After a marathon week of State Board of Education meetings — in which members derided everything from the revered church-state divide to transvestites — one might have thought their adoption of social studies standards couldn’t get any more bizarre this morning, when only a pro forma approval had been expected.
But then San Antonio Democrat Rick Agosto — who in the past has sometimes been the oddest of bedfellows with the board's socially conservative bloc, but turned on them during the history hearings — proposed deleting “the Beat Generation” from a list of cultural movements over which the board has bickered endlessly.
Agosto was still smarting from a vote last night, in which conservatives removed “Hip-Hop” from the list — after a failed attempt to do so in January — because the genre “denigrates society, and women in particular,” noted Don McLeroy, R-Bryan. Agosto figured, by that logic, the Beat Generation, with its embrace of hard drugs and easy sex, should be off limits, too.
This put social conservatives in an awfully peculiar spot — sticking up for the kind of counter-culture, establishment-hating beatniks one might imagine they would abhor, (and who maybe ridiculed them as teenagers for refusing a joint). And yet they relished the paradox in an ideologically topsy-turvy 8-7 vote, with conservatives championing beatniks, and liberals voting them down. Were they still alive, beat pioneers Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and William S. Burroughs no doubt would have declined the endorsement, if they could even be brought to acknowledge the state board’s rightful dominion over anything, much less education.
Before the vote, Ken Mercer, R-San Antonio, quipped: "I have a question for our legal counsel. Since 13 of our 15 board members grew up during the beat generation would we have to recuse ourselves from any vote?"
This, of course, led to yet another vote on the inclusion of rap, the modern-day genre that embraces hard drugs and easy sex, only now the artists are mostly black. This the conservatives would not abide. Board Member Terri Leo, R-Spring, tried to pass out explicit rap lyrics to the members, but was stopped by board chair Gail Lowe, R-Lampasas. The show-and-tell wasn't needed: Conservatives voted down the measure down, 8-7. Were they still alive, Biggie Smalls, Tupac Shakur, and Easy-E would no doubt smile broadly at their derision.
But not to worry. At some point during a series of votes that confused even board members themselves, the board also inserted instructions to discuss the “positives and negatives” in front of all the cultural movements (which at present include Tin Pan Alley, the Harlem Renaissance, the Beat Generation, rock and roll, the Chicano Mural Movement and country and western music.) “Positives and negatives,” along with “pros and cons” and “strengths and weaknesses” is often SBOE code for “I really hate this and want to take it out, but I either don’t have the votes or can’t stand the public backlash.” Such was the case with the “strengths and weaknesses” of evolution.
At the end of the morning, with much speech-making, alternatively bitter and back-patting, the board voted 10-5 (all Republicans for; all Democrats against) to send the scores of rewrites they’ve made so far to the social studies standards on to the May meeting for a formal vote. Expect more culture wars before that happens. Many observers in the press and advocacy groups are speculating the board’s social conservatives will save proposals dealing with perhaps their most treasured ideological territory — America as a “Christian nation” — for the last minute, to limit the public uproar and the opportunity for losing votes. For two of the board’s most ardent social conservatives — Don McLeroy, R-Bryan, and Cynthia Dunbar, R-Richmond, both lame ducks — it will be their last chance to put their stamp on student textbooks.