Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Education board voting over, battle isn’t

By Gary Scharrer - Express-News

AUSTIN — A controversy-wracked set of standards for teaching social studies was adopted Friday as the State Board of Education remained as divided as ever, voting 9-5 for the new curriculum that will shape Texas public school textbooks.

Angry minority members of the board reacted harshly, claiming the standards glorify Anglos' role in history while avoiding the issues of discrimination against minorities.

The board's 10-vote Republican majority has controlled dozens of divisive votes on amendments at meetings in recent months and the final votes were along party lines. Geraldine “Tincy” Miller, R-Dallas, left before the votes.

The five Democrats on the board continued to lose fights over new changes Friday.

“This is about politics. We have perverted the process. ... These (standards) came out of the air,” Rick Agosto, D-San Antonio, said about hundreds of amendments to the standards that undermined recommendations by teachers, historians and experts.

“This thing belongs in the trash!” Agosto screamed.

But Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, said she was “proud to have my name on this document.”

The board adopted the standards in three votes, for high school, middle school and elementary grades. It unanimously adopted standards for an economics curriculum in a separate vote.

The standards will guide new textbooks covering history, government, geography and economics for 4.8 million Texas public school children beginning as early as the 2013-14 school year.

They promote a traditional view of history and the study of original documents, patriotism and free enterprise.

“We have put in many more minority figures than ever before, more minority events than ever before,” said Terri Leo, R-Spring, rejecting a criticism that the board majority bypassed opportunities to include Hispanic and African American history-makers.

Minority children now make up 66 percent of the state's public school enrollment. All of the board members on the GOP's two-thirds majority are Anglo, and all five Democrats are Hispanic or African American.

Hispanics will have to wait until they reach college before learning the “real truth,” said board member Mary Helen Berlanga, D-Corpus Christi.

“I am sorry that I am part of this board (that has produced a document) that is not accurate or that is hidden,” she said.

Four of her colleagues walked out as she spoke.

The board majority put the Black Panthers in the standards but not the Ku Klux Klan, nor frontier atrocities committed against American Indians, nor the Texas Rangers' mistreatment of borderland Hispanics, she complained.

“We do learn from our mistakes, but if we don't point out what they are, history has a habit of repeating that mistake,” she said.

Minority members couldn't get support for an amendment that would have focused on widespread discrimination as the reason for the creation of two Hispanic civil rights groups — the League of United Latin American Citizens and the GI Forum. They dissented when the majority adopted a standard calling for high school students to study “instances of institutional racism in American society.”

Devout Christians on the board, who believe the Founding Fathers did not intend for separation of church and state to evolve as a legal doctrine, approved a standard calling for high school students to contrast it with the religious freedom protections in the First Amendment.

Board member Dunbar set the tone when she provided the invocation to open the meeting.

“I believe no one can read the history of our country without realizing that the good book and the spirit of the savior have from the beginning been our guiding geniuses,” Dunbar said. She later identified its author as the liberal 1950s and 1960s Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren.

Not every conflict saw Republican members march in lock-step. Shortly before adjourning after midnight Friday morning to meet later for its final votes, the board wrestled with whether to identify Barack Obama by name in a proposed high school history standard assessing the significance of the country's first African American president.

David Bradley, R-Beaumont, tried to insert Obama's middle name “Hussein,” which triggered an angry outburst from some colleagues.

He withdrew the motion after Bob Craig, R-Lubbock pointed out that other references to U.S. presidents did not include middle names.

“The intent behind what you are doing is pretty obvious,” Craig said.

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