THE VOICE OF REASON
Board of Education

 REGARDING THE TEXTBOOK CONTROVERSY

The political power of the Texas State Board of Education is staggering.  This board's job is to determine the content of information in the textbooks assigned to 4.7 million Texas public school students.  But that's not all!  Because the Texas textbook market represents an enormous print run, most school districts in other states adopt the same course materials in order to decrease their textbook costs.  The 15-member Texas board is therefore, in the blink of an eye, transformed into the supreme fount of educational administrative authority throughout the nation.  Wow!

Every ten years the curriculum requirements of each subject are reviewed and revised by the board.  It has made more than 100 changes to the social studies curriculum since January of this year.  A final vote on these changes is expected in May, under the leadership of a dentist, political conservative, and fundamentalist Christian, Dr. Don McLeroy, at right.

It must be stressed from the jump that, wherever one is on the political spectrum, being captive to a single textbook in a subject, whether as a teacher or student, is not recommended.  It is especially a problem in a social studies class, where the consideration of multiple, even marginal, perspectives makes for vigorous and informed discussion.

Don't misunderstand my meaning.  If there are public school districts, then there must be curriculum standards in place. How else can there be educational accountability?  But the notion that what a student reads and hears during the academic year concerning a subject, such as American history, is to be concentrated in a single textbook, which is crafted in accordance with what the majority of a 15-member board regards as worthy of note, renders one all but faint.

At present, the primary concentration of power on the board is in the hands of Anglo-Saxon conservatives, who are also Christian. Many from the political right are, of course, lauding the board's proposed revisions.  Yet these revisions are checkered at best.  Let me proffer two random examples.  First, Thomas Jefferson is no longer regarded by the board as a model founder, who influenced America's intellectual origins. Second, the United States government is characterized by the board as a "constitutional republic" rather than as a democracy.

Concerning Jefferson.  There is no individual who has had a more profound influence upon America's intellect and its institutions than he has.  Like him or not (and I do not), it was his hand which drafted the Declaration of Independence, his influence that toppled Federalist elitism and helped to democratize American government, and his cast of mind that was instrumental in advancing the principle of separation between church and state (whatever he may have meant by it).

Regarding our form of government. There is little doubt that those at the Constitutional Convention intended a "constitutional republic." But after Jefferson and Andrew Jackson had served their respective terms at the helm of state, the ship was on a decisively democratic course. These presidents' legacies have definitively shaped American government. So the word "democracy" probably has as much historical warrant as the term "constitutional republic" if one charts the nation's course since the advent of the nineteenth century.

I am not contending here that the Board of Education is guilty of any flagrant error in judgment.  My only problem with it is that it determines what our children will be taught. Why does this bother me? There is something unduly bold and censorious about it.  At some point in the future, the concentration of power on the board is sure to shift – racially, ethnically, and religiously.  What then?  If the public education curriculum continues to be dictated by political interests, what will happen when the board is packed with those of adverse political persuasions?

"Wait!" you protest. "Your criticism sounds no different from that of the left-wing."  The observation is correct on its face. But please remember that the left is unhappy because of the particular political bias of the board's decisions.  If the board had proposed a set of revisions favorable to the left, only the right would now be complaining.  If you do not believe me, then take a long, hard look at American colleges and universities. What you see in them will highlight the left's opportunistic and unprincipled commentary. The fact is that, if one is an unrepentant Marxist lunatic, like Bill Ayers or Bernadine Dohrn, and happens to have bombed government buildings as an expression of public protest, he or she is sure to win a tenured faculty position in higher education.  Is there anyone who fails to recognize that higher education in this country generally represents a single political point of view – that of the radical left?

My point is that, regardless of its political orientation, the Texas State Board of Education poses a major danger to the educative process.  There has got to be a way to educate children without allowing officials of the state to dictate informational content and the philosophical bias from which it is presented.

A system of private education with public vouchers is a step in the proper direction.  A college education emphasizing the great books, science, logic, mathematics, and the written word is another constructive step.  If one wishes to work in a profession, then he should be allowed to study and to learn that profession in the office of a physician, attorney, architect, etc., leading to his taking and passing a comprehensive, objectively administered, examination.

Education is not about being politically brainwashed.  Governments have a hard time remembering this.  It is why they should butt out of the education business. 

March 19, 2010