Fact-Checking Barbara Cargill

by Dan Quinn

Barbara Cargill, the creationist former chair of the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE), sent supporters an email today announcing her 2016 bid for re-election to the 15-member body. The Republican from The Woodlands near Houston has been one of the leading right-wing culture warriors on the board, helping to politicize the state’s curriculum standards and trying to censor textbook content that doesn’t pass her ideological litmus test. So we thought it would be good to fact-check Cargill’s email announcement. Following are some of what Cargill calls highlights of her 11 years on the SBOE:

“Served on the Governor-appointed Commission for College Ready Texas to improve students’ college readiness”

Well, she might have served on the commission, but she has actually helped undermine college readiness for Texas students. She played a leading role in the disastrous and deeply divisive political battle over new social studies curriculum standards the state board approved in 2010. Cargill and her colleagues were so focused on making sure that the standards reflected their personal and political biases that they paid scant attention to whether the standards aligned with the state’s college readiness standards. In fact, even her creationist ally and predecessor as board chair, Gail Lowe, has admitted as much.

“Worked tirelessly to develop state curriculum standards that are concise, measurable and rigorous”

If only that were true. In fact, the SBOE members have decided to spend the next two years “streamlining” curriculum standards for science (in 2016) and social studies (2017). They are doing so because teachers and independent analysts have loudly criticized the standards adopted by the board in 2009 (science) and 2010 (social studies) as far too numerous and detailed as well as convoluted. TFN and other observers pointed out that SBOE members were creating such a problem when they revised the standards, but Cargill and her colleagues pressed forward to adopt them anyway. Now Cargill and her colleagues will try to fix the problem the board created itself.

“Voted for textbooks which provide teachers and students with accurate, academically sound instructional materials”

Really? Does Cargill mean the same textbooks that say African slaves were brought to America simply as “workers”? The same textbooks that leading scholars have ridiculed for promoting falsehoods like Moses influencing the writing of the Constitution and the roots of democracy being found in the Old Testament? And those are just some of the most glaring problems caused by the absurd curriculum standards forced on publishers and the failure of the board to develop an efficient and credible review process.

“History curriculum standards and textbooks that emphasize our Founding Fathers, founding documents like the U.S. Constitution, our rich religious heritage, the service of our military, the free enterprise system and American exceptionalism”

Not quite. These are the same standards that the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative think-tank,” has sharply criticized as “a politicized distortion of history” filled with “misrepresentations at every turn.” Fordham’s 2011 scathing review laid the blame for those deeply flawed standards largely at the feet of Cargill and her right-wing colleagues.

“Science standards and textbooks that encourage students to think, ask, and predict, have increased lab time and that present evolution as a theory, not as fact”

In fact, Cargill and her creationist colleagues on the board did succeed in passing standards they hoped would force publishers to include anti-evolution arguments in their new science textbooks. But publishers refused to do so. In fact, the new science textbooks present evolution as factual science backed by an abundance of research and evidence. Cargill tried to pressure publishers to make changes that would introduce doubt about evolution. They didn’t.

All of this seems like a terrible record to run on for re-election, but Cargill is hoping voters in her heavily gerrymandered, pro-GOP district will believe the distortions she’s selling. Maybe they will. Or maybe they will decide that Texas schoolchildren deserve a 21st-century education based on facts and sound scholarship, not the political agenda of board members like Cargill.