Dallas Morning News columnist Jackie Floyd gets at the real issues week after week, stripping away the spin and silliness other reporters cover in the misaimed hope for objectivity.
And today her column looks at the social studies recommendations from a special review panel, released last week: “Curriculum debate marred by ideologues.”
A lot of what the expert advisers have to say about the standards for teaching social studies to Texas kids is genuinely depressing stuff.
It’s depressing because, as you wade through the half-dozen point-by-point reports that will be used to advise the people deciding what your kids will learn, you might wonder whether the people who oversee our public schools care a lot less about education than they do about ideology.
You might even get the sense they care an awful lot less about helping the next generation of Texans lead meaningful, productive lives than about telling them how to vote.
It’s not a big surprise, since some members of the State Board of Education sometimes behave as if schooling children is simply a matter of making them memorize an encyclopedic list of political talking points.
She names names, though I doubt she had a chance to actually kick the butts that need kicking.
And it’s the board that appointed a panel of experts that includes a family-values activist from Aledo and a minister in Massachusetts who specializes in “Christian heritage.” It’s that awful, embarrassing fight over evolution all over again.
As a result, what is presumably supposed to be a sensible discussion about what children need to learn has been reduced to a self-serving bickering match over who gets to be commandant of the indoctrination camp.
“To have Cesar Chavez listed next to Ben Franklin is ludicrous,” snarls one of the panelists; another says kids must be drilled more about Roe vs. Wade, which he says has “arguably more impacted American life than any other Supreme Court decision in the 20th century.”
Another expert makes careful tallies over whether curriculum recommendations cite Latinos with the same frequency as black and white historical figures – as if classroom studies can be reduced to a racial quid pro quo of the number of times specific historical figures are mentioned.
It’s not all ideological flag-waving, of course – but a lot of it is. There’s a silly freedom-fries debate over whether to substitute the term “free enterprise system” for “capitalism,” of whether suggested teaching examples should exclude Carl Sagan or Neil Armstrong or the guy who invented canned milk; of whether there are too many women and minorities and not enough founding fathers; of whether religion and the rule of law should be taught with more or less vigor than civil liberties and colonial adventurism.
Best, she notices that there were a couple of real experts on the panel whose reports have gotten short shrift in the news, and whose reports will be give short shrift by the politically-driven education board.
Miraculously – or at least astonishingly – in one of the reports, I found that awareness candidly articulated.
Somehow, Dr. Lybeth Hodges, a Texas Woman’s University history professor and a last-minute panel appointee, did not see a need to draft a political manifesto. She just made (get this!) sensible, useful curriculum recommendations.
She pointed out items that might actually help kids learn more and be better prepared for tests, such as that specific grade-level curriculum doesn’t always match the dreaded TAKS tests.
She noted that there are more than 90 “student expectations” for fifth-graders, an unrealistic pipe dream given that “some sound like test questions I give my college freshmen.”
Hodges, unlike some other appointees, took the blessedly pragmatic view that constantly trying to balance dueling ideologies will only result in a bloated, unmanageable list of standards that few kids will find meaningful and retain.
“It should not be a political exercise,” she said briskly, when we spoke a few days ago.
“I never thought about the political aspect at all,” she said. “I thought we were being asked to do what is reasonable and helpful for teachers. … They have enough red tape as it is.”
As we talked, my head was gradually swaddled in a pleasurable sense of optimism: Here was one person, at least, more interested in getting something useful done than in endlessly re-enacting the same old tired-out culture battle.
Call me a starry-eyed dreamer, but American education isn’t supposed to be a tedious exercise in demagoguery.
“To me, teachers aren’t there to carry out indoctrination in our schools,” Hodges said. “These people are trying to open little minds.”
If we’re going to open them successfully, we need more big minds at the top.
Also, check out the comments on the newspaper’s education blog, on the report of Gail Lowe being appointed chair of the SBOE. It’s instructive.