Archive for the ‘Don McLeroy’ Category

Anti-Evolution Politics Hurt Science Education

March 22, 2012

The conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute has posted a new essay following up on the organization’s January report giving low marks to science curriculum standards in most states, including Texas. Dr. Paul R. Gross, an emeritus professor of life sciences at the University of Virginia, writes for Fordham’s Education Gadfly e-newsletter that weak coverage of evolution is a product both of religious objections and politics.

“A focused combination of politics with religion, in pursuit of (or opposed to) governmental action, is vastly more effective than either one alone.

By themselves … religious anti-evolutionists would wield scant power over state decisions. Real power comes by politicizing the arguments and switching them from scripture to more stylish notions: ‘scientific alternatives,’ ‘critical thinking,’ or—most commonly—’strengths and weaknesses of [Darwin’s] theory.’ When these are pressed by politicians dissing ‘Darwinism,’ a downgrading of science is underway.”

Gross writes that increasing efforts in state legislatures to politicize and undermine the teaching of evolution have serious consequences for science even if proposed anti-evolution measures don’t pass:

“(T)hey can still have real effect on classroom teaching, on textbook content and selection, as well as on the curriculum as taught. All this political activity and the sense of popular support that it engenders can easily discourage teachers from teaching evolution, or from giving it proper emphasis—if only by signaling that it’s a highly controversial subject. Teachers, understandably, fear controversy and potential attack by parents. Meanwhile, for this and many other reasons, science performance of our children against their overseas peers remains average to poor.

The common anti-evolution claims are no more than talking points, less cogent even than the talking points of politics. The primary scientific literature has disposed of them all, as any serious reader can discover. Their real purpose is simply to cast doubt on evolution as a shaper of life forms. But there is no reasonable doubt that Earth is four billion years old and that life’s diversity emerged over eons in steps, usually small, driven by such (evolutionary) mechanisms as genetic change and natural selection.”

Remember this when creationists on the Texas State Board of Education (and in the Texas Legislature) argue — as they have repeatedly — that they aren’t trying to promote their religious views in science classrooms. That’s because they know the courts would slap them down. No, the goal of evolution deniers is to undermine confidence in science itself, thus opening the door to “alternative” concepts that have no basis in science (“intelligent design”). That’s really what Don McLeroy was trying to do when he demanded that “somebody’s gotta stand up to experts” during the debate over new science standards for Texas schools  in 2009.

But that kind of ignorance is undermining the education of millions of schoolchildren.

Click here to help elect a new State Board of Education in Texas this year.

Celebrating Mediocrity in Texas?

January 31, 2012

This should tell you a lot about the intellectual and moral bankruptcy of the Texas State Board of Education. Last year the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute sharply criticized the state board for its “ideological manipulation,” historical revisionism and contempt for expertise in adopting new social studies curriculum standards for Texas public schools in 2010. Today a new Fordham report gives science curriculum standards adopted by the state board in 2009 a grade of “C.” Yet here’s what state board Chairwoman Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, had to say about the new Fordham report:

“As a science teacher, I am pleased that our standards received a score of 5 out of 7 for content and rigor. We look forward to continuing to work with Texas teachers to bring the best instruction to the classroom with our excellent science standards.”

Seriously? She celebrates a “C” grade? She really thinks Texas is giving kids the “best instruction” with “excellent science standards” that, in fact, get low marks from a conservative education think-tank? News flash for Ms. Cargill: Most parents don’t think mediocrity is something to celebrate, especially when it comes to the education of their children.

From the Fordham report’s section on Texas:

“Texas has produced a set of science standards with areas of strength—including a particularly well-done sequence for earth and space science—but also with weaknesses that cannot be overlooked. These include a tendency across nearly all disciplines to pay lip service to critical content with vague statements, and, somewhat less often, the presence of material that’s well below grade level.”

While giving the standards decent marks in some areas, Fordham describes other sections with words like “sketchy,” “redundant,” “riddled with errors,” and “woefully imbalanced.” Would you describe such standards as “excellent”? We doubt it, but an ideologue like Cargill does.

