The Week in Quotes (Nov. 16 – 22)

Here are some of the week’s most notable quotes culled from news reports from across Texas, and beyond.

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The Textbook Vote Is in – Here’s What We Accomplished

It’s over. The State Board of Education just approved new social studies textbooks and they’re headed to classrooms. So where do we stand?

Perhaps the biggest headline of this whole saga: the important changes made to the books thanks to TFN’s work with scholars and activists like you:

REMOVED: climate-change denial
REMOVED: biased depiction of affirmative action
CORRECTED: slavery identified as primary cause of Civil War
REJECTED: inflammatory content stereotyping Muslims

We knew these battles were coming four years ago when the state board adopted politicized standards, so we invested heavily to prepare. We’re already investing for future battles — and we need your support. If you think this work at the SBOE is valuable, then I invite you to say ‘thank you’ with a donation to TFN.

We got important corrections in the textbooks, but I don’t want to imply that the new books are perfect. Many include passages that suggest Moses influenced the writing of the Constitution and that the roots of democracy can be found in the Old Testament. The board and publishers rebuffed repeated efforts to correct those inaccuracies.

And once again the state’s process for approving textbooks was revealed to be a sham, as state board members voted for last-minute changes that they had never even read. Those changes were approved without any input whatsoever from historians and experts.

But here’s my biggest takeaway: TFN is needed in this state more than ever. Our state’s process for approving textbooks is fundamentally broken, and TFN is the watchdog at every meeting keeping extremists from getting whatever they want. TFN works extensively with teachers and scholars to provide specific corrections that eliminate bias and errors in proposed textbooks, something the state’s own review process clearly fails to accomplish.

That level of commitment is expensive, so I ask you to make a contribution to keep up this crucial work. Any gift you make will help offset costs incurred during this round — and will help us get ready for future textbook battles.

With gratitude and resolve,
Kathy Miller
TFN President

Posted in social studies adoption (2014), TFNEF | 4 Comments

Live-Blogging the Texas Social Studies Textbook Vote

9:13 – The State Board of Education (SBOE) is set today to vote on which proposed new social studies textbooks to adopt for Texas public schools. Publishers have been submitting changes to their textbooks since the public hearing on Tuesday. The last batch of changes — listed on more than 800 pages from publisher WorldView Software — was posted on the Texas Education Agency (TEA) website mid-afternoon on Thursday. Who has reviewed these and other revisions from publishers? The truth is that there is no official process for doing so. It’s hard to believe that SBOE members had time to do it. They were in meetings Wednesday and Thursday. On Wednesday, for example, they debated important issues such as whether teachers should be thrown in jail if they use instructional materials tied to Common Core standards. (Seriously.) So SBOE members today are being asked to vote on textbooks that they, TEA staff and most Texans haven’t had time to read and scholars haven’t had an opportunity to vet. But millions of public school students will use these textbooks over the next decade. The SBOE meeting agenda includes a variety of preliminary agenda items before board members take up the textbook issue. We’ll keep you updated.

10:15 – The SBOE is taking up the textbook adoption now. Board member Thomas Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant, is proposing that the SBOE not consider any publisher changes that haven’t yet been posted on the TEA website because the public hasn’t had a chance to review them.

10:21 – SBOE Chair Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, asks board members to look at changes publishers have offered this morning. Oh sure. Fine. But what about scholars and teachers having an opportunity to review the materials before the SBOE votes? This is absurd.

10:24 – SBOE member Ruben Cortez, D-Brownsville, asks about the hundreds of pages of changes publishers have submitted that haven’t been vetted by anyone? Good question. He’s pointing out that this isn’t an open process. He’s right. Cortez is echoing concerns noted by SBOE member Martha Dominguez, D-El Paso.

11:19 – It appears board members are moving toward an adoption of all of the textbooks, although publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has withdrawn its government textbook from consideration. A statement from the publisher says the reason for the withdrawal is that the textbook didn’t meet all of the state’s curriculum standards. Board members are now debating also whether to remove products from WorldView Software from the adoption list. On Thursday WorldView submitted hundreds of pages of revisions and responses to public complaints about its textbooks.

11:35 – The board has taken a break and will return to their debate shortly.

