I Will Avoid Putting a Silly Headline Here About Messing with Texas

Lots of folks commenting on this weekend’s NYT Magazine story on the efforts of a conservative faction of the Texas State Board of Education to insert conservative religious perspectives into Texas’ (and, by extension, the nation’s) school books.

My initial thought on seeing this piece was that the Washington Monthly‘s Mariah Blake got there first, but in fact Blake’s article and Russle Shorto’s NYT piece are nice complements and both worth reading. Blake offers a vivid view of the state of play in Texas, and Shorto’s piece nests that story in the national and historical context of the efforts of Christian conservatives to insert in school curricula and academic standards the idea that the U.S. was founded as “a Christian nation.”

I tend to agree with Tom Vander Ark that some of the issues specific to the Texas Board of Ed’s ability to dictate the content of the nation’s textbooks through its textbook adoption process will eventually be rendered obsolete by evolutions in digital learning and print-on-demand–which will also be good things more generally for the quality of instructional materials in schools, not to mention children’s backs as they’ll have fewer ginormous textbooks to lug around.

One thing this article got me wondering about, though, was whether it really makes sense to elect State Boards of Education, as Texas, 10 other states, and D.C. do (the rest have appointed boards, except for Wisconsin and Minnesota, which have none at all). There’s an argument that electing boards of education–whether at the local or state level–increases democratic control over the schools and public accountability. I’m not so sure.

Although it varies by state, Americans tend to elect a whole bunch of public officials, including a lot of officials in relatively obscure roles (ANC Commissioners in D.C.? Township Clerks in Michigan, where I grew up?) that aren’t well understood by the public. Most voters, who have limited time and energy to devote to these issues, can’t possibly follow the performance and positions of all these officials. Having more of them be appointed by mayors, governors, and other public officials who are better known to voters may actually increase accountability. Not that it would necessarily make any difference in Texas, but these kinds of institutional arrangements do matter and deserve to be questioned from time to time.

Sara Mead

2 Replies to “I Will Avoid Putting a Silly Headline Here About Messing with Texas”

  1. In the 1980s, the State Board was appointed for a brief period of time. People in Austin quickly discovered that Texans are pretty jealous of their right to vote, regardless of the office. (Texans also elect judges, BTW.)

    The State Board of Education was the unwritten story from the Texas redistricting battles of the last decade. Major population centers were split and gerrymandered to prevent places like Austin from electing moderate or progressive candidates. Given the bad publicity Texas has received, I doubt the moderate Republicans will allow that to happen again in 2012.

  2. Shorto did a far better job than Blake, and he didn’t have to mock or condescend to the conservatives on the board to do it.

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