From science to sex education and issues like private school vouchers, religious freedom and civil liberties, the Texas Freedom Network is engaged on numerous fronts in defending mainstream values against the religious right in Texas. We are fortunate to have the help of a dedicated band of student interns to help us here at the office, at the Capitol and at the State Board of Education. In addition to our regular internships, TFN also sponsors a “Legislative Academy” every two years for students interested in learning more about public policy advocacy and the legislative process. This year we have six hard-working, dedicated interns in our Lege Academy program. We thought you might like to hear from one about her experiences, Mary Tuma. Mary is a senior fellow in journalism at the University of Texas at Austin:
Orwellian censorship of school textbooks had me hooked. It’s an odd thing to be drawn to, I suppose. But as a product of the Texas public education system, these were the textbooks I carried around laboriously in my backpack to be tested on the next day. These were the textbooks that taught me the foundations of science, history and social studies. These textbooks, to a degree, socialize us and construct our realities. So to think certain State Board of Education members and interest groups have tried to systematically undermine evolution, attempted to downplay slavery and the civil rights struggle and pushed to replace photos that broke gender role stereotypes was, to say the least, chilling.
But textbook censorship, I soon found out after reading TFN reports over the summer, was merely the tip of the ideological iceberg. Private school vouchers, vague Bible curriculum standards, the tax-dollar funded faith-based initiative…unfortunately, the list goes on. The question stopped being “How could this happen?” and soon transformed into “Well, what am I going to do about it?” A bit more research and a few conversations with politicians and religious scholars led me to realize some 28,000 people from myriad religious backgrounds rally behind Texas Freedom Network, pumping blood back into the heart of mainstream values. As a progressive Texan and one who values education, I knew this was a fight I had to be part of.
Victories like the most recent one involving a redaction of the proposed “strengths and weaknesses” language in science standards are by virtue testimony to the resounding opposition to unsound science and the religious right’s agenda. Furthermore, victories like this one remind us the hard work of dedicated individuals with a common cause does elicit change.
Yet state board Chairman Don McLeroy’s effort to challenge a core concept of evolution, common descent, is also proof that there is still much work to be done in the fight for a more mainstream education system. I am looking forward to doing my part as a Legislative Academy intern to help mobilize activists and promote reform in the Legislature. “Change comes from the bottom up, not the top down,” our new president has said.
Getting involved with a nonpartisan grassroots organization dedicated to countering the religious right and advancing individual liberties is rewarding and fulfilling. Being surrounded by politically diverse students who are as passionate about these issues as I am motivates me and reaffirms the principles we stand true to.
After all, not doing your part to rectify hypocrisy would just be, well, goobledygook.