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The SBOE Gets Medieval

When State Board of Education members ventured into world history curriculum at Wednesday's meeting, they carried their modern-day political agendas with them.

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Though American history has been the prime battleground for ideologues on the State Board of Education, members from both sides of the aisle showed Wednesday that modern-day American political agendas can be transported across the continent and through time with relative ease.

As the board took up the world history standards, well into the evening, conservative member Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, sought to inject modern free-market dogma into medieval Europe. Then, in turn, liberal member Mary Helen Berlanga, D-Corpus Christi, sought to inject tales of Texas Rangers hanging Mexicans — along with other examples of “American terrorism” — into a section on Middle Eastern wars and terrorism.

Both moves seemed a stretch, at best, and other members said as much. When Cargill offered an amendment on “free-market factors contributing to European technological progress during … the medieval system,” board member Pat Hardy, R-Weatherford, called her on it. Free-market dynamics, in any modern political sense, “didn’t even exist in the medieval system,” Hardy said. “I can’t support that.” The amendment went down 7-6.

Also defeated was Berlanga's amendment to require study, in a section on Arab terrorism, of “other acts of terrorism … not related to Islam including the U.S. Calvary against the American Indians, the Texas Rangers against the Mexican-Americans and for decades by the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacist ‘Christian’ groups right here in our own country.” She offered to take out ‘Christian’ when conservatives balked but still lost the amendment in a split vote. “It’s inappropriate in world history. It’s a U.S. history issue,” said David Bradley, R-Beaumont, voting against the bill.

Earlier in the day, almost every speaker wanted to address to the board about American history as well. But the board itself never got around to the topic, choosing instead to use the evening to run through comparatively routine changes to subjects including world history and geography, U.S. government, psychology, sociology, and economics. The board resolved to return today to U.S. history, when it runs back through the entire curriculum to give members one more chance to put their stamp on the document.

Through Wednesday morning and afternoon, the SBOE meeting overflowed with the expected sound and fury: student protesters in school-bus-yellow shirts demanding a depoliticized and “smarter” board; civil rights groups demanding minority representation; a parade of patriots demanding a pro-God-and-country bent, and even a spat between state officials and Fox News, which sent a crew to cover the proceedings.

“Obviously, this has drawn a lot of attention, both locally and nationally. And it’s important that we remember how important this is. Texas is one of the few states that still controls its own curriculum,” said SBOE chair Gail Lowe, R-Lampasas, in an apparent reference to a burgeoning move toward national standards, one fiercely resisted by many state education officials.

When public testimony ended and the board finally got down to work, many amendments sailed through with little opposition, but some sparked debate. One figure removed from the curriculum: Oscar Romero, the Archbishop of San Salvador, who spoke out on behalf of the poor and victims of San Salvador's civil war and opposed both Marxism and capitalism. Romero was nixed in an amendment from Hardy that passed with eight votes on the 15-member panel. Members judged him less significant than others in the same standard, including Nelson Mandela and Ghandi.

The board then voted in Golda Meir, the former prime minister of Israel and among the first women to serve as a national chief executive, by a vote of 10 to 3. Board member Rick Agosto, D-San Antonio, voted against both changes, saying he couldn’t see the argument for Meir if Romero would be cut. “As far as I’m concerned, we just took out another Hispanic, and it doesn’t smell right,” Agosto said.

Much of the speculation leading up to the meeting had focused whether board member Don McLeroy, R-Bryan, will change his habit of aggressive and conservative-leaning amendments in light of his recent election defeat. McLeroy insists he won’t and plans many amendments.

In two amendments late Wednesday, McLeroy cut a reference to “the ongoing conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis” and added a seemingly less neutral one on “how Arab rejection of the State of Israel has led to the ongoing conflict.” Neither amendment caused controversy. In a third amendment, which also passed, McLeroy added the words “monotheism” and “Judaism” to a standard in world history, which already called for the study of Christianity. “I’ve read that the Jewish development of monotheism is one of the most important events in world history.”

That last one passed on a party-line vote, with nine Republicans supporting and four Democrats objecting. Bradley, a Republican, spun around in his chair and rolled back toward the press table after the vote — he wanted to make sure the board’s guests from Fox News caught the moment of division.

“That was a partisan vote,” he told a Fox producer, smiling. “All Rs and no Ds.”  

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