Quotas for Conservatives in Social Studies?

by TFN

The San Antonio Express-News has this story up online today:

Texas high school students would learn about such significant individuals and milestones of conservative politics as Newt Gingrich and the rise of the Moral Majority — but nothing about liberals — under the first draft of new standards for public school history textbooks.

And the side that got left out is very unhappy.

As it stands, students would get “one-sided, right wing ideology,” said Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, chairman of the House Mexican American Caucus.

“We ought to be focusing on historical significance and historical figures. It’s important that whatever course they take, that it portray a complete view of our history and not a jaded view to suit one’s partisan agenda or one’s partisan philosophy,” he said.

The distinguished legislator is absolutely right, of course. The last thing most parents want is their children’s education dragged into partisan politics. But that seems to be where we’re headed if the State Board of Education’s far-right faction gets its way.

We noted this absurd requirement in our review of the draft standards earlier this month. Clearly, some members of the curriculum writing team — while overall doing a good job of standing up to right-wing pressure groups — unwisely gave in on this requirement.

So will this requirement change? One far-right board member, David Bradley, R-BeaumontBuna, doesn’t think so. He tells the newspaper that the standards are likely to pass as written “once the napalm and smoke clear the room.” He should know — he’s been throwing bombs on the state board for more than a decade now.

Another far-right board member, Ken Mercer, R-San Antonio, thinks the textbooks should include those conservative examples and others — such as Focus on the Family, Sean Hannity and Mike Huckabee — along with more liberal individuals and groups:

“I think, at the end of the day, we will want the young students to be able to identify what’s conservative, what’s their advocacy and who are the conservative groups, individuals and leaders. And what is liberal in contrast.”

Great. So a heavily politicized state board would essentially be deciding which conservatives and which liberals Texas students should learn about. Can anyone doubt how divisive (and unnecessary) the debate would be over how each side should be be portrayed?

Mr. Mercer suggests the National Education Association, Moveon.org and even the Texas Freedom Network should be included in the standards. Thanks, but no. TFN President Kathy Miller told the newspaper:

“We don’t think it’s appropriate to be listing groups and people in the standards just because they’re conservatives or liberals. The state board should simply stop putting politics ahead of our kids’ education and putting teachers in the position of indoctrinating students with political agendas.”

The story notes another way far-right board members are trying to politicize the curriculum standards:

Board members appoint the review committees and typically choose people who share their philosophies. Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, was not sure about one prospective appointee — so she asked.

“Would you consider yourself a conservative when it comes to patriotism, the constitution, the heritage of our forefathers, etc?” Cargill wrote last year in an e-mail to Rhonda Williams, an education coordinator at Stephen F. Austin State University.

Cargill appointed Williams to one of the social studies review committees. The Texas Freedom Network obtained the e-mail exchanges under the Texas Public Information Act.

“The majority of the constituents in my 24 counties tend to have conservative views, especially about how history is taught to our students,” Cargill said, explaining her inquiry. Cargill said she expects the review committees will “work toward a fair and balanced approach on this topic when they meet a final time in October.”

See what we mean? Ms. Cargill thinks it’s a good idea to push her version of conservatism in social studies classrooms because she thinks most of the folks in her district are conservatives. So how would she approach Mr. Mercer’s suggestion? Set quotas for conservatives and liberals in the standards based on how Texas votes? This is madness. It’s certainly not education.

What Texas students learn in their classrooms should be based on facts and sound scholarship, not political agendas. But too many of our state board members have no problem forcing their political views on our public school students and their families, whether it’s in science classrooms or social studies classrooms. How much longer must this go on?