Editorial Roundup: Ignorance and the SBOE

Especially over the last week, editorial boards at newspapers across Texas have been focusing on the corrosive politics, blind ignorance and rampant incompetence evident on the State Board of Education. Editorial writers are heaping criticism on state board members who are once again wrecking the work of educators and scholars in crafting new curriculum standards — this time for social studies classrooms in the state’s public schools.

The dismay of San Antonio-Express News editorial writers, for example, was crystal clear today as they explained the state board’s outrageously misinformed decision this month to remove from the social studies standards the author of a popular children’s book, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? Apparently, board member Terri Leo, R-Spring, had conducted a quick Internet search for the author’s name, Bill Martin, and mistakenly reported to board colleagues that he was the same Bill Martin who had written a book about Marxism.

Board members didn’t ask for input from the curriuclum writers, teachers or scholars. They simply accepted Ms. Leo’s research as fact and voted to strip Martin’s name from the Grade 3 standards. (Did they really think curriculum writers wanted third-graders to learn about the author of a book on Marxism?) From the Express-News today:

“How could the board that oversees public education in the great state of Texas have made such a mistake? By relying on research so superficial and shoddy that it would have earned any fifth-grader a failing grade. . . . For once again demonstrating that it can’t be trusted to pass sound judgments about public school curriculum, the State Board of Education owes the people of Texas an apology.”

The Express-News had already revealed its exasperation with the state board in an editorial on Jan. 21:

“The State Board of Education’s recent actions over the social studies curriculum undermined the already weakened credibility of this highly polarized board. Once again, it appears the board members are more focused on their own political agendas than helping provide the 4.7 million Texas public school children with a quality education that will make them competitive globally. . . .  SBOE members just don’t get it. They deserve an F on their critical thinking skills in setting the curriculum standards for textbooks. The books are not just about them and their personal views of the world. The board must stop micromanaging public education.”

Editorials at other newspapers have been even more scathing. Tuesday’s Denton Record-Chronicle, for example, condemned the state board’s “malignant stupidity”:

“These boobs on the State Board of Education aren’t historians, either. They aren’t even educators. For the most part, they are bottom-feeding politicians who have adopted the popular demagoguery of the day and have ridden it to membership on a little-known but very important state board.”

A Houston Chronicle editorial on Jan. 22 critized the state board for once again promoting political agendas over education:

“This is getting to be a familiar scenario: The Texas Board of Education, preparing to adopt new curriculum standards, makes our schoolchildren’s textbooks a matter of highly partisan wrangling. When the board met last week to discuss what to teach Texas’ public school students in history, geography, government and economics, their preliminary druthers were heavily weighted in favor of the blatantly divisive and ideological views of the board’s conservative majority. . . . This pattern would be troublesome in any agency, but when it concerns the very foundation of what we teach our 4.8 million public school students, how we equip them to grow into functioning adults and to compete in a national and international market, it is untenable.”

On Tuesday of this week, the Longview News-Journal in East Texas expressed its frustration with state board members intent on rewriting history to fit personal and political agendas:

“The process of creating a social studies curriculum has become far too politicized. That comes at the expense of providing a curriculum that will provide our students a wide-ranging education — an objective overview of the many cultures, religions, races, and other threads that make up our society. That is what education is supposed to do. That does not appear to be the goal of at least some of the members of the State Board of Education. It looks more like indoctrination to us.”

Like other newspapers, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reminded readers that this is an election year:

“When Texas students explore their state’s past and present in elementary and middle school, they probably don’t dwell much on the increasingly disturbing spectacle that is the State Board of Education’s rewrite of curriculum standards. No, that would be putting the state in a bad light. And a majority of the board most likely would object to any suggestion that would make schoolchildren think critically about their great state. But taxpayers and parents with students in Texas public schools should be dismayed at the politics being played with revisions to the social studies curriculum.”

For years the Texas Freedom Network has been sounding the alarm about an increasingly politicized, dysfunctional and incompetent State Board of Education. So it’s good to see more attention paid to what once was a sleepy corner of state government that now is doing so much damage to the education of Texas schoolchildren.

25 thoughts on “Editorial Roundup: Ignorance and the SBOE

  1. Well, in all fairness to Leo, anyone could make such an intuitive mistake. However, as the various newspaper editorials point out, these SBOE members are not interested in teaching social studies. Instead, they are primarily interested in teach “nutty” right wing political propaganda and their own personal prejudices to the school children of Texas. And of course, when an innocent mistake like the one made by Leo arises, it’s just like washing Moe’s thrown pies from their faces with a bottle of seltzer.

    Because we seem to have a Three Stooges theme going here and the radical right parties on the SBOE always seem to have pie on their political faces, perhaps it would be appropriate to cease calling them the “radical right members of the SBOE” and start referring to them as the “Seven Stooges.” Help me out with the number here. Is seven correct or is it some other number?

  2. Steve Says:
    January 30, 2010 at 12:10 pm
    And, yet, no one seems to actually do anything about it. They just complain.

