It’s a Texas Thing

A few weeks ago, our superintendent offered some remarks at the opening of a local conference, including a story about her conversation with some 6th graders. She asked about their favorite parts of school, expecting to hear things like lunch, recess or football.1

Football? 6th grade? Really?

It struck me as a very Texas thing to say.

Not surprising, I suppose, since she came to us a little over a year ago after spending her entire educational career in that state. And, between friends who teach in Texas and the memorable book Friday Night Lights,2 I know they start organized sports very early in their schools, evidentially including 6th grade.

However, around here resource wastes like large football programs are still limited to high schools. I hope changing that is not on her long, still largely private, list of revisions she wants to bring to our overly-large school district.

The Revisionaries

If you haven’t seen The Revisionaries from the PBS series Independent Lens, find an hour soon to watch it.* The one-hour program documents the 2010 proceedings of the Texas School Board where a small group of conservatives inserted requirements into the state science and social studies curriculums that fit their religious and political beliefs.

A professor lobbying against the changes in science describes the problem.

There are not many board members who say ‘I am an expert in string theory’ or ‘I am an expert in gravitational theory and I will talk to you about that’. But they’ll sure talk to you about evolution. And that is a mixture of ignorance and arrogance that’s a flammable mixture.

Adding even more to the atmosphere of anti-intellectualism surrounding this process, the former chair of the board and a centerpiece of this film, declared that “someone has to stand up to experts”, like scientists, and he was leading the charge against facts he disagrees with. I don’t envy the people in Texas who have chosen to battle back against that kind of thinking (if you can apply that term here).

To say that “the schoolboard in Texas has been a mess” is an understatement. Unfortunately, that mess slops over into other parts of the country since textbook publishers write to satisfy the largest customers, and in the process they dumb down the materials used by tens of thousands of students. One more reason to support the open textbook movement.

* It’s only free online until February 27th. After that it will probably be available for purchase from iTunes and other outlets.