TFN's Kathy Miller: Politics Trump Common Sense in the Far Right's Manufactured CSCOPE 'Controversy'

Today the Austin American-Statesman published a column from Texas Freedom Network President Kathy Miller about the far right’s hyperbolic attacks on the curriculum management system called CSCOPE. We wanted to post it here for TFN Insider readers.

When Politics Trump Common Sense

Too often politics get in the way of common sense. That’s the case with the “controversy” surrounding a curriculum management system called CSCOPE used in Texas schools.

Education Service Centers created by the state in the 1960s began developing CSCOPE less than a decade ago. The program, with materials written largely by current and retired Texas teachers, helps school districts cover curriculum standards approved by the State Board of Education. More than 800 public school districts as well as a number of charter and private religious schools use the program.

So what’s all the fuss about?

First, some teachers question CSCOPE’s quality and say it limits their flexibility and creativity. Critics also complain that CSCOPE’s materials aren’t easily accessible for parents to review. Other teachers, however, dispute such criticisms and say CSCOPE has been beneficial in their classrooms.

In February, following a hearing before the state Senate Education Committee, CSCOPE officials agreed to take steps to make their work more transparent. They also have revised a user agreement to reassure teachers that they may share instructional materials with parents. And they began a joint review of those materials with the State Board of Education on March 29. These are common sense steps that should help CSCOPE better meet the needs of classroom teachers.

But critics have also leveled more sinister attacks against CSCOPE, claiming that the program promotes Marxism and Islam while undermining patriotism and Christianity. Some even compare it to “Nazi mind control.”

These allegations have spread through chain emails, blog posts and various political groups. Conservative media personalities like Glenn Beck have amplified the incendiary claims. Many, however, are gross distortions.

For example, critics claim CSCOPE teaches students that the Boston Tea Party was a terrorist act. In fact, students are presented with a mock British “news report” describing it that way, as you might expect the British would have seen it. But students are asked to think critically about what terrorism is and whether the Boston Tea Party fits that definition. Does anyone really think Texas teachers will lead them to believe it does?

A claim that CSCOPE calls Christianity a cult made up of cannibals distorts a lesson in which students learn how Roman authorities justified their persecution of the early church. Critics have been particularly agitated by lessons they claim promote Islam. But state curriculum standards require students to learn about the central ideas of the world’s major religions, including Islam.

Predictably, politicians have been unable to resist temptation to get into the act. Dan Patrick, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, backs CSCOPE critics and wants to give the State Board of Education formal oversight of the program. Bad idea. The state board itself has lurched from one culture war battle to another. The conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute has called the Republican-dominated board’s new social studies standards a “politicized distortion of history” filled with “misrepresentations at every turn.” Giving the state board control over CSCOPE would be like letting foxes loose in the hen house.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has also said he is “deeply disturbed” by CSCOPE’s content and charges that “CSCOPE’s officials still have not taken any real steps to address” critics’ concerns. But he hasn’t pointed to specific content and ignores the sweeping changes CSCOPE officials agreed to make in February.

It’s time to take a deep breath. Does anyone really believe hundreds of Texas public schools would use a program promoting Marxism and Nazi mind control? Even schools in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Austin and others affiliated with prominent evangelical pastor John Hagee in San Antonio use CSCOPE. Are they indoctrinating their students into Islam?

The attacks on CSCOPE look increasingly like a witch hunt. One of the worst things about witch hunts is that they rarely end until reputations are destroyed and victims are burned at the stake. And like moths drawn to a flame, politicians building their careers can’t seem to resist them.

5 thoughts on “TFN's Kathy Miller: Politics Trump Common Sense in the Far Right's Manufactured CSCOPE 'Controversy'

  1. The goal of the CSCOPE critics is not to improve education. It is to REMOVE education and replace it with Christianist propaganda, turning Texas into a marginally-Christian Iran. This is the way to Global Total Racial Holy War, and it should be repelled as the Taliban are repelled. Drone ’em.

  2. Readers should be informed that Radical Religious-Right Republican David Bradley, one of the most extreme and ignorant members of the State Board of Education, was also invited to write an op-ed for the Austin American-Statesman on the topic of CSCOPE. His essay, titled “Curriculum plan leads down a bad path,” is a mixture of both good and bad points. He correctly criticizes the secrecy of the CSCOPE writers and promoters who were breaking the Texas Open Meetings Act and preventing parents and concerned citizens from reviewing the lesson plans themselves. Fortunately, these problems are being corrected.