Don McLeroy, a former board member who served as chairman during the science curriculum standards adoption, was pleased with Fordham’s remarks about how evolution is covered in the standards. Says McLeroy:

“The report confirms what I have always insisted: that the creationists inserted real scientific rigor into the teaching of evolution.”

Good grief. Fordham actually said “evolution is all but ignored” in standards for primary grades, and discussions on the topic in middle school grades are inaccurate. The report points to one particular misleading section about the evolution of finches:

“Creationists often distort these important findings to argue that Darwinian macroevolution does not occur—instead, microevolution does. In addition, the word ‘evolution’ is never used in any of the middle school standards, and the term “natural selection” is never explained.”

Fordham does give the high school bi0logy of evolution good marks, noting that “there are no concessions to ‘controversies’ or ‘alternative theories.'” But that’s actually despite the efforts of Cargill and McLeroy, who wanted the standards to include phony “weaknesses” of evolution promoted by creationists. Fortunately, TFN and other supporters of science education kept that nonsense out of the standards.

And then this from Fordham:

“(T)he high school biology course is exemplary in its choice and presentation of topics, including its thorough consideration of biological evolution. Even so, the term ‘natural selection’ appears just three times, as does the word ‘evolution’ and its variants. It is hard to see how Texas students will be able to handle this course, given the insufficient foundations offered prior to high school.”

It’s no surprise Fordham found that “natural selection” gets short shrift in the standards — it was one of the core concepts that McLeroy and other creationists on the board specifically tried to weaken in 2009.

Public education is clearly under siege in Texas. The Legislature is cutting billions of dollars in funding for public schools. Thousands of teachers are losing their jobs. And members of the State Board of Education are celebrating mediocrity (or worse) in the curriculum standards they’re adopting.

It’s hard to imagine that voters need more evidence that this year — with all 15 state board seats up for election — will be critical to the future of public education in Texas. Check out TFN’s SBOE Election Watch page here.

SBOE Campaign Finance Reports

January 18, 2012

All Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) seats are up for election this year, but so far there’s not a lot of money flowing into those campaigns. Nearly all SBOE candidates have now filed their July 1, 2011-December 31, 2011, campaign finance reports with the Texas Ethics Commission.

Some non-surprises:

  • Geraldine “Tincy” Miller, R-Dallas, is again self-funding her campaign, this time in an effort to retake the District 12 seat she lost to George Clayton, R-Richardson, in 2010. So far Miller has spent about $40,000 of her own money.
  • Former SBOE member Don McLeroy, R-College Station, is spreading around a little cash (some left over from his losing race against Thomas Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant, in 2010) among far-right board incumbents Charlie Garza, R-El Paso, of District 1 ($500), Ken Mercer, R-San Antonio, of District 5 ($500), and Gail Lowe, R-Lampasas, of District 14 ($1,801.60). He has also contributed $500 to Randy Stevenson, R-Tyler, who is trying to unseat Ratliff in District 9 and return to the board he left after 1998.
  • Neal Frey, head of the far-right censorship outfit Educational Research Analysts (founded by the late Mel and Norma Gabler of Longview in East Texas), has given $1,000 to Garza, $500 to Mercer, $1,000 to Stevenson, $500 to current board chair Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands (District 6), and $500 to Terri Leo, R-Spring, before the she decided not to run for re-election last fall.

Among the races that are attracting the most money (although totals are relatively modest compared to races for other elections in the state):

District 5: Ken Mercer, R-San Antonio ($15,611.75 in contributions, including $10,ooo from just one donor) vs. Steve Salyer, R-San Antonio ($1,150.00 in contributions plus a $5,000 from himself)

District 6: Donna Bahorich, R-Houston ($325 in contributions plus a $50,000 loan from herself to her campaign); no Republican challenger. None of the three Democrats (Tracy Jensen, Patty Quintana-Nisson and David Scott, all of Houston) has raised more than $1,600 yet.

District 8: Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands ($38,586.84 in contributions, $18,710.93 in expenditures, $25,626.25 in cash on hand) has raised a healthy chunk of change, but she also spent more than $12,000 (at least) on a fundraising event at a fancy country club in The Woodlands. Her Republican opponent, Linda Ellis of The Woodlands, has spent $7,019.40 so far.

District 9: Incumbent Thomas Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant, has raised $17,413.15 in his race against challenger Randy Stevenson, R-Tyler, who has raised $5,225, including $1,100 from his own pocket.

District 12: Incumbent George Clayton, R-Richardson, ($3,921.42 in expenditures) is trying to fend off challenges from three other Republicans: “Tincy” Miller ($41,015.65 in expenditures, mostly her own money); Pam Little, R-Fairview ($8,324 in expenditures and loans from herself of $21,500); and Gail Spulock, R-Richardson (no report posted yet).

District 15: Incumbent Bob Craig, R-Lubbock, is not seeking election. Marty Rowley, R-Amarillo ($5,614.59 in expenditures and $10,000 in loans, combined, from himself and his wife) is running against Anette Carlisle, R-Amarillio, ($23,998.19 in expenditures) in the Republican primary. Steven Schafersman, D-Midland, is the only Democrat running.

Check our SBOE Election Watch page here for a list of candidates and other info.

Don ‘Incendiary’ McLeroy

October 31, 2011

The picture above of current Texas State Board of Education member Thomas Ratliff, R-Mt. Pleasant, pointing (sort of) at former board chair Don McCleroy, R-Bryan, is not directly related to what you’re about to read, but it will be what springs to mind when you’re done with this blog post.

A few weeks ago TFN President Kathy Miller shared a dais with McLeroy for a panel discussion on the SBOE during the Texas Tribune’s Tribune Festival. That’s where McLeroy blamed the culture wars at the SBOE on his and the far right’s willingness to put personal agendas and politics above the best interests of Texas’ schoolchildren.

Just kidding. McLeroy actually blamed TFN and what he called our “incendiary” language for sparking the culture wars at the SBOE. That’s right, he blamed TFN. Let that one sink in for a moment.

Here was McLeroy’s response when panel moderator and Tribune reporter Morgan Smith posed the question of whether the culture wars and politics distract board members from the important work before them (audio of the full conversation from the Tribune):

Back in 1994 you had the rise of prominence and political clout of conservatives on the State Board of Education. That triggered a response from a lot of people that I would call secular-minded. And they were real concerned that these religious conservatives would put forth views — they would propose their own views over all others. And what happened was that you saw these people get organized. I would say they were the one’s that initiated the culture war. “Freedom” even became their middle name.

The problem is they’re not right. The TFN got organized — Kathy’s group got organized, in 1995 Cecile Richards, got it organized — and they’re just not right about things. But everybody, of course, knows they’re not right.

Really, Dr. McLeroy? TFN is behind the culture wars at the state board? Well, let’s look at the record here. It’s McLeroy who has attacked public education, sharpened religious divisions on the state board, promoted a book that labels as “monsters” parents who teach their children about evolution, thinks science classes should teach about the supernatural, and said “education is too important not to politicize.” TFN Insider has documented much more from McLeroy, which you can find here. And here are just a few of the video clips of McLeroy pushing the culture wars:

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Unlikely Allies

September 1, 2011

Who knew evolutionary science had such an ardent defender in former (and infamous) Texas Republican gubernatorial candidate Clayton Williams?

According to a letter from Williams to Gov. Rick Perry unearthed by the Austin American-Statesman, Williams tried to intervene with the governor at the outset of the State Board of Education’s contentious science curriculum revision in 2008:

“If Texas enters into a debate on the teaching of fundamental religious beliefs in public schools, it will tarnish our strong academic reputation, set our ability to attract top science and engineering talent to Texas back decades and severely impact our reputation as a national and global leader in energy, space, medicine and other high tech fields… Governor, this is a very important issue for Texas. I urge you to quell this issue quietly, firmly and permanently.”

Of course, Perry decided to go a different direction. His handpicked chairman, Don “Somebody’s Gotta Stand Up to Experts” McLeroy, led the state board in an embarrassing, drawn out public fight over the legitimacy of evolution — just as Clayton feared.

Barbara Cargill: Some Things Never Change

July 8, 2011

UPDATE: Apparently, someone was embarrassed that we were highlighting Barbara Cargill’s comments at a Texas Eagle Forum event last week. YouTube videos of those comments have now been made private. No matter. We already have those comments and the videos. We’ll have more from Cargill’s talk — this time her troubling comments about the coming of adoption of science instructional materials — shortly.

NEWER UPDATE: The video linked in the post is available again.

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Well, this sure didn’t take long. Last Tuesday the San Antonio Express-News quoted newly appointed Texas State Board of Education Chairwoman Barbara Cargill as saying that she would “facilitate the meetings with a lot of character and a listening ear because we all represent our various districts, so we certainly want to hear from every board member on the issues.” Then just two days later she questioned the faith and politics of fellow board members whose views are different from her own.

Speaking Thursday night at a Texas Eagle Forum event in Conroe, this is how Cargill, R-The Woodlands, described the faction of board members with whom she votes in lockstep:

“Right now there are six true conservative Christians on the board.”

Say what? That certainly must be news to four other Republicans on the board (Marsha Farney, R-Georgetown; Pat Hardy, R-Fort Worth; Bob Craig, R-Lubbock; and Thomas Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant), who are pretty darn conservative as well as Christians (and that’s not even considering the board’s Democrats who are also Christians).

Cargill is already following in the footsteps of former board chair Don McLeroy, who on more than one occasion essentially described the divisions on the state board as between “Christian conservatives” and everyone else. Like when McLeroy said this:

“Conservatives on our board are the only ones—the Christian conservatives—that are able to sit there and to think for themselves and say, well, wait. Is this really good policy?”

Cue the complaints that we’re somehow attacking Cargill’s faith. Of course, we’re not. We’re simply marveling that she and her allies on the board seem so clueless about how offensive it sounds when they question the faith (never mind the politics) of their own colleagues.

We’ll have more remarkable comments from Cargill’s talk in the coming days.

No Mo’ Lowe?

May 26, 2011

It looks likely that Gail Lowe, who presided over the Texas State Board of Education‘s social studies curriculum debacle last year, has only days left in her tenure as board chair. From the Houston Chronicle:

Gov. Rick Perry’s appointments of John Bradley as head of the Forensic Science Commission and Gaile Lowe as State Board of Education chair are officially toast, Senate Nominations Chairman Bob Deuell, R-Greenville said.

“They’re sine die with the rest of us — except they won’t have to come back for a special session,” Deuell said Wednesday after submitting his last round of Perry appointees for Senate consideration.

That’s two strikes for Gov. Perry, whose last two appointments to chair the state board have been so politically extreme that the Senate has refused to confirm them. The governor appointed Lowe in 2009 to replace his previous appointee, Don McLeroy, R-College Station. McLeroy failed to win Senate confirmation as board chair after he led efforts to dumb down the public school science curriculum with anti-evolution dogma.

Supporters of Lowe and McLeroy claim that the two have been victims of Senate politics. That’s nonsense, of course. Truth is, both have been victims of their own obsession with pushing personal and political agendas in public school classrooms.

Barring an unlikely, last-minute Senate reprieve for Lowe, Gov. Perry must appoint a new chair. Will that be a third strike? Or will he finally appoint someone who puts the education of Texas schoolchildren ahead of politics? It’s possible that we won’t know the answer to that until July, when the state board is scheduled to meet next.

Irony, Thy Name Is McLeroy

February 18, 2011

Even as a conservative education think tank was putting the finishing touches on a report excoriating the Texas State Board of Education for wrecking social studies standards, former board chair Don McLeroy was speaking to a far-right Education Policy Conference in St. Louis (headlined by Ann Coulter) saying:

We have bequeathed a precious legacy to Texas public education. Strong academic standards are now in place that will improve academic achievement, prepare our children for the future and help develop well-informed citizens.

Let’s just say the scholars at the (right-leaning) Fordham Institute disagree:

A popular Lone Star State slogan proclaims ‘Texas: It’s like a whole other country’ — but Texas’s standards are a disservice both to its own teachers and students and to the larger national history of which it remains a part.

But while their conclusions about the rigor and accuracy of the new standards are miles apart, ironically, McLeroy and the reviewers at the Fordham Institute actually agree about quite a few things — principally that the fight over education standards in Texas is a lot more about politics than education. The difference is that while Fordham decries this fact, McLeroy celebrates it:

This battle is ideological; it’s between “the left” and religious conservatives… To get education right, you have to leave “the left” behind; to adopt sound education policy one must overcome the irrational opposition of the left.

