Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Booklearnin’

Not satisfied to have already exiled Thomas Jefferson from the Texas textbooks, a wingnut member of the State Board of Education is now demanding that students in the Lone Star State be taught about the evils of Social Security and one-world guvamint.

With the long-running Texas history textbooks standards fight scheduled to end with a final vote by the State Board of Education Friday, arch-conservative board member Don McLeroy is proposing a new set of changes that read like a tea party manifesto.

The new amendment (.pdf), which is expected to get a vote on Thursday, would require high school history students to “discuss alternatives regarding long term entitlements such as Social Security and Medicare, given the decreasing worker to retiree ratio” and also “evaluate efforts by global organizations to undermine U. S. sovereignty.”

Well, at least they left out the part about fluoridating the water as part of the Communist plot to introduce socialized medicine.

This would not be a big deal — just a tempest in a teabag, as it were — except that publishers usually gear their books for all states in accordance with the dictates of their biggest customers, and Texas is a big consumer of high school texts. Even with the rise of on-demand publishing and therefore the ability to tailor texts to individual states or even districts, how Texas goes often affects the book choices in other states. But this is getting some push-back from other states; including one state — California — that has a lot of students as well. State Senator Leland Yee (D) has introduced a bill to fend off the Texas textbook wingnutsery.

Under Yee’s bill, SB1451, the California Board of Education would be required to look out for any of the Texas content as part of its standard practice of reviewing public school textbooks. The board must then report any findings to both the Legislature and the secretary of education.

The bill describes the Texas curriculum changes as “a sharp departure from widely accepted historical teachings” and “a threat to the apolitical nature of public school governance and academic content standards in California.”

Tom Adams, director of the state Department of Education’s standards and curriculum division, said the Texas standards could make their way into national editions of textbooks, but those aren’t used in California. “Our main concern is whether materials meet California’s standards,” he said. “There’s nothing in our review process that says we should be following Texas or anything like that.”

I don’t care if the agenda is left, right, or neither; one member of a state board of education should not have the power to dictate the curriculum of an entire subject based on his or her own personal beliefs, those picked up by reading a pamphlet from the Tin Foil Hat Society, or by what they remember from seeing in a school pageant for the Bicentennial.

I believe in local control of public education, but there at least ought to be some federal standards for textbooks that rise above the IQ of your average geranium.

HT to Cookie Jill at skippy’s place and Think Progress.