From 2009 to 2010, the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) set about the once-a-decade task of writing curriculum standards for Texas’ almost five million school children. Claiming that “Academia is skewed too far to the left,” right-wing Board members voted to undermine the teaching of evolution and rewrite history from a Christian nationalist perspective.
The Revisionaries, a documentary available from PBS for online viewing through February 27, follows the Texas Board during this controversial process with nationwide repercussions: because their curriculum standards serve as guidelines for textbook publishers competing for the massive Texas market, decisions made in the Lone Star State can impact education across the country.
Filmed over a period of three years, the documentary focuses on three major figures: Board chair and self-described creationist Don McLeroy; Kathy Miller, head of the Texas Freedom Network, the “state’s watchdog” monitoring the Christian Right; and Ron Wetherington, an anthropologist specializing in evolutionary theory who reviewed the proposed science curricula. The Board’s other anti-evolution advocates included Cynthia Dunbar, who commuted from her Texas home to teach at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University in Virginia. Read More →
After the controversy surrounding Arizona’s S.B. 1070 immigration law and recent legislation banning abortion after 20 weeks of gestation, I’ve grown accustomed to controversial legislation from my home state. This month, the Arizona legislature is proposing a trio of laws that were declared unconstitutional decades ago.
The first “patriotic” bill, H.R. 2467, would require high school students to recite an oath of loyalty to the United States—actually only a slight variation on elected officials’ oath of office—before being allowed to graduate from a public high school. The second, H.R. 2284, would require students in grades 1 through 12 to recite the Pledge of Allegiance at a specific time each day, exempt only at the request of a parent.
ACLU Arizona’s public policy director Anjali Abraham was quick to dismiss these bills: “Both bills are clearly unconstitutional, ironically enough…You can’t require students to attend school … and then require them to either pledge allegiance to the flag or swear this loyalty oath in order to graduate. It’s a violation of the First Amendment.” Even so, the sponsors of both bills stand by their assertion that the bills will benefit children by helping them think more about the Constitution and their patriotic duty. (In all fairness, if a child’s school is sued for First Amendment violations, that could be true.)
A third bill, SB 1213, purports to encourage the development of “critical thinking skills” by requiring that educators teach multiple sides of “scientific controversies” such as the origins of life and global warming. Translation: Teachers can and should teach creationism and other religious theories as on par with evolution and scientific research. Although the bill takes pains not to endorse any specific religious doctrine over another, it also makes it more difficult for administrators to prevent teachers from doing so. Read More →
Former Florida governor Jeb Bush and Kathleen Oropeza, the Orlando mother who helped create Fund Education Now, during the Florida Forward education reform forum hosted by the Orlando Sentinel, September 20, 2011. Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/MCT via Getty Images.
In June 1995, the economist Milton Friedman wrote an article for the Washington Post promoting the use of public education funds for private schools as a way to transfer the nation’s public school systems to the private sector. “Vouchers,” he wrote, “are not an end in themselves; they are a means to make a transition from a government to a market system.” The article was republished by “free market” think tanks, including the Cato Institute and the Hoover Institution, with the title “Public Schools: Make Them Private.”1
While Friedman has promoted vouchers for decades, most famously in his masterwork Free to Choose, the story of how public funds are actually being transferred to private, often religious, schools is a study in the ability of a few wealthy families, along with a network of right-wing think tanks, to create one of the most successful “astroturf” campaigns money could buy.2 Rather than openly championing dismantling the public school system, they promote bringing market incentives and competition into education as a way to fix failing schools, particularly in low-income Black and Latino communities. Read More →
Students rally at a State Board of Education meeting, Austin, Texas,March 10, 2010
On May 21, Texas School Board member Cynthia Dunbar opened the board’s meeting with an invocation: “Whether we look to the first charter of Virginia, or the charter of New England, or the charter of Massachusetts Bay, or the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut, the same objective is present—a Christian land governed by Christian principles.”1 The board then voted nine to five, along party lines, to adopt new standards that will be used to teach the state’s 4.8 million students—resisting the pleas of educators, historians, and even Rod Paige, a former U.S. secretary of education under President George W. Bush. The new standards emphasize the role of Christianity in U.S. history and promote conservative values. A New York Times editorial pointed out that the Texas board did back down on a few of its “most outrageous efforts”—such as renaming the slave trade, the “Atlantic triangular trade”—but it nevertheless managed “to justify injecting more religion into government.” According to the Times, the curriculum differentiates between the Founders’ protection of religious freedom and “separation of church and state,”2 which it deplores.