The news out of Texas is depressingly familiar.
The Lone Star State is in the process of reviewing public school social studies textbooks. Texas, as you might have noticed, is a large state. It has no shortage of first-class public and private universities. These institutions are full of scholars who have expertise in areas like history, civics, economics and so on.
Thus, it would seem that there would be absolutely no difficulty in finding qualified individuals in Texas to review these books. And there’s not. Many of these professors are eager to help and have volunteered their time.
Yet, a recent analysis by the Texas Freedom Network (TFN) shows that out of more than 140 individuals appointed to the review panels, just three are current faculty members at Texas institutions of higher education.
Worse yet, TFN learned that more than a dozen academics at Texas universities applied to be on the panels but were rejected. Among them are the chair of the History Department at Southern Methodist University and several faculty members at the University of Texas.
So if these men and women aren’t getting slots on the panels, who is? TFN points out that “political activists and individuals without social studies degrees or teaching experience got places on the panels.”
One man who won a coveted slot is Mark Keough. Keough is not a professor. He’s currently seeking a seat in the Texas House of Representatives as a Republican. Keough, TFN notes, is a pastor who has degrees in theology – but he’s not a teacher and has no experience in social studies.
In fact, he seems woefully uniformed about some aspects of American history. TFN reports that Keough told the Montgomery County Tea Party that he does not “believe that there is a separation of church and state in the Constitution.”
“It is amazing that missing from these panels are many faculty members from our best universities who were willing to serve,” TFN President Kathy Miller said in a press statement. “Yet someone like Mr. Keough, who denies the existence of one of our country’s most important principles, is granted a platform he could use to play politics with the education of millions of Texas schoolchildren.”
Texas’ State Board of Education will vote on adopting the new books in November. For years, the Board has been caught up in “culture war” battles. Last year, creationists on the Board pushed for books “to strike the final blow to the teaching of evolution.”
The attempt to undermine the teaching of evolution in Texas public schools was aided and abetted by textbook reviewers who simply weren’t qualified to weigh in on real science.
After that embarrassing debacle, Board members approved a procedural change designed to get more actual public school teachers front and center on the review panels. That was an important alteration, but it may not have gone far enough. There are more teachers on the panels this year, but these bodies continued to be littered with partisan activists whose top priority is sectarian indoctrination, not sound education.
Getting these people off the panels is the change Texas truly needs.