12:06 – SBOE David Bradley, R-Beaumont Buna, is crediting Mel and Norma Gabler for making textbook adoptions a big deal. He’s serious, of course. But let’s be clear: the Gablers were notorious textbook censors who pressured publishers to revise and delete information — on topics like evolution, environmental problems, slavery and civil rights — that they didn’t like and didn’t want students to learn about.

12:25 – SBOE Republicans have voted down a recommendation by their Democratic colleagues to delay final adoption of the textbooks until Dec. 1 so that late changes by publishers can be vetted for accuracy.

12:26 – And now the board has voted to adopt, on a 10-5 party-line vote, all of the social studies textbooks except submissions from WorldView Software and a Grade 6 world cultures textbook for Discovery Education. They will consider those separately.

12:28 – The board has voted to reject the WorldView products for adoption.

12:30 – Some Republican board members appear to oppose adoption of the Discovery Education world cultures for Grade 6. SBOE member Tincy Miller, R-Dallas, claims that a passage about 9/11 has errors regarding the use of the term jihad. Other board members, including some Republicans, are puzzled about what the problem is.

12:34 – The board votes 9-6 to adopt the Discovery Education text. It’s still unclear just what the objection was.

12:42 – We just sent out the following press statement:

Texas Freedom Network President Kathy Miller had the following statement on today’s State Board of Education vote to adopt new social studies textbooks for Texas public schools.

“What we saw today shows very clearly that the process the State Board of Education uses to adopt textbooks is a sham,” Miller said. “This board adopted textbooks with numerous late changes that the public had little opportunity to review and comment on and that even board members themselves admitted they had not read. They can’t honestly say they know what’s in these textbooks, which could be in classrooms for a decade.”

Miller was critical of board Republicans for rejecting a common-sense proposal by their Democratic colleagues to delay adoption of the textbooks until Dec. 1 so that late changes could be vetted for accuracy.

The Texas Education Agency posted scores of pages of publisher comments and textbook revisions after the last public hearing on Tuesday. Miller said scholars did not have an opportunity to review and comment on the numerous changes publishers have submitted since the last public hearing on Tuesday. Some of those changes appeared to have been negotiated with state board members behind closed doors.

During a months-long process, publishers made a number of improvements to their textbooks. Those improvements included removing inaccurate information promoting climate change denialism; deleting offensive cartoons comparing beneficiaries of affirmative action to space aliens; making clearer that slavery was the primary cause of the Civil War; and revising passages that had promoted unfair negative stereotypes of Muslims. Scholars and the general public had ample opportunity to review and comment on those revisions.

However, the new textbooks also include passages that suggest Moses influenced the writing of the Constitution and that the roots of democracy can be found in the Old Testament. Scholars from across the country have said such claims are inaccurate and mislead students about the historical record.

Posted in social studies adoption (2014), TFNEF | 7 Comments

The Political Circus at the Texas State Board of Education

The State Board of Education’s adoption of new social studies textbooks this week appears to be turning — all too predictably — into another political circus that shuts out the public as well as scholars and other experts.

Board members, including Chairwoman Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, continue — in private — to pressure publishers into making changes to their proposed textbooks. This means the public has limited ability to examine and express their opinions about changes to which publishers are agreeing behind closed doors. That is especially troubling if publishers feel compelled to continue making changes all the way up to Friday’s meeting and final vote on which textbooks the SBOE will adopt.

On Wednesday, Ms. Cargill successfully resisted an effort by board members to tell publishers that the board will not consider further changes proposed after noon today (Thursday). The purpose of that deadline was to prevent last-minute revisions that board members and interested members of the public won’t have time to review and vet with scholars, teachers and other experts before the final vote.

Just as troubling is that some board members continue to wave away — as we saw at the Tuesday public hearing — the concerns of actual scholars while accepting at face value the complaints of activists making unsubstantiated and outright false allegations. Frankly, on Tuesday it seemed that even the most unqualified individual with a complaint about the textbooks would be treated as a legitimate source of information if his or her views somehow aligned with the political views of certain board members. Some examples:

