After they finish revising the state social studies standards, a heretofore hotblooded process, the State Board of Education might well have to be rechristened the State Board of Editors.
When they finally got to the amendment-making, today at about 4 p.m., members burrowed deeply into the weeds, holding extended debates over the parsing of seemingly innocuous phrases. (As if they could exert such precise control over what a teacher in, say, Paducah — who might not even know their names or vote in their races — tells a kindergarten class five years from now.)
Board member Barbara Cargill got the ball not-exactly rolling with a proposal to add a line about "patriots and good citizens" to a kindergarten standard. The board then spent several minutes debating whether kindergartners should be taught about “good citizens” or merely “citizens” and their purported role in society.
“Why do we have to have the word 'good' in there? it’s a value judgment,” posited board member Mavis Knight.
At this point, board member David Bradley turned to the press table and groaned: “We’re against 'good'? It’s going to be a long day.”
Another set-to pitted “individuals” versus “historical figures,” which ended in the wordy compromise “historical figures and other individuals.”
The board members were not without humor in the process, however.
After Cargill offered another amendment seeking to teach first-graders about holding "public officials to their word," member Pat Hardy noted that such a task is a "pipe dream" and not exactly appropriate for first graders. "Though I'm sure all of your children were very bright and had no trouble at all with these concepts," she quipped.
Board member Ken Mercer had another concern, more related to self-preservation: "I understand the grade-level argument, but do we really want to go on record voting against holding ourselves to our word?"
At this point Knight jumped in: "Are the first graders going to be meeting with public officials, checking the voting records of public officials?" she joked, prompting laughter around the table. "Adults don’t even hold public officials accountable."
Moving on (after the passage of ample time) to second grade, member Terry Leo wanted to delete a second-grade standard that sought to teach "selected stories, poems, statues, paintings...," saying students at that age have trouble differentiating between fictional and factual stories. This led the board into an extended discussion about the relative merits of Aesop's Fables.
At that point, Dan Quinn, of the Texas Freedom Network, approached reporters from the Dallas Morning News and San Antonio Express-News in a serious tone: "We're preparing a press release," he said, leaning over, "on why they've declared war on Aesop's Fables."
Knight finished the debate with this insight: "I'm a little shocked to hear we think children at this age can't handle stories and fables, yet we think they should understand the concept of holding public officials accountable."
In the end, Aesop survived. As did the standard teaching first graders to hold public officials to their word — or their many, many words, as it turns out.