State Board of Education

Don’t remove Helen and Hillary; remove STAAR from classrooms


The latest assault on history by the State Board of Education majority was necessary to give teachers more time to teach, board members say. But there is a much better way to accomplish that goal than by removing Helen Keller, Barry Goldwater or Hillary Clinton from the required curriculum standards. It would be by abolishing the STAAR testing regime or, at least, significantly reducing the amount of time it sucks up from the school day.

I know. The state board isn’t in charge of STAAR testing. The governor and the Legislature are responsible for prolonging that misguided and miserable policy. But if board members really want to give teachers more time to actually teach currculum and not just teach to the test, they should demand that lawmakers drastically reduce the role of STAAR. They could start by writing a letter to the governor and the Legislature.

But despite widespread unhappiness among parents and educators with STAAR, don’t hold your breah that the State Board will take a unified stand against the single biggest curriculum-killer that Texas government has to offer.

Instead, curriculum will continue to be manipulated through a political and ideological lens.

The board at least partially corrected the lie, inserted into the standards in 2010, that slavery was a secondary cause of the Civil War. This time, the board identified slavery as the central cause of the war, but it still promoted the myth that the more-neutral sounding “states’ rights” principal was also to blame. In truth, the only “state right” that provoked secesson was the so-called “right” to own slaves.

Teachers can still teach about Helen Keller, Barry Goldwater and Hillary Clinton. The removal of their names from the standards simply means that teachers won’t be required to include them in their lessons.

In don’t necessarily see partisanship in Helen Keller’s omission, just inexplicability. Keller, who overcame blindness and deafness to publish numerous books, lecture throughout the world and become an inspiration to millions, remains one of the most courageous figures in our nation’s history. Not to teach about her life, her challenges and her accomplishments is a disservice to school children.

I don’t see partisanship in Goldwater’s removal either, although the U.S. senator, Republican presidential nominee and 20th century leader/hero of the conservative movement definitely earned a place in history.

Hillary Clinton’s removal from the curriculum standards, on the other hand, has partisanship written all over it. As the first woman presidential nominee of a major political party, however, her place in history is established, with or without the State Board of Education’s approval.

Carisa Lopez, political director of the Texas Freedom Network, summed up the problem with curriculum decisions in Texas pretty well.

“Once again, we see why politicians rewriting curriculum standards for public schools is just a bad idea,” she said. “You end up with history based on majority vote rather than on facts.”




Playing politics with history and education


You may recall that not too many years ago a majority on the State Board of Education brought ridicule upon themselves and the state of Texas by writing curriculum standards for Texas students that downplayed slavery as the cause of the Civil War.

Slavery is cited throughout the Texas secession declaration, adopted in 1861, and the document makes clear that slavery was the reason Texas left the Union to join the other southern states preparing for war over the same issue.

The board majority, however, chose to play politics with history and with education, and now Gov. Greg Abbott, in his own way, is doing the same thing. The governor doesn’t write curriculum standards, but he has been presented with an opportunity to make a strong political statement for historical accuracy and scholarship and so far has refused to do so.

Last year, a legislator called Abbott’s attention to the fact that a plaque on public display in the state Capitol also denied that slavery was a major cause of the Civil War. The plaque, sponsored by Confederate descendants and apologists, was erected in 1959, years after the South had lost the war. It was erected, instead, during the early years of the civil rights movement, perhaps as a pushback against the descendants of slaves who were still fighting for the political and civil justices they had long been denied by the descendants of secessionists.

The legislator, state Rep. Eric Johnson of Dallas, an African American Democrat, brought his concerns to Abbott in a private meeting last October, nine months ago, and asked that the State Preservation Board, which the governor chairs, remove the plaque. Johnson has since been joined by 40 other legislators, including some members of the governor’s own party, but the plaque remains.

Among the state leadership, only House Speaker Joe Straus has called for its removal. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick hasn’t weighed in. And Abbott’s office said the plaque’s future will have to be determined by the Legislature because the Legislature authorized its placement in the Capitol in the first place. That may be so, but that doesn’t prohibit the governor from exercising leadership and demanding that lawmakers remove the plaque after they convene in January.