  • One testifier on Tuesday claimed that the U.S. History digital textbook from WorldView Software calls U.S. General Douglas MacArthur a racist. Some board members appeared to accept the claim at face value. Yet the publisher (in a detailed response now posted on the Texas Education Agency website) flatly rejects the charge, and we have been unable to find any such reference to MacArthur as a racist in that publisher’s American history materials.
  • Another testifier, a reviewer for the anti-Muslim group Truth in Texas Textbooks, complained on Tuesday that a textbook from Cengage/National Geographic calls the United States a “representative democracy” instead of a “constitutional republic.” That led to demands from some board members to reject the textbook for containing a “factual error.” Yet a simple check of a document already turned over by the publisher on November 6 shows that the publisher had already revised the relevant passage, which now refers to the United States as the “first modern country to establish a federal republic” and points out (accurately) that the country is also “often referred to as a representative democracy.”
  • A claim on Tuesday by another testifier that the Cengage/National Geographic text is somehow linked to the Common Core standards also led some board members to insist on rejecting it. But there are no Common Core standards for social studies. Nevertheless, some board members still claimed that the Cengage/National Geographic product was violating Texas law. Then in a separate discussion on Wednesday, the board spent precious time debating whether to ask the Legislature to criminalize teaching with instructional materials tied to Common Core. (The motion failed.)

The eagerness by some SBOE members to accept such complaints without any verification raises serious questions about whether the final Friday vote on which textbooks to adopt will be based on facts and the recommendations of scholars or on the political and personal beliefs of board members themselves.

Posted in social studies adoption (2014), TFNEF | 4 Comments

Live-Blogging the Texas Social Studies Textbook Hearing

1:15 – The State Board of Education (SBOE) has begun the second and final public hearing on social studies textbooks up for adoption for Texas public schools. MerryLynn Gerstenschlager from Texas Eagle Forum is up now. She just criticized textbooks for not making sure students learn about the “debate” over climate change. She argues that climate change science is part of a United Nations conspiracy to redistribute wealth globally.

1:18 – SBOE member Ken Mercer, R-San Antonio, insists that students should learn “the other side” of the debate. If he wants students to learn the other side of the political debate, that’s one thing. But the IPCC has made clear that the overwhelming scientific evidence shows climate change is a real and growing threat and that human activity is the primary driver.

1:23 – Joanathan Kaplan, who teaches Middle Eastern studies at the University of Texas at Austin, is critical of textbooks that present Moses as a major influence on the American founding, and he explains that it is a “gross exaggeration” for textbooks to suggest that the the roots of democratic political and legal traditions lie in the Old Testament.

1:25 – SBOE member Pat Hardy, R-Fort Worth, insists that Mosaic law influenced English common law, which in turn influenced American law.

1:29 – SBOE Chair Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, says people who say the SBOE wants Moses identified as a “founding father” are “ignorant.” So disingenuous. In fact, no one has said the SBOE wanted textbooks to teach that. But scholars and others have pointed out that the textbooks and the curriculum standards would mislead students to think that Moses was a major influence. One scholar has joked that students could end up mistaking Moses as the “first American.”

SBOE members are scrambling to explain that they didn’t want the textbooks to do what the standards the board passed four years ago essentially required the textbooks to do.

1:39 – Retired teacher Anthony Bruner warns that communists have tried to use the schools to indoctrinate students and undermine America. Among the tactics, he says, is not to teach students real American history. That doesn’t include, he says, history according to liberals, teacher groups and unions. OK, then.

1:41 – Bruner calls for the rejection of the textbooks up for adoption. No surprise. He’s also upset that the United States is described as a democracy. SBOE member Tincy Miller, R-Dallas, is disturbed by this. The right wants textbooks to describe the United States as a republic. Of course, Cuba is also a republic. So is China. But they’re not representative democracies. At least not in reality. The United States is.

1:51 – Next speaker, Karin Gililland, is also upset that with textbooks that don’t describe the United States as a republic. And she’s off into a lecture about why America is a republic, not a democracy.

1:57 – Now Cargill is on the “republic” bandwagon. She counted all times the curriculum standards say “constitutional republic.”

1:59 – Speaker Emile McBurney is up and has launched an attack on Common Core curriculum and complains that one of the publishers based its textbook on Common Core. She then links Common Core to teaching students about sexual perversion (or something). It’s hard to follow conspiracy theorists. So many dots to connect.

2:33 – After a long discussion about Common Core, Prof. Jennifer Graber from the University of Texas is testifying about the exaggerations of religious influences (Moses! Old Testament! King Solomon!) on the founding. She is delivering a letter signed by 53 historians, political scientists and other scholars from around the country who object to the inaccurate information on this issue in the texts. You can read the letter here.

