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A teacher holds her turf By Hollace Weiner Haltom City The chamber-of-commerce types haven’t managed to fool all the people all the time. They may have noticed a vacuum in the public school curriculum and tried to move right into it, but some teachers, at least, know how to hold onto their turf. One of them teaches the free enterprise course at Haltom High in the Birdville Independent School District northeast of Fort Worth in Tarrant County. The local school board, drawn largely from the ranks of the Haltom-Richland Chamber of Commerce, has been on the free enterprise offensive longer than manyit’s been taking students on tours of local business plants and sponsoring annual free enterprise symposia for years. It even has a free enterprise speakers bureau manned by community businessmen who go into the classroom to tell their Horatio Alger stories. The local chamber was among those lobbying the Legislature to ensure that Texas schoolchildren get formally introduced to the wonders of American capitalismindeed, when the Legislature mandated a high school elective on the subject, Birdville went them one better: the course would be a requirement. To Birdville boosters this seemed a logical way to nip in the bud any adolescent interest in Karl Marx. But the teachers saw it as a chance to slip a basic economics course into the curriculum. Vivian Zeigelmeyer, high school teacher, was among those pushing for the course. She went to textbook hearings in Austin, and she enrolled in one of the many free entreprise institutes sponsored by wealthy foundations. It was obvious that the Establishment expected the new course to create a generation beholden to business. But this didn’t faze Zeigelmeyer, a government teacher who fosters few delusions. “I don’t care why they are pushing this course,” she says. “Anything can turn into a right-wing course. But I trust teachers.” Another high school teacher concurred: “I can’t propagandize for big business. Too much boosterism disillusions the kids.” In this social studies teacher’s view, a lesson in free enterprise should include the role of unions and the reasons for government regulation. Students are curious about corporate luxury, and a close-up look reveals the way capitalism sometimes leads to corporate largesse. Zeigelmeyer explains how free enterprise can go awry with a hypothetical example based on the oil industry. In the beginning, she lectures, let’s assume there are countless small oil producers throughout Texas, each with its own geologists, equipment and expertise. Some of them merge to pool costs, lower prices, and win a larger share of the market. Now they are stronger and can undercut competitors, force independent producers into bankruptcy, and buy them out. The mergers continue and independents can no longer compete. Soon there remain only three big oil companies. Either the three of them make friends or they have a price war. But either way, the fight is over. They are of equal strength They already have their customers. They can inch up prices without regard to the market, because real competition is over. There’s nobody left to challenge them. In this case, “laissez-faire capitalism eventually winds up over here” she says, pointing to her chalk board and the word “monopoly.” Her class learns to question pure competition, monopoly, and their affinities for each otherand the morality of it all. Nothing radical, to be sure. But certainly more penetrating questions than what the chamber of commerce had in mind. Hollace Weiner is a Fort Worth-based freelance writer. Mauzy defends his bill less than wholeheartedly. He calls it a compromise, struck to stave off the proposals introduced by Lombardino “and a bunch of crazies” from San Antonio. He adds: “I don’t approve, as a general principle, of accepting private donations for public education. It sets a dangerous precedent, and it could lead to what might be regarded as undue influence.” The problem is that Mauzy’s bill seems to invite just such undue influence. Yet it even drew supportalbeit as the least offensive alternativefrom the Texas AFL-CIO. Says Ruth Ellinger, chief of the labor organization’s education division: “We were for it. But I’d like to see somebody teaching the realities of the American economy .. . We have our own literature and films, and we ask to go in and present them. But we don’t have that kind of clout.” Austin’s Sen. Lloyd Doggett views the matter somewhat differentlyindeed, his perspective on the Legislature’s economic education mandates made him the only member of the Senate to vote against Mauzy’s bill \(the House vote was to direct schools on curriculum” by mandating the teaching of specialinterest subject matter, he says; he’s “as much against consumer education courses as against free enterprise education.” So, reports the senator from Austin, it didn’t distress him a bit when a call came from San Antonio chamber of commerce folks chiding him for his dissenting vote: “I just told them that if they want to teach free enterprise, they ought to teach it to their own members.” Doggett may be on to something, but the Legislature’s plainly going to need some educating before his view wins many adherents. As things stand now, according to Louis Grigar, program director for social studies at TEA, state financing of teacher training and the development of teaching tools N. nil. Says Grigar: “A lot of the slack has been taken up by the private sector. The majority of the materials now come from them. They’ve found an outlet for having an impact on the educational process.” So they have, in Texas as elgewhere, and their impact seems anything but benign. Their interest in education is a special interest, not in making the young literate in the field of economics, but in making them safe citizens in a businessman’s world. And you don’t have to believe that the country’s schoolchildren are buying the corporate sales pitch to believe that they’re being short-changed. If government policy is abetting the business propaganda effort, then “the people can hold their Legislatureand the officials in the schoolsaccountable for it.” So says Senator Mauzy, and in fact, the people of Texas have been through this once before. In the late 1950s the Observer drew public attention to two business groups \(one was the Texas Bureau for Economic Undercampaign to spread a bigoted brand of “Americanism” in Texas public schools. They were aided by the acquiescence of state officials. When exposure and ensuing public protest made continued official acquiescence impossible, the business campaign was thwarted. The time has come to do the job again. Matthew Lyon is a student from Amherst, Massachusetts, who spent the, summer in Texas as an Observer staff assistant. THE TEXAS OBSERVER 9