    TFN Says:
    January 30, 2010 at 12:28 pm
    That’s not true. A number of candidates are seeking to replace far-right board members in elections this year. We also continue to work with lawmakers on legislation to rein in the board’s authority over curriculum and textbooks.

    I always thought a lawsuit against the SBOE would be in order here. Bring the experts! Let’s see if Don McLeroy will stand up against them in court.

  3. David Says:
    January 29, 2010 at 6:54 pm
    So that means Terri Leo is “NOT SMARTER THAN A FIFTH-GRADER”?

    Teri Leo does not have any type of brain cells. Just a primitive neural network.

  4. None of them have any brains, but apparently they’ve got Rick “Jefferson Davis” Perry fooled. What does that tell you?

  5. Well, actually, Terri Leo graduated “summa cum laude” from some college or university. I read it in an on-line biographical sketch somewhere in recent weeks. I suspect that the real problem is one that is seen all too frequently—personal ideology and religious beliefs override basic intelligence and knowledge. In other words, undernormal ambient conditions, water on planet Earth tends to flow down the hill. However, if one’s interpretation of holy scripture says that water on planet Earth always flows up the hill, then water defies gravity and flows up the hill—and that is that—forever. The basic things people like Terri seem unable to grasp are as follows:

    1) Not the holy scripture itself—but rather their interpretation and understanding of holy scripture—may be just plain wrong. Unfortunately, people like Terri Leo often just defer to the opinions of their church leaders, rather than researching and exploring the basis for their beliefs on their own. They never stop to think that many of those pastor credentials are from some “rinky dink” religious college and are barely worth the paper they are written on. Just me personally, I lump the Southern Baptist Convention seminaries into that “rinky dink” category because they chased away the educators necessary to give their pastors and church workers a truly well-rounded religious education. Nowadays, if that seminary degree comes from some institution that is not on a par with the divinity schools at places like Harvard, Yale, Duke, or Vanderbilt, I figure they are tainted by the putrid stench of Christian Neo-Fundamentalism.

    2) Any extra-religious ideological system to which they may subscribe may be just plain “hooey” in some or many ways. I am thinking about philosophical, political, and social ideologies of various kinds. In this regard, it also occurs to me that most people (myself included) carry around some sort of poorly formed and rarely examined personal ideology or belief system that sits on the back burner of the subconscious mind and occsionally rises to say or do something utterly stupid.

    So, I guess my point is that Terri is probably a really intelligent person who has had that intelligence overwhelmed by other things in her life that are not as wise and sensible as she might believe they are on a superficial acceptance level.

  6. This is her claim from her website:
    She graduated Summa Cum Laude with an undergraduate degree in Elementary and Special Education, and received her Masters Degree in Educational Administration from Texas A&M University Commerce.

    So … how hard would this be to verify?

  7. Probably not very hard—if you are a potential employer looking for a copy of her transcript. Otherwise, it might be viewed as an invasion of privacy to try to get a copy from Texas A & M.

    One other thing though, degree programs in elementary education (even on a national basis) are almost universally considered to be an easy degree. They have courses such as Classroom Bulletin Boards 301. So, a summa cum laude in elementary education might be a C- in chemistry or anthropology. Hard to say.

  8. TFN: “That’s not true. A number of candidates are seeking to replace far-right board members in elections this year. We also continue to work with lawmakers on legislation to rein in the board’s authority over curriculum and textbooks.”

    Isn’t it also true that these elections will occur too late to do anything about the current Social Studies curriculum fiasco? That’s why I am astounded that the Texas Leg. is just sitting on their hands, while much of the rest of the country is watching them, appalled.

    Of course, I do understand that between Gov. Perry and his coterie of hard-right theocrats, the board has a lot of muscle behind it. It’s so frustrating seeing these charlatans and scoundrels doing whatever they want to, and the parents just sit on their hands, too busy with their own lives to be bothered with the shenanigans of ideologues in the state capitol. Which is just how those ideologues want it.

  9. Let Perry take everything over to the far right. As far as he can take it. As absurdly far right as he can take it. That’s the only way he can beat Hutchison.
    Then “someone” (a responsible adult), will bring things back to the center. Piece of cake, if it’s done right.
    The idea that Texas is going to be the bellwether for textbook design is going to disappear, because the publishers will have enough sense not to follow these crazies off a cliff.
    Seems to me…

  10. Erm…Obviously, I was a bit confused in my previous comment here. While it’s apparent that a great many parents are not doing much to voice their opposition to the history revision being done in their name, I do understand that for far too many, child-raising and work leaves little time to delve into these issues.

    I’d be kinda leery of any publishing company that took it upon itself to override the wishes of a state SB. I can’t imagine them agreeing to insert factually inaccurate details, but I’d be surprised if it went any farther than that. Thus the fight is to insert only those facts that fit into the “Christian-origins” that Barton et. al. are working feverishly to include, while erasing those facts that shine a positive light on liberal, progressive, or just anti-authoritarian actions.

    I’ve gotten a better night’s sleep, and I am still optimistic that TFN and others will be successful again in at least reining in the most egregious actions of the ideologues.