2:45 – Barbara Lamontagne just spoke. She complained that one of the textbooks called General Douglas MccArthur a racist. But then she says she couldn’t get access to the textbooks to read them. So how does she know what they say about MacArthur?

2:50 – Roy White, chairman of Truth in Texas Textbooks (TTT), is up to speak now. TTT appears to be loosely affiliated with ACT! for America, an extremist, anti-Muslim organization. White is upset that one of the publishers agreed to change a textbook passage so that it teaches (accurately) that Islam over time spread through trade and missionary work, in addition to (particularly in its early years) conquest. White says Islam was spread “almost exclusively by the sword.” That’s simply not true. White is now on to a rant about the need for students to “learn the facts about Islam.” Good grief — now he suggests that there were no Jews and Christians left living where Islam spread in its early years. Not true. He suggests that the Quran instructs Muslims to be extremists. And now he’s on to Islam being a political system, not a religion.

3:18 – Roy White is still speaking and claims that his reviewers found 1,507 errors in the textbooks. That’s absurd. Many of those “errors” are claims like evolution is “bunk.”  Dr. David Brockman, who teaches religious studies at SMU in Dallas and reviewed the textbooks for the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund, analyzed the Truth in Texas Textbooks reviews for us. You can read his analysis at www.tfn.org/history.

TTTGraphic

3:22 – In answer to a question about his expertise on Islam, White says he’s self-taught. Indeed.

3:25 – White says he was trained in how to review textbooks by Neal Frey! Frey runs Educational Research Analysts, which was founded by the late Mel and Norma Gabler in Longview out in East Texas. The Gablers were the royalty of right-wing censorship. Frey was their apprentice.

3:31 – White says Islam is a way of life, like communism. Good grief.

3:33 – Now White is suggesting that the Crusaders slaughtered Muslims and Jews when they invaded the Holy Land in the Middle Ages because they were just trying to save Christians who lived there.

3:43 – SBOE member Mercer claims someone says the board made Moses a founding father. In fact, no one has said that, Mr. Mercer. What scholars have suggested is that textbooks so wildly exaggerate the so-called influence of Moses that students might be forgiven for coming away with the impression that the old fellow sat with Ben Franklin at the Constitutional Convention.

3:57 – Amy Jo Baker, a retired teacher who reviewed textbooks for Truth in Texas Textbooks, is up now. She’s complaining that the textbooks don’t define jihad correctly. She argues that jihad is about using war to spread Islam. We wonder how she became an expert on Islam.

4:09 – SBOE member Lawrence Allen, D-Fresno, who actually is Muslim, is trying to explain to Baker what jihad means. But Baker suggests that she knows Islam better than he does.

4:26 – Now we have Jonathan Saenz from the right-wing, anti-gay lobby group Texas Values. He hasn’t bothered to show up at recent SBOE meetings. He’s upset that concerns over absurd suggestions in the textbooks that Moses influenced the Constitution are efforts to deny the importance of religion in American history. And he suggests that the Ten Commandments posted in government buildings, including the Supreme Court, demonstrate Moses’ influence. But no one argues that Moses hasn’t been an influential religious figure for Jews and Christians or that religion hasn’t been influential in American history. Religion has had a powerful cultural influence in American history. The question is whether Moses influenced the Constitution. He did not, and scholar after scholar has pointed this out. And let’s remember that John Adams, in an 1825 letter to Thomas Jefferson, was clear in rejecting the notion that the Ten Commandments influenced the Constitution.

4:34 – Saenz references his work in Houston to support religious freedom. What he means, of course, is the freedom to discriminate — to fire or deny public services to someone — based on one’s personal religious beliefs.

4:37 – SBOE member Donna Bahorich, R-Houston, suggests that John Adams, Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson included Moses in the Seal of the United States. Well, here’s what The Jefferson Monticello website says about this (emphasis added):

Adams favored the figure of Hercules, contemplating images of Virtue and Sloth, but admitted this was “too complicated a group for a seal or medal, and it is not original.”

Franklin produced a biblical scheme: “Moses standing on the Shore, extending his Hand over the Sea, thereby causing the same to overwhelm Pharaoh who is sitting in an open Chariot, a Crown on his Head and a Sword in his Hand. Rays from a Pillar of Fire in the Clouds, reaching to Moses, to express that he acts by Command of the Deity.”

