Statesman Op-eds Focus on Social Studies

The Austin American-Statesman devoted much of its editorial section today to the controversy over proposed new social studies curriculum standards for Texas public schools. The newspaper’s op-ed page includes a new column from Texas Freedom Network President Kathy Miller. Money quote:

(S)ome board members say they want to bring “balance” to social studies classrooms. But that’s just an excuse to rewrite history to fit a political point of view, not facts.

So over just a few days in January and March the state board made hundreds of changes to new standards that teachers and academic experts had carefully drafted over the course of the previous year. They refused to consult teachers or scholars as they made ill-considered deletions, additions and other revisions based on little more than their own personal knowledge — however limited — or what they could find in a Google search at their desks.

That’s no way to prepare our kids for college or the jobs of the 21st century.

The American-Statesman also published a counter op-ed from University of Texas philosophy professor Robert C. Koons. Koons argues that the Texas State Board of Education, in substantially rewriting standards carefully drafted over the course of nearly a year by curriculum teams made up of teachers and scholars, is simply correcting a “leftist” bias and bringing “objectivity” to classrooms.

But Koons’ argument ultimately boils down to the same contempt that far-right board members have repeatedly expressed for experts who actually study the issues board politicians obscure and distort with misleading talking points and personal agendas. In fact, one might be excused for thinking Koons is channeling Don “Somebody’s gotta stand up to experts” McLeroy:

The people must not develop the habit of blind deference to academic experts. Just as war is too important to be left entirely to the generals, so history education is too important to be left to the historians. It is through our conception of our history that we define ourselves as a country. The fundamental question is this: Shall we continue to have a government ruled by the people, or shall we instead yield to a self-perpetuating caste of “experts”?

So there you have it — the real issue at the center of all the heated rhetoric, political games and seemingly endless controversy at the state board is this: should the curriculum in our children’s public schools be based on the best academic scholarship, or should it be based on the opinions of a few politicians who happen to sit on the State Board of Education? Koons and too many state board members have made it clear that they side with the opinions of politicians. We side with families who want their children to get a quality, politics-free education that prepares them to succeed in college and their future careers.

10 thoughts on “Statesman Op-eds Focus on Social Studies

  1. Perhaps the board members should stop consulting the “experts,” their own physicians, for their health problems, too. They can just log onto the web for some snake oil, or seek the advice of a self taught “healer” when malady strikes. They can go to court and ignore the “experts” in law; who needs a lawyer? They can get a pair of pliers and a tank of nitrous oxide and have a “healer” pull a tooth, fill a cavity, or drill a root canal; that would be a real gas, huh, Dr. (“expert”) McLeroy, DDS? No, let’s not listen to the experts, the learned, the erudite. Let’s strike out on our own and show the world how everything really works better without experts. Dentistry is too important to be left to the dentists; medical care is too important to leave to medical doctors; Wars should be fought by untrained soldiers; drugs should be developed by the cartels and necromancers. And, who needs government? Who needs the school board? We may as well just pick any diddley-doodah off the street and let them make decisions about our children’s education. Oops, we did!

  2. As a sincere member of the “left” or progressive side of the argument, I’ll agree that there is room for improvement in the doctrinaire , dogmatic, formulaic, or “politically correct” side of the “left” argument in general.

    The antidote for that is not radical right wing authoritarianism.
    Or hooey.

    I exhort fellow progressives that the answer to the neocon, Bushie, or Christian Nationalist propaganda is not counter-propaganda.
    It’s freedom of thought. Free exchange of ideas. A rational search for solutions to our problems. etc.

    Some people are formulaic, dogmatic because they’re intellectually lazy. The formula substitutes for freedom of thought. It disguises itself as freedom of thought. It’s a simulacrum.
    The members of the TSBOE are in over their heads.
    They imagine the institution of a nominally “Christian” totalitarian state will be a good thing for Christianity.
    That’s ignorance. Stupidity.
    We allowed the country to be led by the pro-stupidity forces for 8 years. It didn’t work out.

  3. Robert Koons is a fellow of the Discovery Institute.

    That’s all you need to know.

  4. Well put, David. Dogmatic, formulaic intellectual lazy people stifle objective thought, regardlesss of political flavor. Replacing one dogmatism with another does more harm than good.

    The problem with objectivity is that it doesn’t ring with the clarity of dogmatism. High school is the best place to teach hypothesis testing, which is the acid test of objectivity, which by it’s nature winds up with a lot of relativity as well.

    Student will be placed in occupations and organizations where the only real skills that are applicable across the board is reading, writing, and arithematics. Few can write well, and very few corporate or government managers know how to count, let alone add. This calls for an education built on access to information, and the criterion for evaluation.

  5. With 29 years of teaching history in Texas Public Schools I’m very disappointed about what the S.B.O.E. is doing to politicize history/social studies. I’ve taught all of these classes offered by the state grades 5 through 12; every single one at one time or another during my teaching career. Civics, World Civilization/ World History, American History, Texas History, and the others. My website is needing a makeover from the 2008 campaign but the education issues are still relevant. District 9 is Deep East Texas but more Democratic than many think so there is some chance for my election. I’m sure my opponent agrees with the board. I don’t agree with this and it will be an issue here.

  6. Sorry Ken. I don’t live in Texas. I read your website. I would vote for you if I could.

  7. If states around the country are required to use these text boks, then the educated, progressive people of this country need to establish an offical RESPONSE to this curriculum which can be adopted by school boards or state boards of education, instructing teachers what needs to be ignored, corrected and/or replaced in these text books when they are presented to their students.

    Let Texas fles their muscles. But let’s use this opportunity to show people around the rest of the country how FOOLISH people in that big state are!

  8. Ray, although, I’m a progressive, you could have left the “progressive” off of your comment, and it would work fine.

    “…then the educated people of this country need to establish an official response…”

  9. Aha! The problem of dogmatism is to be solved with more dogmatism for only the Progressive are educated and have the responsibility of prescribing Progressive dogma to counter Conservative dogma through Progressive diktat.

    The fundamental problem with expertise is who certifies whose expertise by whose standards. In public schools, the public has the right to determine what standards apply. Democracy can be messy at times, and the concept of democratically devised standards is going to be a matter of compromise, contention, and considerable inconsistency.

    Academia isn’t used to that, it’s organizational and operational model harks back to medieval times, as illustrated by the medieaval pomp and circumstance in graduation exercises, and by the device of a charter from the state to operate unmolested (occaisionally). Perhaps it is time to determine whether the Constitution’s ban on titles of nobility apply to the system of degrees offered by public institutions.

  10. No, Gordon, the progressives are the only educated ones. However, educated people are more likely to be progressive.
    As in, understanding the world is changing, and there are new problems and we need new solutions to new problems.
    True conservatives worry about the bureaucratic machines of government becoming unresponsive and too powerful, and trampling on the rights of individuals. I share that concern.
    These kinds of “conservatives” we see on the SBOE want America to be like “Father Knows Best” , forever.
    These kind of conservatives need an educated person to show them where to put their “X” when they’re signing official documents.