Texas SBOE Destroys Education

Just got done listening to Common Sense 172. I generally agree with Dan on a lot of things. This is one time I think there’s more threat here than he’s willing to admit to.

As an example, here’s a quote from show Number 8:

“I’m not an intelligent design guy, I’m just an open-minded guy. I don’t mind a whole bunch of theories being thrown out there. I think we’ve really forgotten in this whole evolution thing is that the name of this whole evolution thing is the theory of evolution.

I’m not suggesting that Dan is a creationist, or even a christian. What I am suggesting is that the arguments of the Religious Reich (and I’ve heard this exact phrase come out of ID defenders mouths before) have seeped into the common arguments presented by average people who don’t necessarily understand what scientists mean when they use the word theory. Gravitational theory is only a theory too. But I wouldn’t suggest you jump off a building and expect to float. There is every bit as much science backing evolution as there is gravitation. Perhaps more. Dan has gone on the attack against science in the past (episode 5 for those with the DVD) albeit attacking pop science. And yet the scientific method is the only method that has been shown to be capable of determining what truth is.

Science is under attack here in Texas, more than history is. The SBOE has specifically gone on the attack against the scientific method itself, attempting to undercut the basis for our technological society. The stories coming out about the history textbooks just highlight what kind of mental neanderthals are serving on the SBOE, and what their real goals are.

Here’s a quote from the story in the NY Times:

In recent years, board members have been locked in an ideological battle between a bloc of conservatives who question Darwin’s theory of evolution and believe the Founding Fathers were guided by Christian principles, and a handful of Democrats and moderate Republicans who have fought to preserve the teaching of Darwinism and the separation of church and state.
Since January, Republicans on the board have passed more than 100 amendments to the 120-page curriculum standards affecting history, sociology and economics courses from elementary to high school. The standards were proposed by a panel of teachers.
“We are adding balance,” said Dr. Don McLeroy, the leader of the conservative faction on the board, after the vote. “History has already been skewed. Academia is skewed too far to the left.”

Excuse me if I don’t buy McLeroy’s arguments on the subject of the skewing of academia. His past support for inclusion of the teaching of creationism in science classrooms (which is distinctly NOT science) and his boards attempts to manipulate the definition of the scientific method so that Intelligent Design would meet the criteria, have shown that he is no friend of education, or our technologically based society either (which only exists because of the scientific method) which makes me question the justification for his chairing the board that dictates what Texas children will be taught in coming years.

The one thing I do agree with Dan on, on this subject, is the legitimacy of the existence of these types of boards in the first place. There isn’t any. They should all be disbanded, and the controls for what is taught should be handed back to the teachers and parents. The people directly involved in educating the children.

Because, trust me, education begins at home. No matter what school sets out to teach my children, they get an education in critical thinking from me.


I seem to have started an interesting thread over at the Common Sense forum. Still think Dan didn’t hit the SBOE hard enough. Jon Stewart did.

THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART – DON’T MESS WITH TEXTBOOKS – 3/17/2010

I’d like to put this in perspective. The rest of the nation is buying textbooks that meet standards set by a state whose students are not even close to the best performers in the nation.

Bureaucracy in action.

For those who might think I exaggerate the threat, here’s a list of the worst of the current changes proposed by the SBOE to the Social Studies curriculum, from the TFN website:

