the research of another board member, Terri Leo, when she made her motion and comments about Martin's writing. Leo had sent her an e-mail earlier in the week, alerting her to Bill Martin Jr.'s listing on the Web site as the author of "Ethical Marxism." Leo's note, however, also said she hadn't read the book.

"She said that that was what he wrote, and I said: 'Fine with me. It's a good enough reason for me to get rid of someone,'" said Hardy, who has complained vehemently about the volume of names being added to the curriculum standards.

In an e-mail exchange, Leo said she planned to make a motion to replace Bill Martin and sent Hardy a list of possible alternatives. Hardy said she thought she was doing what Leo wanted when she made the motion.

Leo, however, said she wasn't asking Hardy to make any motions. She said she didn't do any "research."

"Since I didn't check it out, I wasn't about to make the motion," Leo said, adding that she never meant for her "FYI" e-mail to Hardy to be spoken about in a public forum.

Hardy said that her interest was in paring down that list and that she didn't mean to offend anyone.

For some, however, the mix-up is an indicator of a larger problem with the way the elected board members have approached the update of state curriculum standards, also known as the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills.

Board members will take up social studies standards again in March. They plan to take a final vote on updates in May.

Hardy's motion is "a new low in terms of the group that's supposed to represent education having such faulty research and making such a false leap without substantiating what they're doing," said Michael Sampson, Martin's co-author on 30 children's books.

Sampson is a professor of early childhood education at the University of South Florida at St. Petersburg, Fla., but he used to work in Texas. He and Martin also traveled the country putting on educational conferences for teachers and children.

The social studies standards update, which started last spring when groups of educators met to suggest revisions, has brought criticism from the right and the left about politicizing the process. As trustees worked their way through a draft last week, political ideas like imperialism, communism and free enterprise were at the heart of some of the changes.

For example, member Don McLeroy, the board's conservative former chairman, suggested taking out mention of the first Red Scare, an anti-communism movement after World War I. He argued that it was short-lived, but Hardy appealed to him to realize the importance of the event, and it was kept in.

Hardy, who represents part of Tarrant County and Ellis, Johnson and Parker counties, clashed with her Republican colleagues in several areas. But she said she had never heard of Bill Martin Jr.'s work before receiving an e-mail from Leo.

A quick look on the Internet might add to the confusion.

The online bookseller links the names of the authors. However, a quick scroll down on the Ethical Marxism page on Amazon gives a brief description of the philosophy professor.

That Bill Martin was surprised to hear that his name had come up at the meeting in Austin.

"My own books don't seem to get out there in the world nearly as much as I'd like, so it is amusing that a trustee involved in this discussion in the Texas State Board of Education would even be aware of them," he said in an e-mail.

"But I imagine this trustee applied the same level of care in her inquiry on this question as she brings to the idea that young people cannot be exposed to criticisms of the capitalist system. So, a fine example for our youth," he wrote.

Tommy Thomason, director of the Texas Center for Community Journalism at Texas Christian University, also wasn't pleased. He read about Hardy's discussion in the Star-Telegram and contacted the paper for clarification. He also worked with Martin and considers it a tragedy his friend's name is being "besmirched."

He said Martin's only political agenda would be "supporting children and giving them wonderful literature they love to read."


January 25, 2010 01:05 AM EST

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