    On the other hand, he repeats the same asinine Tea Party criticisms of CSCOPE, such as viewing the Boston Tea Party as an act of terrorism, designing a flag for a new socialist country, and presenting information about other religions, all exercises designed to actually teach students to develop critical thinking skills. As I mentioned before, Tea Party radicals such as Bradley don’t really want students to think critically since if they did, they would quickly see the Texas Republican Party for the coercive, reactionary, authoritarian organization it is.

    But Bradley spends most time whining about the fact that the CSCOPE curriculum lessons have never been “reviewed or approved by the state board members.” But that’s a feature of CSCOPE, not a defect. Anything educational that the State Board Republicans touch is quickly corrupted. The CSCOPE lessons are aligned with the TEA/SBOE’s curriculum, but they do not have to follow it slavishly, and that’s all to the good.

    Bradley naturally supports SB 1406, the legislation that would put all state-generated curriculum materials “under the review of the Board of Education to ensure compliance.” This would be a horrible idea that would continue to allow the extreme right-wing culture warriors on the State Board to continue perverting instructional materials and public education in Texas to match their reactionary agenda. Two years ago the Legislature passed a law to allow school districts to bypass the SBOE and purchase their instructional materials directly from publishers without having to use SBOE-reviewed and edited (i.e., censored) materials. The same principle applies here. SB 1406 should be voted down.

  3. “For example, critics claim CSCOPE teaches students that the Boston Tea Party was a terrorist act. In fact, students are presented with a mock British “news report” describing it that way, as you might expect the British would have seen it. But students are asked to think critically about what terrorism is and whether the Boston Tea Party fits that definition. Does anyone really think Texas teachers will lead them to believe it does?”

    I think the CSCOPE opponents would say this:

    “If you were a British tory, you would probably view it as either terrorism or vandalism. If you were a member of the incipient American revolution, you would view it as an act of patriotism. The purpose of a lesson like this might truly be to get children to think on their own about an issue like this. Most children may rightly conclude on their own that it was a patriotic act, but there will always be some children who will (for whatever reason—maybe just being stupid as a brick)—conclude that the Boston patriots were practicing terrorism. Rather than get potentially fallible children with unsophisticated minds to think on their own and come to wrong conclusions on their own, we think the best and right approach to education in this case would be to tell the children flat out that patriots dressed in American Indian costumes were performing a patriotic act againt a tyrannical king who deserved what he got. In other words, the teacher tells all the children precisely what all of the children are expected to know and to remember as a fact. This assures loyal, patriotic citizens with proper, shared-in-common patriotic impluses for the American future.

    Of course, the fatal flaw here is that 75 percent of the anti-CSCOPE crowd would be hard pressed to define the word “incipient” for you, which is a clue that their overall ability work with complex ideas is…well…small.

  4. Claims that CSCOPE is in some way indoctrinating children in subversive ideologies is, of course,nonsense. The true evil of CSCOPE is that which was tossed away as an aside in the first few paragraphs: the total eradication of creativity, innovation, and flexibility from education in districts that use CSCOPE. Most teachers that like it, the very few who do, are those who like having lessons handed to them and thus having very little prep-work.

  5. Creativity, innovation, and flexibility are fine if thoughtfully and sensibly applied. Unfortunately, past attempts that went awry got us into the worthless “teach the test” education crap we are in now, which is arguably even worse than the very worst we had before.

    I was a victim of the “new math” in 6th grade. Hearkening after some BS new math ideology, my teacher tried to teach everyone in class how to do multiplication by using—get this— “The Russian Peasant Method.” I never could quite get the hang of it.

    It did not matter that I already knew 3 X 6 = 18. I just made really bad grades in math because I could not get to 18 the way Russian peasants do.

    I work in the science and engineering field, and I must tell you. Since those days of math pain in the 6th grade, I have not seen or heard of a single scientist or engineer incorporating Russian Peasant Method multiplication into a formal calculation package. Yet, my teacher was handing out Ds and Fs for kids who could not do it.