  • Religious conservatives on the board killed a proposed standard that would have required high school government students to “examine the reasons the Founding Fathers protected religious freedom in America by barring government from promoting or disfavoring any particular religion over all others.” That means the board rejected teaching students about the most fundamental constitutional protection for religious freedom in America. (3/11/10)
  • Even as board members continued to demand that students learn about “American exceptionalism,” they stripped Thomas Jefferson from a world history standard about the influence of Enlightenment thinkers on political revolutions from the 1700s to today. In Jefferson’s place, the board’s religious conservatives inserted Thomas Aquinas and John Calvin. They also removed the reference to “Enlightenment ideas” from the standard, requiring that students simply learn about the “writings” of various thinkers (including Calvin and Aquinas). (3/11/10)
  • Board conservatives succeeded in censoring the word “capitalism” in the standards, requiring that the term for that economic system be called “free enterprise” throughout all social studies courses. Board members such as Terri Leo and Ken Mercer charged that “capitalism” is a negative term used by “liberal professors in academia.” (3/11/10)
  • The board removed the concepts of “justice” and “responsibility for the common good” from a list of characteristics of good citizenship for Grades 1-3. (The proposal to remove “equality” failed.) (1/14/10)
  • Social conservatives on the board removed Santa Barraza from a Grade 7 Texas history standard on Texans who have made contributions to the arts because they objected to one of her (many) paintings — one including a depiction of a woman’s exposed breasts. Yet some of Barraza’s works had been displayed in the Texas Governor’s Mansion during the gubernatorial administration of George W. Bush in the 1990s. (3/11/10)
  • The board stripped Dolores Huerta, cofounder of United Farm Workers of America, from a Grade 3 list of “historical and contemporary figures who have exemplified good citizenship.” Conservative board members said Huerta is not a good role model for third-graders because she’s a socialist. But they did not remove Hellen Keller from the same standard even though Keller was a staunch socialist. Don McLeroy, a conservative board member who voted to remove Huerta, had earlier added W.E.B. DuBois so the Grade 2 standards. McLeroy apparently didn’t know that DuBois had joined the Communist Party in the year before he died. (1/14/10)
  • In an absurd attempt to excuse Joseph McCarthy’s outrageous witchhunts in the 1950s, far-right board members succeeded in adding a requirement that students learn about “communist infiltration in U.S. government” during the Cold War. (Board member Don McLeroy has even claimed outright that Joseph McCarthy has been “vindicated,” a contention not supported by mainstream scholarship.) (1/15/10)
  • The board voted in January to remove children’s book author Bill Martin Jr. from a Grade 3 standard about significant writers and artists because members confused the author of Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? with another Bill Martin who had written a book about Marxism. An embarrassed board reinserted Martin into the Grade 3 standards in March. (3/11/10)
  • Board members added Friedrich von Hayek to a standard in the high school economics course even though some board members acknowledged that they had no idea who the Austrian-born economist even was. (3/11/10)
  • The board added a requirement that American history students learn about conservative heroes and icons such as Phyllis Schlafly, the Heritage Foundation and the Moral Majority. The board included no similar standard requiring students to learn about individuals and organizations simply because they are liberal. (1/15/10)
  • Board conservatives passed a standard for the eighth-grade U.S. history class requiring students to learn about the ideas in Jefferson Davis’ inaugural address as president of the Confederacy during the Civil War. (1/14/10)
  • In a high school government standard about “the importance of the expression of different points of view in a democratic republic,” the board added a requirement that students learn about the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms. (3/11/10)
  • The board’s bloc of social conservatives tried to water down instruction on the history of the civil rights movement. One board amendment, for example, would have required students to learn that the civil rights movement created “unreasonable expectations for equal outcomes.” That failed to pass. Other amendments passed in January minimized the decades of struggle by women and ethnic minorities to gain equal and civil rights. (Board member Don McLeroy even claimed that women and minorities owed thanks to men and “the majority” for their rights. Earlier in the revision process, a conservative appointed by McLeroy to a curriculum team had complained about an “over-representation of minorities” in the standards.) Under pressure from civil rights groups, the board partially reversed those earlier amendments. (3/11/10)
  • The board’s right-wing faction removed references to “democratic” (or “representative democracy”) when discussing the U.S. form of government. The board’s majority Republicans changed those references to “constitutional republic.” Board member Cynthia Dunbar also won approval for changing references to “democratic societies” to “societies with representative government.” (3/11/10)
  • Religious conservatives stripped from the high school sociology course a standard having students “differentiate between sex and gender as social constructs and determine how gender and socialization interact.” Board member Barbara Cargill argued that the standard would lead students to learn about “transexuals, transvestites and who knows what else.” She told board members she had conducted a “Google search” to support her argument. Board member Ken Mercer complained that the amendment was about “sex.” The board consulted no sociologists during the debate. (3/11/10)
  • Board member Barbara Cargill proposed a standard to the high school economics course requiring students to “analyze the decline in the value of the U.S. dollar since the inception of the Federal Reserve System since 1913.” After debate, the board passed a revised standard that requires students to “analyze the decline in the value of the U.S. dollar, including the abandonment of the gold standard.” References to 1913 and the Federal Reserve System were dropped. The board consulted no economists during the debate. (3/11/10)
  • The board approved a standard requiring students to learn about “any unintended consequences” of the Great Society, affirmative action and Title IX. (3/11/10)
  • In a high school U.S. history standard on musical genres that have been popular over time, the board’s bloc of social conservatives removed “hip hop,” equating this broad genre with “gangsta rap.” (3/11/10)
  • The board voted to use “BC” and “AD” rather than “BCE” and “CE” in references to dates in the history classes. That means students going off to college won’t be familiar with what has become an increasingly common standard for dates. (3/10/10)
  • The board removed Oscar Romero, a prominent Roman Catholic archbishop who was assassinated in 1980 (as he was celebrating Mass) by rightists in El Salvador, from a world history standard about leaders who led resistance to political oppression. Romero, they argued, wasn’t of the same stature as others listed in the standards: Nelson Mandela and Mohandas Gandhi. One board member argued that “he didn’t have his own movie like the others.” He quickly reversed himself — the film Romero, based on the archbishop’s life, was released in 1989 and starred actor Raul Julia in the title role. (3/10/10)
  • The board’s right-wing faction removed a reference to propaganda as a factor in U.S. entry into World War I. (The role of propaganda on behalf of both the Allies and Central Powers in swaying public opinion in the United States is well-documented. Republican Pat Hardy noted that her fellow board members were “rewriting history” with that and similar changes.) (1/15/10)
  • The board changed a “imperialism” to “expansionism” in a U.S. history course standard about American acquisition of overseas territories in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Board conservatives argued that what the United States did at the time was not the same as European imperialism. (1/15/10)

