State Board of Education

Another attempt to rewrite Texas history


Cynthia Dunbar did the school children of Texas a huge favor when she voluntarily retired from the State Board of Education several years ago. But she hasn’t retired her viewpoint that the only aspects of Texas and American history worth recording were coated in white – skin color, not snow.

She also had a fundamentalist, theocratic view of government, but that’s another issue.

Now, as misfortune would have it, Dunbar is back as a contributor to the first and only, so far, textbook on Mexican American history submitted for State Board of Education approval this year. And, to no great surprise, it mostly ignores Mexican American contributions to Texas’ history and distorts what it does present.

It’s a disservice to all of Texas’ school children and a slap in the face to an ethnic group that is a majority of Texas’ public school enrollment and rapidly becoming a majority of the state’s population.

My thanks to Dan Quinn of the Texas Freedom Network and Patrick Michels of the Texas Observer for raising flags. Michels’ story is linked below. Fortunately, school districts can select different books if they choose to schedule a Mexican American studies elective, and some publishers may provide them, bypassing the State Board of Education.

“What’s most notable about the text, on first glance, is how little attention is given to the history of Mexican-American people,” Michels writes. A passage on Latin American literature, for example, features well-known writers from Colombia, Chile and Brazil.

In one passage of the book, the authors write, “Chicanos, on the other hand, adopted a revolutionary narrative that opposed Western civilization and wanted to destroy this society.”

Bunk. Almost sounds as if Donald Trump were a ghost-writer.

Chicanos have spent much of their history in Texas demanding fair working conditions, livable wages and the right to vote. In fact, they still are fighting for the right to vote in the wake of the legislative majority’s enactment of a voter identification law that was designed specifically to prohibit low-income Hispanics and African Americans from voting.

As the Texas Observer points out, this book probably isn’t what State Board of Education Member Ruben Cortez and other supporters had in mind when they won approval of a Mexican American studies elective.

But it is exactly what you would expect from people who continue to deny Texas’ history and jeopardize its future.




An extreme extremist running for the State Board of Education


The State Board of Education, as the whole country knows, has a history of attracting candidates whose idea of “education” is cramming extremist ideology into Texas curriculum and textbooks. Extremist, however, may be too mild a term to describe the comments attributed to Mary Lou Bruner, a tea party-endorsed candidate in this year’s Republican primary for the board’s District 9 seat.

What I really would like to say about Ms. Bruner’s views would be unkind. So let me let her speak for herself.

Here are some of her more outrageous, prejudicial and head-in-the-sand pronouncements and viewpoints, according to a compilation by the Texas Freedom Network:

# “Obama has a soft spot for homosexuals because of the years he spent as a male prostitute in his twenties. That is how he paid for his drugs.”

# There were dinosaurs on Noah’s ark, but they “may have been babies and not able to reproduce.”

# Slavery was a minor issue in the Civil War and there is no need for Black History Month, Mexican-American History Month or any other formal recognition of the historical contributions of minorities to the United States.

# “Islam is not a religion. Islam is an inhumane totalitarian political ideology with radical religious rules and laws and barbaric punishments for breaking the religious rules.”

# “The Climate Change HOAX was Karl Marx’s idea.”

# Conspirators in the Democratic Party had President Kennedy assassinated so that they could promote Lyndon Johnson – “a socialist and an unethical politician” – to the White House. “They got rid of the good guy; in the end, they got a socialist president which is what they originally wanted.”

The list, I am told, goes on.

District 9 is an open seat because, unfortunately, the incumbent, intelligent Republican Thomas Ratliff, one of the better SBOE members of either party, is not seeking reelection. TSTA is supporting Keven Ellis, the Lufkin ISD school board president, in the District 9 Republican primary race. He not only knows a lot about education and cares about students and educators, but his views also are grounded in reality.

The winner of the Republican primary likely will win the general election because the district, which stretches across a large part of East Texas, is heavily Republican.

Don’t be misled by the unfortunate fact that Bruner is a former teacher. I have great respect for teachers and am grateful that she no longer is actively polluting the classroom. That will change, however, if she wins this election. Let’s keep her on the sidelines.