Jefferson’s ideas were similar to Franklin’s. But in addition to the emblem of Moses and Pharaoh, Jefferson proposed, on the reverse, “Hengist and Horsa, the Saxon chiefs from whom we claim the honor of being descended, and whose political principles and form of government we have assumed.

Note whom Jefferson credited for our “political principles and form of government.” It wasn’t Moses.

4:42 – Zack Kopplin is up speaking on behalf of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, presenting petitions with 40,000 signatures from individuals calling for textbooks that teach honest history about, among other things, religious influences in American history.

5:12 – The public hearing is over. After a break, the board is now discussing the adoption of the textbooks.

5:35 – The discussion going on right now illustrates the absurdity of how Texas politicians adopt textbooks for 5 million public school students. Texas Education Agency staff just distributed to SBOE members lists of factual errors alleged by people in the general public, including the anti-Muslim fanatics at Truth in Texas Textbooks. TEA staff members say publishers are still sending in responses to those claims of factual errors, including whatever changes (if any) the publishers are suggesting they will make. Yet board members plan to take a first vote on which textbooks to adopt tonight — without knowing what all those changes might be. How can SBOE members vote on textbooks when they don’t know what changes publishers will make to address the alleged factual errors? And how will SBOE members — few of whom are educators much less content experts — know whether these really are factual errors and that publisher changes really correct those errors? Perhaps asking scholars would help — something TFN has recommended for years. But that clearly makes too much sense.

6:04 – The SBOE is plodding through various awkwardly worded and confusing motions. The preliminary vote on which textbooks to approve is coming.

7:56 – We’re playing catchup here. The SBOE meeting ended a little while ago, and we’ve been talking with board members. We sent out the following press statement:

This evening the State Board of Education failed to take to give preliminary approval to proposed new social studies textbooks for Texas public schools. A number of board members expressed reluctance to give that preliminary approval until they have examined all changes publishers are proposing to their textbooks. The board can still adopt the textbooks on Friday.

Texas Freedom Network President Kathy Miller has the following comments following today’s public hearing and preliminary vote by the State Board of Education:

“It wouldn’t be a Texas textbook adoption without a flurry of last-minute objections from board members and political activists without any expertise on the subject at hand. On issues like bashing Islam and questioning the existence of global warming, we heard a lot of personal and political opinions but no actual facts that would justify revising what the textbooks currently say on those subjects.”

Publishers will be submitting addition changes to their textbooks over the next two days, leading up to the final vote on Friday.

Posted in social studies adoption (2014), TFNEF | 7 Comments

Advocates Applaud Publishers for Removing Climate Change Denialism from Texas Textbooks, Putting Education Ahead of Politics

Proposed social studies textbooks for Texas public schools will not include climate-change denial. In late reversals, two publishing heavyweights, Pearson Education and McGraw-Hill, have both confirmed that they will submit corrected textbooks this week at the SBOE. TFN distributed the following news release in response to the corrections.

Publishers have agreed to correct or remove inaccurate passages promoting climate change denialism from new social studies textbooks proposed for Texas public schools, a coalition of science and education groups announced this afternoon. This news comes as the State Board of Education prepares for a second public hearing on the proposed textbooks and a final vote on which texts to approve for Texas schools. The textbooks will likely be sold in other states as well.

Prior to today, publishers Pearson Education, WorldView Software and Studies Weekly Publications had already submitted to Texas education officials revisions to textbook passages that had included inaccurate information about climate change. The original passages had cast doubt on the overwhelming consensus among climate scientists that climate change is a real and growing threat and that human activity is the primary driver of the problem. Today publisher McGraw-Hill confirmed to the Texas Freedom Network (TFN) that it will remove a deeply problematic lesson that equated unsupported arguments from a special interest-funded political advocacy group, the Heartland Institute, with data-backed material from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a Nobel-winning organization of scientists from around the world.

“We applaud these publishers for responsibly listening to scholars and the tens of thousands of people from across the country who have signed petitions insisting that the textbooks put education and facts ahead of politics,” TFN President Kathy Miller said today. “We hope they will stand firm in their decision and resist pressure from politicians on the state board to lie to students about one of the biggest challenges facing our planet.”

Petitions calling on publishers to correct their textbooks have collected more than 116,000 signatures. The petitions have been sponsored by the Texas Freedom Network, National Center for Science Education (NCSE), Climate Parents, Daily Kos and CREDO Mobilize.

Josh Rosenau, programs and policy director at NCSE, also praised the publishers’ decisions to remove the scientifically inaccurate information from their textbooks.

