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

by Dan Quinn

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.