Don’t let ideology masquerade as history


Texas, unfortunately, doesn’t have a monopoly on education policymakers who would rather indoctrinate classrooms with their political ideology than actually educate students. Until Tuesday, residents of one of the major school districts in Colorado faced the same situation, but they did something about it. They went to the polls and ousted three board “reformers” who were causing the problem.

Texas voters will have a similar opportunity next year, but, as in Colorado, it will require a committed effort by educators and parents to put school children first in elections.

The problems in Colorado began with the election two years ago of three new members to the Jefferson County school board, the governing body of one of the state’s largest school districts. The three ran on a so-called “reform” platform that, as it turned out, included a misguided effort to tie teacher pay to student performance and direct more funds to charter schools at the potential expense of neighborhood public schools.

According to the Huffington Post, the three also supported the idea of rewriting a history curriculum to emphasize “positive aspects of the United States” – including individual rights, free enterprise and respect for authority – rather than issues that they believed encouraged “civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law.”

It sounds as if they found the long, often bloody struggle for civil and human rights for all Americans just too negative for a history textbook, much as a right-wing bloc on the State Board of Education in Texas found it too difficult to acknowledge in our curriculum standards that slavery was the main cause of the Civil War and that hostile, racial discrimination was a major deterrent to civil rights in Texas and the South for decades after the war.

History is so messy, isn’t it? But that is all the more reason for students to be given an unvarnished opportunity to understand it and for political ideologues to get out of their way.

Although the Colorado board didn’t change the curriculum, parents and educators – including teacher unions — had heard and seen enough. They organized a recall election, and the three would-be “reformers” were sent packing.

Texas voters can’t petition for recall elections, but we do have regular elections, and eight members of the State Board of Education will be on the ballot next year, beginning with the March 1 party primaries.

Not all are ideologues. Thomas Ratliff of Mount Pleasant, a moderate Republican in District 9, is a strong supporter of quality education in public schools. Some of the others, though, are motivated by ideology, notably Ken Mercer of San Antonio in District 5, an active member of the right-wing bloc that assaulted history when curriculum standards were rewritten a few years ago.

Early next year, TSTA will endorse State Board of Education candidates who actually are pro-education. But first things first.

SBOE members are elected from 15 large single-member districts, which means most Texans don’t even know who their State Board of Education members are. Your member may even live in a city a few hundred miles from your home. Find out who represents you on the SBOE by clicking on the link below, filling in your address and choosing the State Board of Education option. Then do some research and wait for TSTA’s endorsements.



Changing the charter approval process


The new state law that raises the cap on charter schools in Texas also transfers the approval of charter applications from the State Board of Education to the Texas Education Agency. Whether that makes a bad idea worse remains to be seen, but the same legislator who wanted more charters – Senate Education Chairman Dan Patrick –also was behind the transfer. So, keep your fingers crossed.

According to The Texas Tribune article linked below, Patrick was concerned that the elected, part-time board, which meets only five or six times a year, wouldn’t have the resources to adequately wade through an expanded number of applications. Yes, this is the same board with a vocal, ideological minority that periodically attempts to destroy public education. I doubt that figured into Patrick’s thinking, but who knows?

In any event, one of that vocal minority, board member David Bradley, already is vocal against the change. Noting that the ultimate control over who gets charters now will be vested in the state education commissioner, a political appointee of the governor, he told the Tribune, “If you want to see a political selection process that is going to create great stories for reporters, hang tough.”

I can hardly wait, although topping some of the ridiculous headlines generated by Bradley and his colleagues over the years will be difficult.

As I noted in a previous blog post, raising the cap on charters from the current 215 to as many as 305 by 2019 comes while charters in Texas, as a whole, continue to under-perform traditional public schools. In the new school accountability ratings released by the Texas Education Agency last week, 95 percent of 1,026 public school districts met state standards, compared to only 80 percent of charters – 161 of 202.

The new charter law also strengthens – at least on paper – state oversight of charter schools, which some legislators hope will make it easier to close down bad charter operators.

Maybe. But we will have to wait and see about that too.