‘Culture Wars’ Still Disruptive in Texas

In an op-ed column that has run in various newspapers (including in Houston and Austin), Texas Freedom Network President Kathy Miller explains how the recently ended legislative session demonstrates that the “culture wars” are still a divisive and disruptive influence in Texas politics. We are to publishing the op-ed for TFN  Insider readers here.

Legislative Session Shows ‘Culture Wars’ Still Thrive in Texas

National elections last November seemed to signal that voters are exhausted by relentless battles over divisive social issues. But the recently ended legislative session showed that the culture wars still thrive in Texas.

Whether the Legislature would ban public funding for embryonic stem cell research, for example, was a key battle in debates over the state budget. In addition, the governor and abortion opponents pushed for “Choose Life” license plates for cars.

But deep divisions over the State Board of Education and sex education truly illuminated the staying power of the culture wars in our state’s political life.

Over the past two years, the SBOE has lurched from one embarrassing controversy to another. On matters like language arts standards, public school Bible classes and even the adoption of mathematics textbooks, the board had become a dysfunctional mess.

The recent controversy over science was especially messy. Some of the state’s most respected scientists – including Nobel laureates – were practically reduced to begging board creationists not to undermine instruction on evolution.

So a bipartisan group of legislators offered more than a dozen bills to shield education from politics. Key bills would have removed or limited the board’s authority over setting curriculum standards and adopting textbooks.

It was clear that many lawmakers – Republicans and Democrats – understood that the SBOE had become an obstacle to ensuring that Texas schoolchildren get a sound education.

But social conservatives pleased with a state board that embraces the culture wars put intense pressure on lawmakers. Support for SBOE reform bills gradually faded among Republicans as all legislation dealing with the board had to pass a socially conservative litmus test. For example, a day after the House gave preliminary approval to a bill simply putting the board under periodic review by the Sunset Advisory Commission, the House reversed course and rejected it. Republican lawmakers told reporters that opposing the bill became a test of party loyalty – and all of them wanted to avoid the wrath of social conservatives in GOP primaries.

Lawmakers also sought to deal with the failure of sex education in Texas public schools. The rising rate of teen births in Texas is one of the nation’s highest. Moreover, the state spends over $1 billion annually on teen pregnancies. Yet more than 9 in 10 school districts teach no medically accurate information about pregnancy and disease prevention except abstinence-only-until-marriage. A two-year study showed that those abstinence-only programs were filled with factual errors, dated gender stereotypes and wildly exaggerated failure rates for contraception and disease prevention methods.

Lawmakers proposed solutions based on common sense. One required school districts that offer sex education to teach students about contraception and preventing sexually transmitted diseases. Another required that anything taught in sex education classes be medically accurate according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and associations like the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Opponents said the bills were backed by abortion providers who simply wanted to “censor” information in classrooms and promote “recreational and gay sex” – outrageous claims for measures simply calling for medical accuracy in health classes.

Opportunities for rational discussion faded quickly. So when House members were asked to vote on requiring medically accurate information in sex education classes, House opponents killed the measure with a parliamentary move so they wouldn’t even have to discuss it on the floor.

As a result, little has changed in Texas at the end of a long legislative session. Statistics show that a Texas teen still gets pregnant every 10 minutes. Students are still being told that condoms and other forms of contraception and disease prevention are virtually useless. And State Board of Education members have already promised that the revision of social studies standards will be even more controversial than the science revision. But the culture warriors are happy.

The culture wars may be fading across the rest of the country. But they’re still causing casualties in Texas.

Kathy Miller is president of the Texas Freedom Network, a public education and religious liberties watchdog group based in Austin.

14 thoughts on “‘Culture Wars’ Still Disruptive in Texas

  1. It’s such a shame that the Dems blocked so much good legislation in order to stymie voter ID. I was looking forward to buying my “MD 4 LYF” “Choose Life” vanity plate.

    As one of the teachers of Worth the Wait here in Comal County, I was glad to see that our County has one of the lowest pregnancy rates in the State, Following current State law and local parental preferences. (Which of course, is how local sex-ed courses are chosen — by a local panel of parents and citizens.)

    BTW, if you trust the people to elect the Governor who would appoint State education bureaucrats, why would you not trust the people to elect their State Board of Education?