“Pearson, McGraw-Hill and the other publishers did the right thing by making these changes,” Rosenau said. “They listened to us and the nation’s leading scientific and educational societies, ensuring that students will learn the truth about the greatest challenge they’ll confront as citizens of the 21st century. These publishers should be proud.”

Lisa Hoyos, director of the national organization Climate Parents, noted the importance of telling students the truth about climate change at a time when the science is under political attack across the country.

“There is a dangerous attack on climate science in our country, from Congress to the classroom,” Hoyos said. “We are thrilled that Pearson, McGraw-Hill and there other publishers chose to stand with students, and to remove misinformation about the causes of climate change from their texts. These publishers need to resist any pushback from climate deniers on the Texas State Board of Education and to commit to tell nothing but the truth in the materials they produce for our kids.”

The State Board of Education will hold its second public hearing and take a preliminary vote on the proposed textbooks on Tuesday (November 18). The board is set to take a final vote on Friday. The textbooks will go into classrooms beginning in the 2015-16 school year.

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The Texas Freedom Network (TFN) is a nonpartisan, grassroots organization of community and religious leaders who support public education, religious freedom and individual liberties. The National Center for Science Education (NCSE) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to defending the teaching of evolution and climate change. Climate Parents is a national clean energy advocacy organization that also promotes climate science education in schools.

Posted in climate change, social studies adoption (2014), State Board of Education, TFNEF | 4 Comments

Cowardice and Contempt for the Law on the Texas State Board of Education

It seems that at least one member of the Texas State Board of Education likes to attack colleagues behind their back rather than address them face-to-face. And that same board member appears willing to break the law to hide such deceitful tactics.

We told you last month that Thomas Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant, sent his state board colleagues a private memo chastising them for spending so much time pushing a politically motivated resolution that criticizes the College Board’s Advanced Placement U.S. History course. Nearly 50,000 Texas high school students took the highly regarded course and its exam in 2013 to earn college credit. But board member Ken Mercer, R-San Antonio, has criticized the course for supposedly undermining patriotism and promoting America-bashing.

Right-wing bloggers have echoed and spread Mercer’s baseless and silly claims, and the manufactured controversy has spread to other states as well. One Colorado State Board of Education member has even criticized the course for not teaching students that the United States ended slavery “voluntarily.”  Of course, the reason students don’t learn that is because it’s not true. But truth hardly slows down politicians trying to score cheap points with their gullible base.

Anyway, you can read Ratliff’s memo to his colleagues here. Very soon after he sent it, however, one of his board colleagues leaked it to a right-wing fanatic — Donna “Jeffrey Dahmer Believed in Evolution” Garner — with an email list. Garner then blasted out a nasty email attacking Ratliff and calling for his impeachment.

Wondering which state board member would have done such a deceitful thing to a colleague, we formally requested under the Texas Public Information Act any communications about the memo between state board members and individuals off the board. We also requested related communications among board members.

Well, the leaker didn’t fess up and turn over the relevant communications with Garner. That’s no surprise, but it also seems rather cowardly. And it indicates the leaker is willing to break the law to hide that cowardice. Public officials and employees are required to turn over written communications or other documents responsive to a valid Public Information Act request. (The leaker could have asked the state’s attorney general opinion about whether the requested documents must be turned over, but that didn’t happen. Of course, it’s very unlikely that the attorney general would have ruled in the leaker’s favor on this point anyway.)

We did, however, get some interesting communications among board members. Donna Bahorich, R-Houston, told Ratliff she was disappointed by his memo:

“Way to throw half of the board under the bus.”

That seems an odd charge to make considering that Ratliff wasn’t the person who leaked his private memo. If anyone threw board colleagues under the bus, it was the leaker. We wonder if Bahorich knows who leaker is and delivered the same criticism to him or her.

When Ratliff noted his disappointment about the leak in a follow-up email to his colleagues, board Chairwoman Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, replied in an angry tone:

“Your letter and now this message are in direct contrast to what I (and you too) have worked so hard on for the last 3 1/2 years and that’s to being [sic] the board back together to work in a professional, respectful way. This did the board no favors and you no favor. I’m not saying it should have been made public but any correspondence sent to the entire board has the potential to be forwarded.”

Ratliff shot back, rightly noting that he wasn’t the one who acted unprofessionally and deceitfully by leaking his memo. He also pointed out that Cargill had “fanned the flames” during the debate over AP U.S. History by resisting “several efforts at tamping down the rhetoric.” He expressed his weariness with “saber rattling” from board members who push non-binding resolutions in an effort just to score political points:

“I simply thought it was time to point out the obvious. There is nobody to blame but ourselves when the legislature and the public loses confidence in us.”

Ratliff is speaking the truth here, as hard as it might be for Cargill and her other right-wing colleagues to hear. They have made the state board (and Texas) look foolish with a seemingly never-ending series of unnecessary “culture war” battles over the years. The current battle over the adoption of social studies textbooks is a perfect example. (Moses influenced the writing of the Constitution? The roots of democracy are found in the Old Testament? That’s what Texas students will be learning if the state board votes on Friday to adopt these new textbooks. Why? Because that’s what the ridiculous curriculum standards championed by the state board’s right-wing bloc require students to learn.)

In any case, if Cargill wants board members to work together in a professional way, she should call on the member who leaked Ratliff’s memo to step forward and defend his or her actions publicly. Perhaps more importantly, she should insist that all board members obey the law, including the Texas Public Information Act.

Posted in State Board of Education, TFNEF | 8 Comments

The Week in Quotes (Nov. 9 – 15)

Here are some of the week’s most notable quotes culled from news reports from across Texas, and beyond.

continue reading »

Posted in The Week in Quotes | 1 Comment

This Is How Bigotry Works

So here’s a story about how bigotry works — and how religious-right groups feed off it.

Schools across America typically close for important Christian holidays like Christmas. Some also close for major Jewish holy days like Yom Kippur. Muslims in Maryland’s Montgomery County asked officials to consider closing local schools in recognition of major Islamic days of observance like Eid al-Adha as well. They also asked that, even if schools don’t close, Muslim holidays be noted on the official school calendar as other holidays are.

School officials explained that they close for those Christian and Jewish holidays technically because absenteeism would be very high, not necessarily because they are religious holidays. Absenteeism on Islamic holidays, they have found, isn’t particularly high in their schools. So they won’t be closing schools for those holidays.

But officials also decided against listing Muslim holidays on the official school calendar. Instead, the Board of Education voted to remove all religious holidays from the calendar, although schools will still close on Christmas and Yom Kippur.

Not surprisingly, that frustrated local Muslims. After all, they weren’t asking that schools not recognize other religious holidays.

“By stripping the names Christmas, Easter, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, they have alienated other communities now, and we are no closer to equality,” said Saqib Ali, a former Maryland state delegate and co-chair of the Equality for Eid Coalition, told the Washington Post. “It’s a pretty drastic step, and they did it without any public notification.”

We bet you can guess how religious-righters have reacted. Here’s how commentator Todd Starnes of Fox News radio described what happened:

“There’s a new battleground in the war on Christmas – the suburbs of our nation’s capital. The school board in Montgomery County, Maryland has decided to appease Muslims families by making the school calendar — religious neutral.

That’s bad news for all you Jews and Gentiles out there.

As of next year – all Christian and Jewish holidays will be removed from the calendar. That means no more Christmas, no more Easter and no more Yom Kippur.

There’s no word on whether the board will remove the Irish from St. Patrick’s Day or the love from St. Valentine’s Day or the trees from Arbor Day.”

“War on Christmas”? “Appease Muslims”? Talk about scapegoating.

Texas-based Liberty Institute, the religious-right group that likes to sue schools and complains about the mythical “War on Christmas” every year, promoted Starnes’ commentary on Twitter:

David Walls at Liberty Institute’s Austin-based spinoff Texas Values tweeted about it as well:

“School Dumps Christmas to Appease Muslims”

Of course, that’s not what happened. Muslims in Montgomery County didn’t ask for any holidays to be “dumped.” They simply asked that their holidays, which their children in those public schools observe, at least be recognized alongside those of other faiths. In a diverse society that respects equality and religious freedom, that hardly seems to be an unreasonable request.

But when your goal is to spread bigotry and hate while you promote anger over a mythical “War on Christmas,” why let facts get in the way? Hate-mongers like Starnes and religious-right groups like Liberty Institute/Texas Values sure don’t.

Posted in church and state, religious freedom, TFNEF, war on Christmas nonsense | 3 Comments

Science, Education Advocates Call on Publishers to Remove Climate Change Denialism from New Textbooks

We just sent out the following press release.

