Now Texas State Board of Education member Cynthia Dunbar says giving precedence to teachers and scholars when revising curriculum standards for public schools would be like what the Nazis did in Germany during the 1930s. Really? Seriously?
Of course, Dunbar, R-Richmond, long ago demonstrated that she orbits on the political fringes. So we really weren’t too surprised to see such comments, which she made in an interview posted on a conservative website. The interview focused on the recent, highly politicized revision of social studies curriculum standards for Texas public schools. Dunbar was responding to a question about letting experts, instead of politicians, drive the standards revision process:
“I actually had a call from Norwegian International Radio, and I asked them why they were so interested. His response was this is very foreign to us because we have appointed experts who deal with this and they tell our students what they’re going to learn and it never becomes political. And I said well yes, when you have a representative body it can become very political and controversial because you’re giving the electorate a voice as opposed to having certain people tell the rest of the country what they’re going to believe — like in a pre-Holocaust Germany. . . . Basically what they’re talking about is an appointed oligarchy of experts where the electorate has no voice.”
“Pre-Holocaust Germany”? “An appointed oligarchy of experts”? Good grief.
The State Board of Education has an important responsibility: ensure that what students learn in Texas public schools is based on facts, the best scholarship and sound educational practices that prepare them to succeed in college and their future careers. But state board members are not curriculum or subject-area experts. The current board includes a dentist, an insurance salesman and other businesspeople, and an assortment of attorneys and political activists. Only two or three (out of 15) board members are career educators.
Even so, during the social studies revision this year, those 15 board members demanded hundreds of detailed changes to proposed standards written over the course of last year by teachers and scholars on curriculum teams. Many of the changes made to the standards were based on little more than the personal and political beliefs of board members themselves or what information they could piece together from Google and Wikipedia searches. That — and we think most parents would agree — is a crazy way to craft curriculum standards that will direct the education of an entire generation of Texas students.
Would Dunbar, an attorney, be satisfied with having people who aren’t legal scholars micromanage the development of curriculum standards for training lawyers? Would Don McLeroy, a dentist who also sits on the board, have no problem if insurance salesmen, realtors and political activists with no relevant education wrote curriculum standards for training dentists how to do what he does for a living? Of course not, but when it comes to what our kids learn in public schools, those board members are perfectly comfortable with substituting their own personal and political beliefs for the knowledge and expertise of classroom teachers, scholars and curriculum specialists. Doing otherwise, Dunbar suggests, would be a step toward totalitarianism, concentration camps and mass murder.
Of course, this isn’t the first time Dunbar has resorted to incendiary rhetoric to promote her political agenda. In her 2008 book, One Nation Under God, Dunbar called public education unconstitutional, tyrannical and “a subtly deceptive tool of perversion.” In the fall of that year, she also suggested that then-candidate Barack Obama would as president sympathize with terrorists out to destroy America.
Fortunately, Dunbar (and McLeroy) will no longer sit on the state board after this year. But it’s clearly time for the Legislature to rein in the ability of board members to politicize the education of Texas schoolchildren.