The political jousting between Bill White and Rick Perry over the Texas State Board of Education‘s controversial revision of social studies curriculum standards is legitimate in the electoral arena. It’s certainly preferable to dragging political agendas into our children’s classrooms, which the state board has been doing during the curriculum revision. But what the Republican Party of Texas did this week is shameful.
Yesterday the Texas GOP attacked members of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus and other lawmakers for holding a public hearing about the state board on Wednesday. At the hearing, members of MALC, the Legislative Study Group, the Texas Legislative Black Caucus and the Senate Hispanic Caucus were sharply critical of board members who have tossed aside the expertise of classroom teachers and scholars in their attempts to rewrite history and use our children’s classrooms to promote personal and political agendas.
Rather than address what the state board is doing, however, Texas GOP officials chose to smear those legislators and attack their motives. In a deeply disingenuous press release, party spokesman Bryan Preston charged that the hearing was politically motivated and even illegitimate because it wasn’t hosted by a formal legislative committee:
“If MALC wants to get in touch with their inner children, play dress up and have a pretend committee hearing, I’m sure they can rent a community center somewhere and have themselves a ball.”
“Their inner children”? “Play dress up”? Preston should be ashamed of himself for such demeaning comments about elected officials who have serious concerns about a state board that is undermining the education of nearly 5 million Texas schoolchildren.
The Legislature determines what authority the board has over curriculum standards and textbooks. It also decides how much money to spend on textbooks and other instructional materials. If Republican-controlled legislative committees don’t look into the growing controversy surrounding the state board and its work, other legislators are not obligated to sit on their hands. In fact, they have a responsibility not to do so.
To his credit, Education Commissioner Robert Scott – a political appointee of Republican Gov. Perry – had the courtesy to speak at the hearing. We may not have agreed with all the points he made, but he listened to and addressed the legitimate concerns of the lawmakers at the hearing. Legislators also heard extended comments from a Republican candidate for the state board, Thomas Ratliff. Unfortunately, Gail Lowe, the state board’s Republican chair, flatly rejected an invitation to speak at the hearing. But the Texas GOP ignored all that as well as the real concerns surrounding the board’s work.
So does the Republican Party of Texas support the board’s decision not to require that world history students learn that Thomas Jefferson has inspired people around the world in their struggles for freedom? Does the party approve of the board’s refusal to teach students that the Founders protected religious freedom by barring government from promoting or disfavoring one religion over all others? Is it okay with removing the concepts of justice and responsibility for the common good from standards on the characteristics of good citizenship? Does the party have a problem with state board members who suggest that women and minorities who struggled over decades for equal and civil rights owe thanks to men and “the majority” who finally got around to extending those rights (and in some cases did so only after the courts forced them to)?
Does the party approve of the board’s demonstrated contempt for experts, established processes and transparency? Does it support the board’s decision to cut off public testimony when scores of people — including military veterans — who had traveled to Austin were still waiting to speak at a hearing about their concerns regarding the social studies standards? And what does the party think about board members who have openly expressed their opposition to public education altogether?
The Republican Party of Texas answered none of those questions in its press release. It chose instead to smear the motives of legislators who are tired of seeing the State Board of Education politicize and undermine the education of our public school students. That’s shameful.