Science and education advocates are calling on leading national publishers to revise proposed new social studies textbooks that include inaccurate and misleading information on climate science and promote climate change denialism. The Texas State Board of Education this month is considering the new textbooks, which could subsequently end up in schools across the country.

At a press conference today, advocates released letters to publishers from major national science associations, including the American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Geophysical Union and (jointly) the American Meteorological Society and American Association for Physics Teachers, calling for corrections to misleading information on climate change in the proposed new textbooks.

A review in September by the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) revealed a number of problems with textbook passages dealing with climate change. One passage in a McGraw-Hill world geography and cultures textbook even equates arguments from a polluter-funded political lobby group, the Heartland Institute, with a Nobel-winning organization of international scientists, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). An elementary school textbook from Pearson Education downplays the overwhelming consensus among climate scientists about what is causing climate change. The NCSE review is available at www.tfn.org/history.

Josh Rosenau, programs and policy director for NCSE, pointed out that the problematic passages would mislead students into believing that climate scientists disagree on whether climate change is a real and growing threat caused largely by human activity.

“Students in school today will graduate into a world shaped by climate change, and they deserve textbooks that tell students what scientists have known for decades: humans are causing climate change,” Rosenau said. “It’s time for publishers to focus on the needs of students in every state, not the political squabbles of the Texas board of education.”

The letters are available at http://ncse.com/files/TX_letters/Letters_from_science_societies.pdf.

Several publishers have already indicated that they will correct problematic textbook passages on climate change. However, so far two leading national publishers, Pearson Education and McGraw-Hill, have not done so.

Camille Parmesan, a professor in geology at the University of Texas at Austin who also holds the National Marine Aquarium Chair in the Public Understanding of Oceans and Human Health at University of Plymouth in the United Kingdom, warned that teaching junk science undermines the education of public school students and our nation’s ability to compete in the global economy.

“Our children cannot compete in the global marketplace of the future unless they achieve science literacy,” Parmesan said. “So it’s important that the state board reject proposed textbooks that mislead students about what mainstream science tells us. Students deserve to know the true scientific facts about human-caused climate change.”

Lisa Hoyos, director and co-founder for national organization Climate Parents, also released a letter signed by the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Alliance for Climate Education, Sojourners and other science, education and environmental groups calling on publishers to correct their textbooks. Additional signers are expected before the Texas education board takes a final vote on the textbooks November 21. The letter is available at http://ncse.com/files/TX_letters/NCSE_CP_TFN-signon.pdf.

“Parents cannot trust McGraw Hill and Pearson because these national publishers are knowingly misleading students about climate change,” Hoyos said. “It is unethical to lie to kids to begin with, but to lie to them about an issue that so deeply will affect our schoolchildren’s future is simply reckless.”

The Texas Freedom Network, National Center for Science Education and Climate Parents also announced that a petition calling on publishers to correct their textbooks has collected more than 30,000 signatures from Texans and other education advocates from across the country. The petitions call on the Texas education board to reject textbooks if publishers don’t correct those errors.

Katharine Hayhoe, an atmospheric scientist at Texas Tech University, echoed concerns of scientists from across the country.

“Climate science has become one of the most politically divisive issues in the United States,” Hayhoe said. “A thermometer isn’t Democrat or Republican, though; and what’s happening to our planet isn’t up for interpretation based on whether we’re looking at it through shades of red, blue, or even green.”

Texas Freedom Network President Kathy Miller urged parents to insist that the state board approve and local schools purchase only textbooks that include accurate information on climate science and other potentially controversial topics.

“For too long now, politics has dominated what students in Texas learn about critical issues like climate change,” Miller said. “So parents must insist that our students get textbooks based on the recommendations of scholars and other experts rather than on the demands of politicians who pressure publishers into distorting research and facts.”

Texas has long had a major influence on textbooks sold around the country. Because the state’s market is so big, publishers often write their textbooks for Texas and then sell the texts to schools elsewhere as well.

The Texas State Board of Education will hear public testimony on the proposed social studies textbooks on Tuesday, November 18. The board is scheduled to take a final vote on which textbooks to approve on Friday, November 21. The new textbooks will go into classrooms beginning in the 2015-16 school year.

Posted in climate change, social studies adoption (2014), TFNEF | 1 Comment