Fun with Curricula: SBOE, Round One

State Board of Education begins public testimony, Agosto advocates for postponement
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If you’re just joining us at the State Board of Education’s day of public testimony on its new proposed curriculum standards, please don’t worry. The pace is glacial. In three house of testimony Wednesday morning, the board only heard 10 speakers—out of well over 200 scheduled. It may be a long day, and even then, it’s pretty unlikely that even half the witnesses will come up. And we thought the emotional tone was already high.

Since some of the heaviest hitters came first (whether by design or fortune is unclear), board members seized every opportunity to make a point, generally through intense questioning of each witness. Rod Paige, former US Secretary of Education, came to lobby against the current curriculum standards. “What our students are taught in history should not be the hand maiden of our personal … or political ideologies,” he said. “History is what it is whether it’s fair or unfair.” Ultimately, he asked for the board to postpone the standards vote for more testimony. Fun.

Christian conservative state House members Dan Flynn and Wayne Christian came next, out of order thanks to “professional courtesy.” They, like Paige, proclaim themselves “pro-fairness,” but not so shockingly, that didn’t equate in their minds with being pro-postponement. “At some point you have to make a decision and it’s time to move the process forward,” Flynn told the board. The board’s Democrats questioned whether the minority representation in the standards effectively highlighted issues of discrimination. That led Flynn to a rather surprising identification with the oppressed. As someone of Irish descent, he said, “I listen to all the discrimination that was put upon the Irish people.”

Then came the national president of the NAACP, Ben Jealous. He may not have had much familiarity with the Texas curriculum, but then again, his presence seemed to be the big thing (at least from his perspective). Jealous said that “no one could recall” the last time a national president came to such a meeting. You can imagine just how excited the board was to have him there. The social conservative members drilled Jealous on his knowledge of Texas’ standards, prompting board member Rick Agosto to defend the witness.

And that, my friends, was the only surprising part of this whole thing so far.

Agosto, a Democrat who sometimes votes with the social conservatives, seems to have found a more liberal voice. During his tenure, Agosto’s been plagued with ethical questions and he’s often given the seven social conservatives their eighth (and majority) vote. But he’s stepping down now, and low and behold, he’s speaking openly about what he calls the “unacceptable” nature of the standards. “We’re fighting every single bit to have accurate history,” he told Rep. Christian.

All the discussion has kept the board to a plodding pace. Don McLeroy, the controversial (and outgoing) social conservative board member, finds himself the voice of the room’s masses. Every so often, he’ll interrupt the questioning to note the time. “These other people deserve to be heard,” he said this morning to applause. Thanks Dr. McLeroy. Revved up for Round 2?