Education board example of politics run amok

May 23, 2010 at 12:23 a.m.

Agreat deal of attention has been paid lately to the Texas Board of Education. And for good reason.

The board has drastically altered the way Texas school children will be educated for the next 10 years. This is troubling because the majority of the board put its political and personal beliefs before the educational needs of our children. Instead of providing valid lessons in history, Texas and the nation were given a lesson in demagoguery and ugly politics.

When the conservatives on the board were accused of playing politics, Republican David Bradley proudly admitted it: "We're an elected body, this is a political process. Outside that, go find yourself a benevolent dictator."

Is this Mr. Bradley's lesson, that the only form of government where consensus and nonpartisan politics can exist is in a dictatorship?

Perhaps Mr. Bradley didn't hear Republican voters in the recent primary elections. Don McLeroy, the most conservative voice and former board chairman (who also believes people and dinosaurs lived at the same time), lost his election to a moderate. Right-winger Brian Russell lost his bid to replace retiring right-winger Cynthia Dunbar.

But the majority on the board didn't even listen to Rod Paige, who was education secretary under President George W. Bush. Pleading that the board delay the vote, Paige said that he didn't believe "history should be the hand maiden to carry the political ideology of either the left or the right."

Another group to appear before the board were members of a committee of teachers and professors who wrote the original draft of new high school history guidelines. The group complained that the board perverted their suggestions, saying that McLeroy and his crew's decisions "reflect their lack of historic knowledge," and that the group felt a "collective disgust."

Educators are also complaining about the program, saying that critical thinking is being thrown out the window in favor of a list of names that is too long. Keith A. Erekson, an assistant professor of history at the University of Texas at El Paso said that, "The Texas social studies standards require nothing more of seniors than they do of kindergartners."

The questions that have to be asked here are: Does the new curriculum actually improve students' understanding of history, social studies and government? Considering that Texas continually lands near the bottom of the nation in SAT scores (the state was ranked 45th last year), do the new guidelines sufficiently prepare them for college?

And what if Texas high school graduates want to go to college out of state? Will they be rejected simply because they are a product of the Texas public education system?

Some members of the Legislature are considering legislation that would provide more oversight of the board. While their frustration is understandable, we feel that the Legislature is not the right place to depoliticize the board of education.

The best advice is to wait until the board turns over to more moderate hands in January. Perhaps they can salvage us from this educational miasma.



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