History Takes a While: SBOE Round 3

State Board of Education goes late into the night discussing social studies


I once attended a Cubs-Padres game that went 14 innings. While it was long, it wasn’t particularly exciting—every time it looked like someone might score, an easy out would end the inning. In the middle of our second seventh-inning stretch, I remember thinking, Please, please, somebody do something. (In the end, a Padre did and the Cubs went down 4-3.)

If you have to ask what my little tale has to do with the State Board of Education, then clearly you were not watching when, at 12:10 am this morning, they finally decided to adjourn after a scoreless day.

Thursday was supposed to be the board’s chance to debate the social studies standards before it votes on the final product today and the squabbling was mind-numbing. It was clear things weren’t going to go smoothly when the board members began to debate whether slavery was the primary cause of the Civil War. Patricia Hardy, a Republican who’s not part of the board’s controversial bloc of social conservatives, has apparently become the board’s resident expert on the standards since she previously taught high school social studies. Hardy insisted that “sectionalism and states rights” were the central causes of—what to call it? The War Between the States?

In the end, the board compromised by including all three proposed reasons in the standards—sectionalism, states’ rights and slavery—with slavery as the last and least important.

Time marched on. Members got testy (or “toasty” as Democrat Rick Agosto called himself.) There were fights over whether to include historical figures this college history major had never heard of. And when Democrat Lawrence Allen made a motion to include President Obama in the standards. (Allen’s mother, former board member and current state Rep. Alma Allen, had threatened to take away his Sunday dinner privileges if he didn’t.)

Without missing a beat, Republican David Bradley moved to include the president’s middle name, Hussein. “Let’s give him the honor of his full name,” he said, grinning.

Bob Craig, a Republican who often votes with the Democrats on these kinds of issues, called him out: “The intent behind what you’re doing is pretty obvious.” Democrat Rene Nunez out and out pleaded. “Please don’t do this,” he said.

Bradley shrugged and withdrew his motion in order to “put an end to the whining.”

Don McLeroy, the most outspoken of the board’s Christian Right bloc, did push to include some specific standards around McCarthyism, saying it had nothing to do with “vindicating Sen. McCarthy.” (Earlier in the year, he’d made a note to colleagues that the legislator responsible for the 1950s Communist witchhunts had been “basically vindicated.”) He allowed the Dems to soften his language on some other amendments. Nothing of note on church-and-state walls, fences or shrubbery.

But hey, there’s still time for McLeroy to have his moment. Today, they must finish the standards’ second reading and then vote one last time to adopt them. At this point, these standards seem very likely to pass.

The most random moment on Thursday came when Republican Barbara Cargill, who spent the meeting sifting through every textbook seemingly known to man, introduced an amendment that the standards include Jules Lorenzo Cobb Bledsoe. Who’s that? you ask. She answers: “How could any of us forget his rendition of Ol ‘Man River in Showboat?” How indeed? “It’s for the kids,” she said.

Which is fitting, since those kids may well be old men before they finish today.