Instead, Abbott remains silent. What is he afraid of?

Does he disagree with historians and educators? Is he content to perpetuate a lie for Capitol visitors to see? Is he afraid of offending Confederate descendants? Or is he afraid of racists who want to undo the civil rights gains of the past 60 years? Racists, after all, do vote, they have been emboldened by President Trump and this is an election year.

The State Board of Education is taking another look at the history curriculum standards this year, giving it another chance to be honest with school children. The governor, meanwhile, has a chance to publicly refute a lie and show school children and their parents some political courage.

45 Texas lawmakers in favor of removing Confederate plaque; Abbott mum

History deserves accuracy, not cowardice


The debate over Confederate statues will continue, but for educators and other fair-minded Americans there should be no debate over one critical point. The portrayal of history should be accurate, and in Texas the governor should set the example, not be a political coward.

You may have read the recent story in The Dallas Morning News about state Rep. Eric Johnson’s discovery that a plaque on the wall outside his state Capitol office denies that Texas and other southern states seceded from the Union on the eve of the Civil War over the issue of slavery.

That claim is an out-and-out lie and one of many belated attempts by Confederate sympathziers to rewrite history. This particular plaque was mounted in 1959, during the civil rights era, by a group of revisionists called Children of the Confederacy Creed. The plaque claims the Civil War “was not a rebellion nor was its underlying cause to sustain slavery.”

In truth, the Texas Ordinance of Secession adopted in 1861 is full of language about protecting slavery or “the servitude of the African to the white race” and complains repeatedly about steps taken or encouraged by the federal government to destroy “the institutions of Texas and her sister slave-holding states.”

The Texas secession leaders even went so far as to proclaim that “the servitude of the African race, as existing in these (southern) States, is mutually beneficial to both bond and free, and is abundantly authorized and justified by the experience of mankind, and the revealed will of the Almighty Creator, as recognized by all Christian nations.”

They added: “By the (earlier) secession of six of the slave-holding States, and the certainty that others will speedily do likewise, Texas has no alternative but to remain in an isolated connection with the North, or unite her destinies with the South.”

A few years ago, the State Board of Education also tried to downplay the role of slavery in the Civil War by adopting curriculum standards that listed slavery as a cause of secession after sectionalism and states’ rights.

Johnson, an African American, has asked the State Preservation Board, chaired by Abbott, to remove the offending plaque.

Abbott responded by issuing a statement condemning “racist and hate-filled violence.” But he added, “Instead of trying to bury our past, we must learn from it and ensure it doesn’t happen again. Tearing down monuments won’t erase our nation’s past, and it doesn’t advance our nation’s future.”

The governor missed the point. No one was asking him to erase or deny our history. Rep. Johnson was asking him to remove from prominent, public display in the seat of state government a plaque that deliberately lies about that history.

Is the governor afraid of the same thing as the dangerous president he helped elect? Is he afraid of losing the votes of some white supremacists?



SBOE member issues very silly, meaningless defense of DeVos


Many people who supported the unfit Betsy DeVos for education secretary have offered weak rationalizations, but the silliest statement in support of her that I have seen came from State Board of Education member David Bradley of Beaumont.

Bradley told the Beaumont Enterprise this week that criticism of DeVos’ lack of public education experience was irrelevant and that opponents were “simply trying to be obstructionists.”

“I don’t think having worked in public education is a qualification any more than being dead to work on the Texas Funeral (Service Commission), or being an alcoholic to be on the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission,” Bradley said.

Bradley should know something about being an obstructionist. His critics would say he has spent much of his long tenure on the state board being an obstructionist to the best educational offerings for Texas school children.

If he was trying to be flippant with the rest of his statement, he flipped it too far. The relevant point is that Betsy DeVos is alive and presumably healthy and in a position to do a lot of damage to public schools and student opportunities.

If you want to see Bradley’s quote for yourself, check the 13th and 14th paragraphs of the story at this link: