By Terri Burke, ACLU of Texas Executive Director
What a fascinating four days we had last week to watch the power of extremists in Texas. Although a substantial majority of the 206 speakers Wednesday opposed the state board of education’s proposed social studies TEKS (curriculum standards), in the end Republican moderates Patricia Hardy and Bob Craig and Geraldine Miller were afraid to cross the fringe right and the standards passed mostly on 9 to 5 votes (Miller absented herself from voting). I say “afraid” because Craig actually made the motion to delay the vote; Hardy repeatedly tried to craft amendments to address some historians’ concerns; and Miller ultimately walked on the two most important votes: the delay vote and the final vote. Former chairman (and dentist) Don McLeroy spent most of his time outside the meeting room, huddled with ideologically driven Liberty Legal and Texas Eagle Forum folks, who, it became obvious, were the authors of all of his amendments: McLeroy couldn’t explain his amendments, stuttering and rambling in response to questions. There were impassioned speeches about American exceptionalism (I liked Reagan’s “city on a hill” better), about the founding fathers and religion, and of course, the now popular debate (maybe only in Texas) about “constitutional republic” versus “democratic society. ” Texas school children will be protected from that term until they get to college – if they get in.
We are not defeated, however. With a number of legislators outraged at these shenanigans – dentists and real estate salesmen pretending to be historians – and the criticisms of one former and the current U.S. Secretary of Education, there is steam for pushing the engines of change. And, with the current economic situation in Texas, a projected $18 to $20 billion state budget deficit, it is unlikely this curriculum will see a textbook any time soon. So, in fact, we may have lost only a skirmish. November holds out the possibility of new faces for the board. McLeroy and Miller won’t be returning to the board as they were defeated in their respective primaries in March by people who seem to understand the appropriate role of the SBOE. Neither face Democratic opposition in November. Cynthia Dunbar did not run for re-election and both the Republican and Democratic candidates for her seat appear to be more sensible and Ken “I’m so maligned” Mercer faces a strong opponent.
In the meantime, working with our coalition partners, we will move forward to push a number of legislative options for revamping the mission and responsibilities of the board. And an editorial in Wednesday’s Dallas Morning News (one of the state’s more conservative newspapers), although demeaning the ACLU, suggested yet another twist: demand that the new board revise the standards when they take office next year. See the recommendations we included in our report, “The Texas State Board of Education: A Case of Abuse of Power.”