Ken Mercer Attacks Teachers (Again)

by Dan Quinn

Need more evidence of the contempt right-wing members of the Texas State Board of Education have for classroom teachers? Check out a column from San Antonio board member Ken Mercer this week on the conservative Web site Texas Insider.

Mercer uses the piece to criticize his opponent — Tim Tuggey — in the March 2010 Republican primary for the District 5 state board seat. (District 5 runs from northern Bexar County to southern Travis County and includes a number of Hill Country counties to the west.) Attacking your election opponent is typical politics, of course. So no surprise there.

But perhaps Mr. Mercer’s biggest targets aren’t on the ballot — teachers. His column includes misleading statements and outright falsehoods about the teachers working (as volunteers, by the way) on new social studies curriculum standards.

For example, Mercer attacks teachers serving on what he calls “the left-wing writing teams” for allegedly wanting to delete material about George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Independence Day and Veterans’ Day from curriculum standards for early grades. But Mercer’s criticism is just a reckless smear. He knows the writing teams had been ambushed earlier this year when then-board chair Don McLeroy, R-College Station, turned over to a far-right pressure group early documents from their work sessions. That pressure group then dishonestly portrayed those working documents as first drafts of the standards and attacked the teams for leaving out important historical figures as well as patriotic holidays and symbols.

Writing team members weren’t given a chance to respond until two months later, when they patiently explained to the board that the released documents were not even close to completed first drafts. But here we are, a half-year later, and Mercer is still peddling the falsehood that teachers on the writing teams are “left-wingers” out to undermine patriotism.

Then Mercer tosses in this whopper:

“At every grade level and at every reference, the liberal writers changed the words “American citizen” to ‘Global citizen’ or ‘citizen of the world.'”

That’s so dishonest it’s breathtaking.

During the board’s September meeting, Terri Leo, R-Spring, pitched a hissy fit about a proposed standard in an early grade that touched on the concept of “responsible citizenship in a global society.” She insisted that the standard was unpatriotic and demanded that students focus only on being red-blooded American citizens, by God. No one wasted time explaining that Leo was taking the standard far too literally and that it had nothing to do with loyalty to some sort of world government. Trying to do so would have been as useful as talking to the wall behind her.

But now Mercer is vastly expanding Leo’s absurd exaggeration into an absurd lie. In fact, the first drafts of the writing teams’ proposed standards for early elementary grades include extensive discussions of the concept of American citizenship, including this standard:

“Citizenship. The student understands important symbols, customs, symbols, and celebrations that represent American beliefs and principles and contribute to our national identity.”

Later grades have similar standards, such as this one Grade 8 U.S. history:

“The student understands the rights and responsibilities of citizens of the United States.”

And, of course, the high school government standards have numerous references to American citizenship, including requirements that students learn about various rights protected by the U.S. Constitution and the responsibilities of citizens.

But Mercer ignores all of that. He seems to think that smearing classroom teachers with falsehoods and other nonsense will appeal to Republican primary voters. We’ll have to wait until next March to find out if voters are so gullible.