Saturday, February 06, 2010

One more time

Texas education board yet again promotes ideology over academics

Jan. 22, 2010

This is getting to be a familiar scenario: The Texas Board of Education, preparing to adopt new curriculum standards, makes our schoolchildren's textbooks a matter of highly partisan wrangling.

When the board met last week to discuss what to teach Texas' public school students in history, geography, government and economics, their preliminary druthers were heavily weighted in favor of the blatantly divisive and ideological views of the board's conservative majority.

As reported by the Chronicle's Gary Scharrer, conservative bastions like Moral Majority, the National Rifle Association and the Heritage Foundation are currently in, but civil rights groups and minorities are not faring as well.

This time a year ago, experts and conservatives were locking horns on standards for teaching evolution, as the conservative board majority — again dismissing a year's worth of studies by scientists and teachers — sought to insert language that would cast doubt on Darwinian evolution and support creationism. Similar battles had erupted the previous year over English language arts and reading.

In May 2009, reported Scharrer, an exasperated Leticia Van de Putte, Democratic senator from San Antonio, told the Senate that the board had become the “laughingstock of the nation” under the two-year leadership of Don McLeroy, a Bryan dentist who believes the Earth is about 6,000 years old.

Gov. Rick Perry, who had waited for the previous legislative session to end before unilaterally appointing McLeroy, promptly replaced him with another creationist, Gail Lowe. In previous years the creationist, socially conservative wing of the board was not strong enough to prevail, but there are now 10 Republicans on the 15-member board, seven of whom adhere reliably to socially conservative positions.

The board, which adjourned without finishing its reviews, postponed a preliminary vote until March. Curriculum standards will be presented at a public hearing in May, at which time final action will be taken.

One of the issues still to be addressed is how the influence of faith on the nation's founders will be presented in the new curriculum. A coalition of religious leaders and scholars has joined with the Texas Freedom Network, a nonpartisan organization that supports public education and religious freedom, to call on the board to see that religious freedoms are not undermined.

The Rev. Marcus McFaul of Austin's Highland Park Baptist Church said that while all acknowledge the role and influence of religion in American history, the teaching of religion is “the responsibility of parents and parishes, not public schools.”

What is the responsibility of public schools and the board of education is to give our children the best education possible, based not on personal ideology but on sound, accepted practices.

This pattern would be troublesome in any agency, but when it concerns the very foundation of what we teach our 4.8 million public school students, how we equip them to grow into functioning adults and to compete in a national and international market, it is untenable.

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