Usually, people don't attend State Board of Education meetings unless they're paid for it (think lobbyists, bureaucrats, lawyers, journalists like myself) — or when the board cranks up its annual curriculum wars, which some members seem to relish as their only time in the spotlight.
Today, the board holds a public hearing on social studies standards. Expect a torrent of pent-up input from advocacy groups treading the familiar ground of God, race and patriotism, as advocacy groups who have dogged the adoption process for a year get their chance to vent. (As elected boards often do, the board scheduled the contentious hearing last on its agenda, which may push speakers well into the night.) As our in-depth story Tuesday explained, the current standards fight comes on the heels of last year's evolutionary war over science standards, which followed previous dustups in the would-be banal arenas of English and math.
Today, a coalition of conservative organizations led by Americans for Prosperity-Texas will hold a "rally for American exceptionalism" at noon, outside Texas Education Agency headquarters at the William B. Travis Building, 1701 N. Congress Ave. The group promised participation from the Texas Public Policy Foundation; the Austin CEO Foundation; Bill Ames, an SBOE-appointed U.S. history reviewer; and the Free Market Foundation.
The groups hope to shout down "a relatively few extremists (trying) to communicate their negative view of America," a news release quotes Ames saying. (On the U.S. history committee that included Ames, it seems he came off as the lone extremist. The rest of the nine-member panel, all professional social studies educators, repeatedly voted down his proposed amendments.)
Meanwhile, several political organizations are planning to give the board an earful on the paucity of Hispanic heros and events in the standards. The Mexican-American legislative caucus issued a statement this week saying: "Under the new textbook guidelines currently under review by the State Board of Education, a Texas child will not learn about Latinos, in any capacity, until the third grade. The Latino history they do receive is sparse and inconsistent. This isn't an issue of who is right, it is an issue of what is right."
The caucus will be joined by the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), whose national president, Rosa Rosales, plans to address the board, according to a LULAC spokeswoman. Separately, a group of academics and advocates has banded together in a brand-new organization dubbed The Multicultural Alliance for Social Studies Accuracy, or MASSA. One of MASSA's organizers is Julio Noboa, who served with Ames on the curriculum writing committee for U.S. history, the subject area that has ignited the biggest ruckus so far.
The Texas Freedom Network, perhaps the most dogged critic of SBOE conservatives, also has been recruiting speakers to voice opposition to what it calls a fringe religious revision of history. (Whatever your ideological bent, TFN's compilation of SBOE quotes is worth reading.)
Given that the SBOE remains controlled by an eight-member faction dominated by social conservatives, some of whom have scorned "political correctness" and multiculturalism, Noboa isn't getting his hopes up.
"We have no illusions we're going to dominate this process," he said. "Come on: We're going up against conservative organizations that have been at this for decades."
On Thursday, the board is expected to take up proposed amendments, which if approved in committee should go to a vote of the full board on Friday. The final version of the standards won't be approved until March, after yet another period of public input. For anyone who cares about the standards, but doesn't care to savor culture war in person, the SBOE streams its meetings live on the web.