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Don McLeroy’s Swan Song

October 29, 2010

Donna Garner, the serial e-mailer ideologically aligned with the Texas State Board of Education‘s faction of religious extremists, is distributing to her e-mail list an extended excerpt from what she reports is a speech by state board member Don McLeroy. McLeroy apparently made the speech on October 23 at a Bastrop County Tea Party event. (Editorial note: If TFN Insider receives any information indicating that her e-mail is inaccurate, we will certainly note that here.)

The speech reads as a pretty thorough summary of the philosophy of the state board’s extremist faction — a philosophy that is  historically and scientifically illiterate, self-contradictory and coldly arrogant. McLeroy praises the disestablishment of religion in America, yet in the same speech he declares that our society is (and should be) based on biblical authority. He once again derides expertise. And he criticizes the “left” for substituting “insults and personal attacks” for sound arguments, yet he portrays those he sees as on the left — anyone, apparently, who might disagree with him — as “godless.” It’s hard to imagine anything more insulting to people of faith who simply don’t share his political views.

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More Bad History from Don McLeroy

October 13, 2010

Right-wing websites are still hailing the Texas State Board of Education‘s passage of a resolution that attacks Islam and falsely claims that social studies textbooks are anti-Christian and pro-Muslim. And state board member Don McLeroy, the dentist from Bryan/College Station, is still pretending to be an expert in history (in addition to science, economics, political science, mathematics and the list goes on). For the newest example, check out (if you have the stomach for this particular website) a story posted Tuesday at WorldNetDaily, the far-right, conspiracy-obsessed site run by folks who seem to think Ann Coulter is too liberal and tolerant. (Yes, we’re serious. Now clean up the coffee you just spit out on your keyboard.)

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Board Takes Up Anti-Muslim Measure

September 24, 2010

The Texas State Board of Education is about to take up a proposed resolution attacking Islam and claiming that social studies textbooks are anti-Christian. TFN Insider will keep you updated on progress.

9:53 a.m. – We notice that board members Barbara Cargill and Don McLeroy have been going through world history textbooks currently used in Texas publics schools. Cargill has them stacked at her desk. We anticipate that she and McLeroy will use examples from those books to try to prove that they reflect an anti-Christian, pro-Islamic bias. But those textbooks were approved for Texas schools by this board in 2002, and social conservatives at the time were very happy. Why? Because, as news reports from the time explain, they were able to force publishers to make numerous changes, including the addition of positive references to Christianity and the deletion of neutral or positive references to Islam. From a Houston Chronicle article dated Oct. 30, 2002 (now archived on a conservative Christian website):

The discussion of the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., by Muslim extremists was closely read by many reviewers. Raborn criticized a passage in the Glencoe/McGraw-Hill book that discussed how Osama bin Laden’s instructions to his followers to kill Americans was not supported by the Quran, which tells soldiers to show civilians kindness and justice.

“This is going to great length to put a positive light on Muslim teachings considering other passages in the Quran. Either leave this material out alltogether or present more balance,” Raborn said in written comments submitted to the state board.

The publisher replaced the deleted passage with a statement that al-Qaeda’s anti-American beliefs were not shared by all Muslims. “The attacks on the United States horrified people around the world, including millions of Muslims who live in the Middle East, the United States, and elsewhere,” the book now reads.

Other examples are found in an Oct. 27, 2002, Fort Worth Star-Telegram article in our files (apparently archived on a subscription-only website). The article notes that publishers were forced to delete this passage from one textbooks, World Explorer: People, Places and Cultures:

“But many more other teachings in the Quran, such as the importance of honesty, honor, giving to others and having love and respect for their families, govern their daily lives.”

Another textbook, World Civilizations: The Global Experience, added this passage:

“Christianity, for example, appealed to educated people, as it adopted a complex set of ideas about God and life. Its spirituality and its promise of eternal life also appealed to many other groups.”

That article summed up the changes:

“Some new Texas textbooks no longer teach that the Quran stresses honesty and honor, that glaciers moved over the earth millions of years ago or that Communists felt their system of government offered workers more security. “

The reference to glaciers was changed in one textbook to “in the distant past” because creationists insist that these rivers of ice could not have moved over the earth millions of years ago when, they argued, earth didn’t even exist.

