Live-Blogging the Social Studies Hearing

by TFN

9:58 – The Texas State Board of Education swept through the all five earlier items on its agenda this morning and have already begun the hearing on proposed social studies standards for Texas public schools. A live, streaming Web cast of the hearing is available here. Click on the January 13 link.

10:02 – TFN  President Kathy Miller is speaking. She sets the record straight: No one opposes teaching students about the influence of religion in American history. But she applauds the curriculum writing teams for not bowing to pressure to portray the United States and our government as favoring one faith over all others. She also calls on the board to give board members the opportunity to consult with experts when considering amendments.

10:05 – SBOE member Barbara Cargill assures Kathy that she consults with experts before she offers amendments. Kathy reminds her that other board members should have the opportunity to consult with experts before they vote on someone’s amendment.

10:07 – SBOE member David Bradley says the Legislature doesn’t call in more experts when lawmakers offer amendments. He says Kathy is challenging the board’s process. Indeed, she is challenging it — because the State Board of Education isn’t the Legislature. It’s a body that’s deciding what kids will learn in their public schools.

10:09 – SBOE chair Gail Lowe defends the board’s process and says board members should do their own homework. This is nonsense. The point is that they aren’t doing their homework.

10:09 – Kathy notes that unlike in the Legislature, the SBOE doesn’t prefile amendments so that board members can study them.

10:10 – Kathy is done. This was an astonishing display of arrogance on the part of board members. The board’s far-right faction in November refused to bring the writing teams and “expert” panel back to advise on the standards as they are revised by the board. And now they’re reiterating, in essence, that they can’t be bothered to listen to experts.

10:20 – Steven Green, director of the Willamette University Center for Religion, Law and Democracy is up now. Prof. Green warns that suggestions from so-called “experts” (David Barton and Peter Marshall, essentially) appointed by board members represent “bad history.” He warns that the Founders never intended to create a “Christian nation” based on Christian biblical principles.

10:22 – SBOE member asks Prof. Green: Was the the United States founded on secular or biblical principles? Green notes that it’s not nearly so simple. The influence of Enlightenment was very important.

10:23 – SBOE member Ken Mercer notes that “all 50 state constitutions” refer to God and religion.

10:24 – Prof. Green: it’s a difficult balance noting the influence of religion without exaggerating its influence on the founding. “The bottom line is the founders who created are nation intended to create a secular republic” that protected religious freedom for everyone by keeping government out of religious issues.

10:26 – Ken Mercer rolls out the old canard: the Bill of Rights protects freedom of religion, not freedom from religion. And he disputes that the Founders intended to establish separation of church and state.

10:31 – Stephen Nickle, Trinity University chaplain from San Antonio, is up. Interesting testimony. He’s calling on the board to include discussions of Sikhism in the standards.

10:43 – The list of testifiers includes more than 130 names. Should be a long day. The press is out in force.

11:00 – The board is in the middle of a break.

11:07 – Now we hear from Lela Pittenger, who is scheduled to speak at a Tea Party rally later today at the Texas Education Agency. Pittenger is calling for the standards to portray the United States as an “exceptional” nation. She announces that she’s running for the U.S. Senate.

11:21 – Josephine Krouse, a former public school teacher, calls on the board to respect the work of the curriculum writing teams and not politicize the standards. She makes a strong call for standards that promote the principle of religious freedom, not the false notion that the nation was founded on Christian biblical principles.

11:23 – Bonny Brogdon (don’t know her background) decries a “liberal agenda” she sees in the draft standards. She’s worried that the standards will teach students to rely on government. She wants American-centric standards and that students aren’t part of a global community: “I am hypersensitive to ‘global anything’ … I object to that type of agenda.”

11:27: Brogdon: “I have trouble teaching students that we have a responsibility to a global society.”

11:28 – SBOE member Mercer: He objects to the concept of “global citizenship” as well and wants children first to learn that they should be good American citizens first. Of course, no one has suggested otherwise, and the concept of “global citizenship” refers to a responsibilities we all share in today’s global society.

11:37 – Joni Cohan of the National Council of jewish Women is up. She explains that the curriculum writing teams have done a good job crafting new standards that acknowledge religious influence in American history without promoting one faith over all others and undermining religious freedom. She calls on the board to respect the “real experts” who are on those teams and have worked on the new standards over the past year. Excellent testimony.

11:42 – More testimony from a speaker complaining about “socialistic propaganda” in public schools. And once again, we get anecdotes but no specifics about just how public schools are supposedly promoting “socialism.” We hear: “Academicians are experimenting with our children.”

11:46: Stephen Cure, director of educational services at the Texas State Historical Association, praises the work of the curriculum writing teams. (He served on one.) We agree and hope state board members won’t screw up that work as they did with language arts and standards.

11:51 – The Tea Party rally outside the Texas Education Agency is set to begin at noon. We’ll try to provide updates as warranted. But it does appear many of the Tea Partiers have signed up to testify before the state board as well.

11:55 – State board member Mary Helen Berlanga makes an impassioned plea that the contributions of Latinos in Texas and American history be included in the standards. She worries that such contributions will be slighted in the new standards as in the past.

12:05 – Jack Kamrath of the far-right American Heritage Education Foundation is up. The group argues that American history education fails to teach (among other things) the Judeo-Christian foundations of America and our government. Kamrath is concerned also about “multiculturalism” and “pluralism” in the the study of American history: “The name of our country is the United States of America, not the Diverse States of America.”

12:12 – Sue Tilis of the National Council of Jewish Women is up. She calls on the board not to politicize the standards. It’s becoming clear that testifiers are aware of the damage the board did to the language arts and science standards in the last two years.

12:23 – State board member Terri Leo notes that she wants a representative from the far-right American Heritage Education Foundation on the social studies textbook adoption committee in a couple of years.

12:26 – Cheryl Pollman of the National Council of Jewish Women is up, also expressing her support for the work of the curriculum writing teams and encouraging the board not to politicize the standards. She expresses support for the treatment of diverse cultures and people from various ethnic groups in the standards. The NCJW has been a strong voice for sound curriculum standards today.

12:33 – Tea Party update: The TP “rally” in the Texas looks to be mostly a bust. More speakers and reporters than folks in the audience. In fact, rather than a “rally,” it’s mostly a press conference.

12:35 – A representative of Americans United for Separation of Church and State calls on the board to respect religious freedom in social studies classrooms.

12:45 – State board member Rick Agosto continues to speak in support of including mentions of Sikhism in the social studies curriculum standards. He also expresses his support for discussing the importance of teaching students about global citizenship.