  11. Charles wrote:

    “Terri Leo graduated “summa cum laude” from some college or university. I read it in an on-line biographical sketch somewhere in recent weeks. I suspect that the real problem is one that is seen all too frequently—personal ideology and religious beliefs override basic intelligence and knowledge.”

    Yeah. Just like Cynthia Dunbar whose university degree is in Biology.

  12. My brother’s very smart, has a couple patents in optical engineering to his credit, but he joined an evangelical church at a critical time in a messy divorce, (he wound up with custody of the kids).
    He’ll try to dispute evolution till the cows come home. He knows better in his heart. Drives me crazy but I love him anyway.

  13. That’s interesting!
    I hadn’t heard it but it resonates what I intuitive thought about my brother’s faith in relation to his profession.
    The hypothesis is right in that engineers are able to make gobbledy gook arguments out of hard to understand theory. But they can’t argue with the idea that “intelligent design” is a political ploy designed to disguise creationism and lacks any “peer-reviewed” credibility at all (not a shred) in the scientific community.
    It’s easy to see how they view the complex molecules, cells, etc. that make up life as complex machines that “someone” must have “designed”.

    Someone should make up a theory about light that it isn’t made of photons but is actually the saliva of a mega- universal “energy dragon” or something.

    They don’t teach engineers enough biology or geology.
    There’s also a large percentage of engineers that have a career or get their start in the military-industrial complex. Texas Instruments was a hotbed of religious conservatives. They built the ground to air missiles Reagan sold to the Iranian Islamic Republic. Raytheon bought the military unit out.
    It’s entirely possible that the world is a product of “intelligent design”.
    However, that has to square with the fact that God is in a constant “creation” mode, over billions of years, and life has been evolving for millions. That’s really confirmed by the geologists, who know where to look for oil based on geologic theory that uses nuclear physics to date samples. They understand that oil is plant matter subjected to millions of years of geologic pressure, due to the understanding of “organic chemistry.”
    None of these sciences exist in a vacuum distinct from one another.

    Really, they’ve proven that genetic mutation as a response to environmental changes occur, as we speak. Obviously the Polar bear had better adapt quick, or its gone.
    If God was so concerned about the species he put down here exactly 6000 years ago, he wouldn’t allow genetically modified corn.etc.
    My brother’s a great parent, very sensitive, etc. I know that his pastor and church helped him through a rough time. I’m just disappointed about his buy-in to all the politics of the religious right.

  14. Actually Ben, I came up with the Salem hypothesis myself, independently of Mr. Salem. A number of years back, when I still entertained arguing with fence posts, I noted that some of the worst fence posts were engineers. It was fascinating and totally unexpected, and it appears that Mr. Salem noticed the same thing in his adventures. My suspicion is that you can take this one to the bank.

    Why is it that way? I don’t know, but some specualtions are possible. You know me.

    First of all, although I like engineers as people and work well with them, I am a closet engineer bigot on some level. When I work with them, they often exhibit puzzling and annoying attributes. The most annoying attribute, as I have said here before, can be summed up like this: “I-I-I-I-I am an engineer. This makes me one of the smartest people on Earth. Therefore, my engineering degree and PE license automatically mean that my brain subsumes the entire array of all human knowledge.” Put 20 scientists in a room and one engineer. Let them work together for several days. When the engineer goes to the restroom, the scientists will roll their eyes back into their heads and say unkind things. It’s largely because of this attitude that I mentioned. You might go so far as to call the attitude a “Mini-God Syndrome.”

    Scientific types like me are oriented towards dipsticking the universe and generating new human knowledge (facts, principles, and relationships). Engineers are oriented towards taking the facts, principles, and relationships discovered by scientists and turning them into practical, useful things such as cars, air conditioners, bridges, and widgets. Put another way, engineers are by nature CREATORS. Combine the engineer’s omniscient “MiniGod Syndrome” with a work life devoted to creating things, and you get a person who believes there is a God and that God must surely be an engineer just like him. The God who is “just like the engineer” is the important part to hone in on there.

    Anyway, that is my dumb butt theory. It could be wrong. What is your theory?

  15. Charles, I don’t have a theory, but I do know that some of the most argumentative and strident creationists I’ve encountered have turned out to be engineers. Weird phenomenon.

  16. Okay, now that we have the engineers figgered out, can someone explain why dentists are similarly impaired? Long before I’d heard of Mr. McLeroy I read comments/posts by quite a few dentists when I visited an atheist site I frequented, and I don’t remember even one of them being a nonbeliever. Two of them I recall were strident conservative Catholics, going so far as to disavow the socially liberal works done in the church’s name as “misguided/Socialist infiltrators. Another would use the Westminster Confessions of Faith as argument against atheism, though he was taken aback upon learning that the WCF was edited in the US just after the Revolutionary War, to conform to our secular government, taking out any passages that co-mingled civil authority with ecumenical stewardship.

  17. It makes a mockery of the state’s board of education! Who will re-elect these numbskulls! Make sure to vote this year! These people should “save”their own children and not mine!