Conservatives quoted by the article expressed their delight with the changes they forced publishers to make throughout their textbooks. Here’s what Chris Patterson of the far-right Texas Public Policy Foundation had to say:

“For the most part, we are delighted with the changes. The publishers made very substantive changes in adding content and correcting errors.”

Today, however, the State Board of Education’s bloc of social conservatives claim that social studies textbooks the board adopted eight years ago are anti-Christian and pro-Islam.

10 a.m. – Gail Lowe, state board chair, brings up the resolution. She says this resolution is just about the balanced treatment of “divergent religious groups.” Really? Then why does the resolution specifically attack Islam and make untrue claims about coverage of Islam and Christianity in the standards?

10:01: Texas Freedom Network President Kathy Miller is testifying. We’ll reproduce her testimony on here later. She’s making a sharp criticism of this inflammatory resolution: “It’s hard not to conclude that the misleading claims in this resolution are not the result of ignorance or are instead the result of fear-mongering.” She says: pass a neutral resolution that calls for on publishers to treat all religions fairly and accurately. Attacking Islam in the resolution is unnecessary and divisive.

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Promoting Political Theology

August 25, 2010

It’s educational when religious-right leaders reveal — inadvertently or not — the crass ideological calculations that motivate their agendas. A press release yesterday from Terry McIntosh, a Christian minister who evangelizes Muslims in the Middle East, offers a good example. The press release, headlined “America First,” warns Christians “against the dangers of socialism in the guise of social justice”:

Social justice generally refers to a society based on the principals of equality and solidarity that recognizes human rights and the dignity of every human being, and is increasingly used to solicit Church participation.

McIntosh says it threatens freedom of choice. “Christians recognize the dignity of every human. However, when it comes to conflict of ideology and way of life, I am an American First and citizen of the world second. The call for social justice mandates that a community provide for all citizens equally, and has the appearance of being righteous. Someone said, ‘This is what Jesus would do.’ They are creating a jesus, little j, that plays into the socialist agenda. Jesus advocated generosity and caring for the poor, but he did not advocate government mandates that forcibly takes from one person and gives it to another.”

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Gov. Perry Gives Parents the Silent Treatment

June 18, 2010

The usually voluble Gov. Rick Perry has made essentially no public comment about how the far-right wing of the Texas State Board Education engineered a now nationally infamous rewrite of social studies curriculum standards in May. We believe the governor’s silence represents a fundamental failure of accountability to Texas parents.

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Embracing Extremism in the Texas GOP

May 26, 2010

UPDATE: Now we find out that Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., is coming to the Texas GOP convention in June. See more at the end of this post.

Don McLeroy lost his chairmanship of the State Board of Education last year because he was more interested in promoting his own narrow ideological views than facts and sound scholarship in Texas classrooms. The College Station dentist insisted that “somebody’s gotta stand up to experts” when he promoted creationist arguments in new science standards last year. He argued that science should be redefined to include the supernatural and endorsed a book that calls parents “monsters” if they teach their children about evolution. Then during the debate over social studies curriculum standards, McLeroy suggested women and minorities owe thanks to men and the “majority” for granting them their rights, argued that Joseph McCarthy has been “vindicated” and defended the appointment of absurdly unqualified political activists as social studies “experts” to help guide the revision of curriculum standards.

One might think that Republicans would be wary of embracing someone with such extreme views. But apparently not Texas Republicans.

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America vs. the World?

May 21, 2010

Yesterday’s debate over social studies curriculum standards at the Texas State Board of Education mostly illuminated political biases of board members more than it did good education policies. Many conservative board members opposed, for example, restoring civil rights and labor leader Dolores Huerta to third-grade standards because they say she’s a socialist and isn’t an inappropriate role model for students. Small-minded pettiness was also on display. For example, far-right board members — barely stifling grins and smirks — insisted that the nation’s president be listed in the standards only by his full name, Barack Hussein Obama. They finally backed off after sharp criticism, even from other Republicans on the board.

And then there was right-wing paranoia about American participation in global organizations like the United Nations and in international treaties: