Apparently, it’s one step forward, then two steps back when it comes to the Texas State Board of Education.
Last month we were encouraged when the chairman of the state board committee that will review the social studies materials in the CSCOPE curriculum management system said he wanted that review process to be fully transparent. A transparent process would help prevent Tea party and other far-right activists — who have repeatedly and absurdly attacked CSCOPE as Marxist and pro-Muslim — from hijacking the committee’s review. Now, however, the committee’s chairman, Marty Rowley, R-Amarillo, has demonstrated how the committee itself could muck up the review — in a big way.
According to the Midland Reporter-Telegram, Rowley told a Midland County Republican Women audience on Wednesday that he and other critics are concerned about the allegedly “leftist bent” of CSCOPE’s lessons.”Leftist bent”? Does anyone honestly believe that the current and retired Texas teachers who have been writing CSCOPE lessons are leftists? Or that more than 800 public school districts in the state, plus the schools of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Austin as well as other Christian schools, would buy such materials? (In fact, they have bought CSCOPE.) Moreover, critics have repeatedly distorted CSCOPE lessons — see here, here and here, for example. Rowley’s comment will simply further politicize this review.
Another comment Rowley made at the Midland meeting reminds us of the same culture war battles that have raged at the State Board of Education for at least the last two decades:
“We have some specific criteria that we’re looking at (regarding the CSCOPE lessons). We’re going to look at whether or not they treat the roles of men and women in a traditional way. That’s part of the operating rules and things that we’re looking at. We’re going to look at whether or not they treat American exceptionalism in a particular way and whether they enforce the belief that America is an exceptional nation.”
Good grief. In the year 2013, are we about to return to debates over whether women who work outside the home are proper role models for children? The image above, taken from a newspaper report in 1995, refers to the controversy over a photograph in a health textbook the Texas state board considered for adoption in 1994. Social conservatives at the time insisted that the publisher replace that photograph of a business professional carrying a briefcase with one showing a woman in a more traditional gender role, such as baking a cake. Social conservatives on and off the board also criticized the health textbooks that year for including information on birth control, line drawings of self-exams for breast cancer and other content they found morally objectionable. They demanded that publishers make hundreds of changes to their textbooks. Things got so bad that one major publisher simply withdrew its textbook from consideration rather than make all of the controversial changes state board members wanted.
After that and previous battles over textbook content at the state board, the Texas Legislature clearly decided that enough was enough. In 1995 they stripped the state board of the authority to edit and censor textbooks. From that point forward, the state board has legally been limited simply to determining whether textbooks cover the required curriculum standards and are free of factual errors. (Of course, state board members have worked during subsequent textbook adoptions — with varying degrees of success — to get around the restraints in that law.)
Now it seems Rowley and some of his board colleagues are looking to force their own personal and political opinions into CSCOPE. They want to decide whether CSCOPE lessons teach students “traditional” gender roles for women. They want their subjective opinions about “American exceptionalism” to govern content in CSCOPE lessons. According to information released by the state board last month, they will also ask reviewers to make subjective judgments about whether CSCOPE lessons promote patriotism, “unbiased” illustrations and “accepted standards of behavior/lifestyles.”
Perhaps Rowley was simply playing politics and saying what he thought the Midland County Republican Women wanted to hear. We can only hope. Because if he really intends for the review committee to do what he said, then anyone whose eyes are open can see where this CSCOPE review is heading: back to the days when state board members were unrestrained in their efforts to turn our schoolchildren’s textbooks into tools for promoting their own personal and political agendas.