(source Texas Freedom Network TFN Insider: The List of Shame in Texas)

Some additional articles in the local paper:

Editor’s note

This is a compilation of my thoughts on the topic of the SBOE and the conversation with Dan Carlin’s forum community about this episode, cribbed from this and other threads preserved at Archive.org. Both episode 8 and episode 5 of Common Sense are no longer available from Dan Carlin’s merchandise page. I still have the DVD I bought from him back in the day. This article and the thread on the forum spawned the infamous Atheism is Not a Belief System thread and article.

FFrF Radio. First week of August

Podcast Link.
August 2, 2008Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics For Choice, Ryan Valentine of the Texas Freedom Network

Jon O’Brien was on in part because of the plight of Webster Cook (on Freethought Radio two weeks ago) and in part a response to William Donahue who has capitalized on events of late, gaining the spotlight by claiming victimhood for Catholics and christians in general. As President of Catholics for Choice, Jon O’Brien has a few pointed comments in response to Donahue’s appearances in the media.

Ryan Valentine (calling from Austin!) of the Texas Freedom Network was interviewed concerning the SBOE’s ill-advised decision last week to pass guidelines for Bible Courses in Texas (I sent my objections to the governor myself, with the suggestion that McLeroy should be sacked) litigation has already been filed, so additional state expenditures on this issue are guaranteed.

Texans interested in preserving the separation of church and state in Texas should Take Action at the TFN website.

It ain’t necessarily so.
The things that your liable to read in the bible,
it ain’t necessarily so.

George Gershwin, Porgy & Bess

2007 Archive episode.
August 4, 2007Special Guest: August Brunsman, director of the Secular Student Alliance

Theocracy Alert. Newspaper editor with more status than brains is set straight; at least on this program. She remained unapologetic in the face of several letters of protest.

August Brunsman of the Secular Student Alliance was on to discuss the advancing cause of freethought amongst the next generation, and the disturbing amount of money funneled into christian causes like Campus Crusade.

Dan Barker’s work on Yip Harburg‘s Rhymes for the Irreverent. Snippets from this song are frequently used as bumper music in later episodes of the show.

Pagan pulpit wraps up the episode. Tithing supported in the bible? Not the way you might think.

Those who begin coercive elimination of dissent soon find themselves exterminating dissenters. Compulsory unification of opinion achieves only the unanimity of the graveyard.

West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette

2006 Archive episode.
August 5, 2006Agnostic Recalled from Office over Pledge Issue: Dave Habecker

Theocracy Alert. Reading from the Associated Baptist Press, a speech by Walter Sheridan, calling attention to recent disturbing trends in religion. The continuing saga of the Mt. Solidad Cross.

Dave Habecker was recalled from his trustees position in Estes Park, Colorado, for failing to stand and recite the pledge of allegiance (I’m betting my position on the pledge would send Estes Park into orbit) which does nothing less than establish a religious test for holding office.

Freethinkers Almanac features Rupert Brook and Percy Shelley.

I’m studiously ignoring the plug for Inconvenient Truth at the end of the episode, because it’s not convenient to rant about the environment right now. But then, there’s always Bullshit! to fall back on, when the previous rants fall short.

SBOE Approves Bible Course Guidelines

Gotta love this. The Texas Legislature, not satisfied with simply raping the Texas State pledge and making the students say god during newly mandatory daily pledge recitations (god twice, if you count the mandatory federal pledge recitations. Could be even three times if you choose to pray during your mandatory moment of silence. I don’t like pledging, in case you hadn’t heard) has also decided that Texas students need more indoctrination into the already pervasive christian religion; so they have passed a law that all but mandates bible school classes be offered in Texas public high schools.

…And the SBOE, run by ID supporter Don McLeroy has dutifully passed guidelines, clearing the way for these courses to be taught.

