The absurd, manufactured controversy over CSCOPE in Texas is leaping back into the spotlight. And that spotlight is illuminating just how hypocritical some of the curriculum tool’s political critics really are.
On Friday State Board of Education Vice Chair Thomas Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant, and state Senate Education Committee Chair Dan Patrick, R-Houston, announced that they have agreed to a public debate over CSCOPE. At around the same time, state board Chair Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, said the board will resume its review of CSCOPE lessons. That review had been short-circuited in May when Sen. Patrick bullied the state’s Education Service Centers into ending their development of those lessons. And now we hear that Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst will crow at a Monday press conference about a state judge who apparently has issued a temporary restraining order against the use of CSCOPE in a Hill Country school district.
Regarding the debate, Patrick has been one of the most vocal legislative leaders in the anti-CSCOPE witch hunt. Far-right activists have claimed (with no real evidence) that the program is Marxist, pro-Islam, anti-American and anti-Christian. The state’s Education Service Centers developed CSCOPE, which includes lessons written by current and retired Texas teachers. It is designed to help school districts cover the complicated (and flawed) curriculum standards passed by the State Board of Education.
Ratliff has been poking at Patrick for weeks, accepting Patrick’s earlier invitation to debate the CSCOPE issue “with anyone in the state anywhere, anytime.” Patrick finally accepted Ratliff’s debate challenge this past week, and on Friday the two released a joint statement saying that the debate will be at 6:30 p.m., August 24, in the Ornelas Activity Center on the campus of the University of Texas at Tyler. Journalist Scott Braddock will moderate. Hudson Independent School District Superintendent Mary Ann Whiteker and Tyler tea party leader JoAnn Fleming will ask questions.
The debate alone is a fascinating development. Sen. Patrick is running for lieutenant governor next year against at least three other Republicans, all of whom have (unlike Patrick) been elected statewide in the past: the three-term incumbent lieutenant governor, the current land commissioner and the current agriculture commissioner. Yet Patrick has now bumbled his way into a public debate against someone who isn’t one of those three opponents next year. And the debate is over a relatively obscure, fringe “controversy” that was belched into existence by political fanatics who make Birchers sound like hippies.
How did this happen? Patrick has been flogging this issue for months, pandering to activists who have trotted out distorted, out-of-context examples of how CSCOPE lessons (and, by extension, the hundreds of Texas public and Christian private schools and their teachers who use the lessons) are somehow indoctrinating students into Marxism and Islam. Patrick himself has portrayed the educators behind CSCOPE as engaged in something nefarious — guilty of deceit, perhaps even financial malfeasance, and of trying to undermine American values. And he has been insisting that the state should tell local school districts and teachers what materials they can and cannot use in their own classrooms. That’s a rather hypocritical position for a Republican who claims to believe in local control. But bullies like Patrick fear being exposed as a fraud or a coward. So Patrick must have decided that he had to accept the debate challenge — a challenge that he had actually invited in June.
Ratliff had also asked the State Board of Education at its July meeting to resume the review of CSCOPE lessons that was halted in May. Since May, districts have been archiving CSCOPE lessons so that teachers can continue to use them, something the Texas Education Agency’s legal counsel said last month they may do. Ratliff and others want the review completed so that parents know the facts about the wild attacks on CSCOPE. Now Cargill has agreed to resume that review. We don’t know details yet about the timing and location of the review.
Anti-CSCOPE activists are enraged that school districts still plan to use the CSCOPE lessons. They have even taken to the courts to try to block that from happening. Now Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst is planning a press conference on Monday to talk about a state district judge who apparently has issued a temporary restraining order that bars the Llano Independent School District from using CSCOPE lessons until the State Board of Education approves them. But there is no state law that requires state board approval of the lessons before teachers use them, so it’s unclear how long that court order will remain in place.
In any case, at least a couple of things have become pretty clear. First, Republican politicians like Patrick and Dewhurst like to preach about local control — that is, until local officials make decisions they don’t like. Then they want to dictate from Austin what those local officials can and cannot do. Second, Patrick and Dewhurst often rail against what they consider “judicial activism” when courts make rulings they don’t like. But they cheer court rulings not based in current law if those rulings back up their desire to control the actions of local officials.
You have to wonder whether Patrick and Dewhurst are running next year for the office of lieutenant governor or hypocrite-in-chief.