Is the Right's CSCOPE Witch Hunt Now Spiraling Way Out of Control?

by Dan Quinn

The right-wing assault on CSCOPE in Texas has intensified with Senate Education Committee Chairman Dan Patrick, R-Houston, posting on his Facebook page a statement from state Attorney General Greg Abbott. Abbott’s statement echoes critics of the curriculum system, which is used in hundreds of Texas public and private schools:

“The Attorney General’s Office has been working with Sen. Dan Patrick to scrutinize the CSCOPE program for several months. We are deeply disturbed by the CSCOPE content and have significant legal concerns about the program’s operations. Inexplicably, CSCOPE’s officials still have not taken any real steps to address the very concerns that have been raised thus far. It is time for the veil of secrecy to be eliminated and we will continue working collaboratively with the Legislature until CSCOPE is held accountable for any potential improprieties.”

So is Attorney General Abbott now buying into the bizarre, paranoid tales told by right-wingers who see CSCOPE as a vehicle for promoting Marxism and Islam in Texas schools? (See here and here.)  The program was developed through a collaboration of Education Services Centers across Texas. Those service centers, created by the state in the 1960s, provide support services to school districts. If you listen to CSCOPE critics, you might think the idea for creating those service centers was hatched in the Kremlin or in some radical Islamic madrassa.

Does Abbott think CSCOPE is an example of Nazi mind control, as critics have claimed? Is he really worried that hundreds of Texas schools — including Christian private schools — have freely chosen to use curriculum materials that undermine the free enterprise system and indoctrinate Texas students into radical Islam?

And what does Abbott mean by “significant legal concerns”? If there are legitimate concerns about legal improprieties, the attorney general clearly has a responsibility to investigate. But he should explain what those issues are rather than recklessly feeding the campaign of innuendo and unsubstantiated smears.

One CSCOPE critic claimed on Tuesday that the attorney general had ordered an “investigation” of CSCOPE and would “shut them down completely” if they had engaged in “illegal actions.” What illegal actions are they talking about? Another prominent critic declared that she will personally investigate whether all employees of Education Service Centers could be “guilty by association.” Good grief.

Just as bad, really, is that the attorney general’s statement also distorts the existing public record. His claim that “CSCOPE’s officials still have not taken any real steps to address the very concerns that have been raised thus far” is simply not true.

More than six weeks ago, on Feb. 8, Sen. Patrick sent out a press release announcing that CSCOPE officials had agreed to a long list of his demands. They agreed to, among other things, make meetings of their governing board public, to revise all contracts to clarify that teachers may share CSCOPE materials with parents (something a number of teachers had said they already knew they had the right do), and to engage in a joint review of their lessons and other materials with State Board of Education members. In fact, a committee of state board members and CSCOPE representatives is set to begin that public review process at a meeting in Dallas this Friday (March 29).

If there are legitimate concerns regarding transparency, content errors, and even legal issues (whatever they might be) regarding CSCOPE, then those problems should be remedied. That should be expected of any educational program used in Texas public schools. But as of now this mess has the appearance of a witch hunt spiraling out of control.