Board members approved the new class, which will be in some high schools this fall, even though officials are awaiting an opinion from the attorney general on whether the state law authorizing the course requires all school districts to offer it.

The board adopted general guidelines for the course on a 10-5 vote, disregarding the advice of several members of the House Public Education Committee who urged approval of more specific requirements to head off the possibility of constitutional violations and lawsuits.

“It’s better for us to go ahead and do something now,” said board member Cynthia Dunbar, R-Richmond. “We have met the requirements of the legislation. We don’t want to stifle what they [school districts] are doing in classrooms.”

Attorney General Greg Abbott has told the board that although the state standards for the Bible class appear to be in compliance with the First Amendment, his office can’t guarantee that the courses taught in high schools will be constitutional because they haven’t been reviewed.

Critics contend that the standards – based on old guidelines for independent studies in English and social studies – are so vague and general that many schools might unknowingly create unconstitutional Bible classes that either promote the religious views of teachers or disparage the religious beliefs of some students.

Earlier this year, the Ector County school board agreed to quit using a Bible course curriculum at two high schools in Odessa that the American Civil Liberties Union said promoted Protestant religious beliefs not shared by Jews, Catholics, Orthodox Christians and many Protestants.

However, state board members supporting the Bible course rule adopted Friday said such lawsuits are rare and should not be a problem for most school districts.

Board member Pat Hardy, R-Weatherford, who voted against the proposal, said teachers of the course would be given far less direction from the state than they receive in most other subjects.

“We need to do more work on this instead of jumping off into the abyss,” she said.

The course is supposed to be geared to academic, nondevotional study of the Bible, and cover such things as the influence of the New Testament on law, literature, history and culture.

Dallas News

So, we in Texas can look forward to turning out students who erroneously think that murder is illegal because the Ten Commandments say you shouldn’t do it. How long before they start teaching a nondevotional course on the Qur’an or the Talmud? Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance? I wouldn’t hold my breath.

For me, the solution is simple. Take the Bible Class Challenge.

American AtheistsThe Texas Bible Class Challenge

If the schools know that they are going to face hostile students in these classes, very few of them will want to offer them in the first place. If the schools offer the classes, and don’t respect the contrary opinions, they can be shut down through lawsuits. It’s an expense we the taxpayers should not have to face, but then we elected these idiots to do this to us, apparently.

English Standards Gutted. Will Science and Evolution be Next?

Perry’s appointee to the Texas Board of Education has shown his true colors. As most of us knew he would:

McLeroy’s latest antic — though I would call it the first shot fired in a war, a war on reality — was over, of all things, the English standards. According to an article in the Dallas Morning News, teachers and experts had worked for two and a half to three years on new standards for English. So what did McLeroy do? He ignored all that work entirely, and let “social conservatives” on the board draft a new set overnight.

Overnight? Think that’s better than Standards teachers and experts spent nearly three years on?

This new version cobbled together in a few hours was delivered to Board members an hour before the meeting in which they were to vote on it. An hour! In the meeting, McLeroy rammed through the discussion, even dismissing people who claimed he was going too quickly:

“Mr. Chair you’re going so fast … you’re moving so fast we can’t find it in the other document,” [board member Mary Helen] Berlanga said, shortly after the page-by-page explanation began.

After more complaints, McLeroy declared that he would continue at the fast pace.

“The ruling is you’re being dilatory in dragging this out,” McLeroy said.

What a guy! And now guess how this ends…

The board voted to approve the hastily cobbled-together standards, 9-6.

And if you’re not tired of guessing, then guess what discipline comes up next for review? Science!

Bad Astronomy

Every time you pet your dog, you are touching a known product of evolution. Through thousands of years of companionship, we have created the creatures that lovingly chew our sneakers and pee on the rug. God didn’t create dogs, humans evolved them from wolves that were captured and tamed. This is a concept so obvious, most people don’t even notice it.

The current chairman of the Texas Board of Education is one of these people. He is a creationist, bent on introducing Intelligent Design into Texas classrooms. He needs to be ousted, and yesterday wouldn’t be soon enough.

As I said before:

There is no room for creationism at the science table when it comes to teaching children. Leave it at church where it belongs. Send a message to the powers that be this year, tell the TEA hands off our science curriculum, send the fundamentalists packing.

I have, and I will again. Either the state concedes on this issue and removes the sitting board chairman, or Texas spends millions of dollars defending itself against lawsuits as outraged parents take the state to court over curriculum that they refuse to see taught to their children.

Which outcome do you prefer?


Here’s an interesting coincidence. The Governor’s contact page seems to be terminally on the fritz. That’s odd. I know I’ve used that contact system before. I wonder if he’s feeling the heat from his extremely unwise choice of SBOE chairs. One can only hope.