  2. Thank you, Kathy, for continuing the effort. Uphill all the way, but not, I hope, Sisyphean.

  3. Not all citizens who have gone to school are experts in education Beverly.
    Besides, State Boards of Education should exist outside the cut and thrust of electoral and political contest.

  4. Beverly, there is nothing wrong with having an elected SBOE. However, they are laymen who are overiding expert opinion and concensus only because of their religious and ideological beliefs. Not because of any basis in fact.

    They are not experts in Language Arts, Science, or History and Government. Yet they simply dismiss the opinions of teachers and other professionals out of hand. If the facts aren’t in line with their ideology, they simply ignore the facts or simply elect not to teach them.

    The result is a biased and poor curiculum.

    Their decisions over language arts means a lot of Hispanic kids will continue to struggle with english.

    Their decisions over science means that kids will think that fundamental concepts in science such as evolution and the age of the universe are not sound and are in doubt when actually they are the most verified and fundamental concepts in all of science. Biology makes no sense whatsoever except when explained by evolution.

    And the SBOE has telegraphed their intentions to rewrite history from the perspective of extreme Christian Fundamentalism no matter what the expert historians and legal experts say.

    Elected politicians with agendas should not be allowed to pass judgement on academic expert conclusions. The result is the mess we currently have on the Texas SBOE.

  5. Beverly, Texas has one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in the nation. Having near the lowest rate in Texas doesn’t tell us much. Local choice in Texas has given us a lot of pregnant teenagers, more per capita than all but two other states the last time I checked. You don’t give any reason why Comal County would have a lower rate than all the other Texas counties that teach the same notably failure prone abstinence-only sex education. Maybe the girls are sneaking off to clinics in San Antonio or Austin and are not getting counted in Comal County. All I see in your post are mindless non sequiturs similar to those coming from the regressive religionists on the SBOE.

    I agree that 39% Rick would probably make choices for TSBOE members that are as bad as Don McLeroy was for SBOE chairman. I think that non-partisan SBOE elections would make the voters think about for whom they are voting, and the regressive religionists would not be returned to office because of straight-ticket voting.

  6. Kathy Miller’s op ed piece was excellent. Having members of the SBOE appointed by a partisan ANYBODY is a recipe for further culture wars that ignore science and history. The Pilgrims came to get a better life? African tribes came to the US because they were unhappy with life in Africa during the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries? Jesus was a Palestinian? Moses SAID he talked with God? Jesus SAID he
    was the son of God? Mohammed TALKED to Allah?
    And I can’t go outside my house on ozone alert days, but it’s all junk science….

  7. It is high time the legislature either require that any member of the SBOE be credentialed by an accredited institution – NOT a religious institution, nor an institution of opinion – in the subjects for which he or she is responsible for the text book approval, or eliminate the SBOE altogether. How long until the lagging in science and technology becomes an issue of national security? How much longer can America go with such a deplorable state of non-education in history and civics? And now we have people trying to worsen the state of social studies and American history education?

  8. ” Statistics show that a Texas teen still gets pregnant every 10 minutes. ”

    When stats like this are quoted there is usually no link to a source because the stats are most likely made up to suit the writer’s convenience.

    I believe religion has no place in the public education system just as left wing sensationalism and left wing racial preferencing has no place in the public education system.

    The Texas Democratic Party is an unorganized group of political opportunists who sit around in discussion groups which have no contact with and shun involvement of the people. Very few of these opportunists run as candidates or have any initiative to take any action to improve the quality of like for Texas citizens or to stand up for individual rights and freedom.

  9. “Your comment is awaiting moderation. ”

    It figures, the Democrats don’t want your opinion unless they approve of it! This site is a waste of time. Not a place for open discussion from voters.

  10. “Texas Freedom Network.

    A Mainstream Voice to Counter the Religious Right.”

    “Your comment is awaiting moderation.”

    The Hypocrisy of the Democrats !!!


    1. Don’t push it. All comments are moderated, regardless of the content or the poster. We get to it when we can. But you are welcome not to return. We won’t miss you.

  11. Thank you for fighting the good fight for education nationwide. Texas curriculum dominates the text book providers and all state buy from them…so you are not just fighting for Texas.

  12. The Christian Right nonsense has set Texas back sixty years. Abstinence hasn’t worked since the beginning of time. Most of the people fighting against sex education were conceived in the back seat of a car out of wedlock. The hypocrisy and ignorance in our great state seems to have become rampant.