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Talking the Plane Down March 16, 2010

Posted by Dindy in Current Events, Schools, Uncategorized.
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You all have seen the movies. The jet airliner full of passengers and the pilot and co-pilot suddenly stricken with food poisoning and unable to fly the plane. The hapless passenger who gets plucked from his seat and handed the controls of the airplane while on the ground a grizzled old war pilot with a hundred years of experience– usually one who is undergoing a “what use am I to anybody now that I am 150 years old and no longer able to fly?” type of crisis– talks reassuringly to the erstwhile pilot and guides him step by step through landing the plane.  As the relieved passengers leave the plane, the beautiful flight attendant kisses the hero and tells him that he saved everybody’s lives and he replies, “No, I couldn’t have done it without the help of Old Jake,” while the grizzled old veteran blinks a tear out of his eye and rides off into the sunset.

The passengers of that plane were lucky that they don’t live in Texas because if the Texas State Board of Education had been in charge, instead of getting Old Jake to talk the plane down, they would have pulled a minister in to pray with the passengers of the plane after a banker made sure they understood the benefits of the free enterprise system.

Far fetched? Not to anyone who has been following the escapades of the Texas State Board of Education in adopting the standards for Social Studies textbooks in the State of Texas, a process that will have ripple effects throughout the rest of the United States because of the clout Texas wields over all the textbook publishers because of its size.

In a process that was so acrimonious that one member walked out of the meeting in protest, the right wing faction of the BOE succeeded in passing such measures as requiring students to describe how “describe how McCarthyism, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), the arms race and the space race increased Cold War tensions and how the later release of the Venona Papers confirmed suspicions of communist infiltration in U.S. government.” (I suppose twenty years from now a similarly situated panel will be directing students to learn how the search for WMD in Iraq provided justification for the Iraq War.)

Plenty of other columnists have lambasted the individual measures of the proposals– and there is plenty of fodder to lambast– but I have to ask, why are we letting a group of politicians make decisions concerning what will be taught in public schools to begin with? If your car is broken down are you going to call up your local school board member and ask him how to fix it or are you going to take it to a mechanic? If you need to have a tooth pulled are you going to go wait for a member of the Board of Education to have a chance to yank it for you or are you going to go to a dentist? Oh- wait a minute! One of the members of the Texas  BOE IS a dentist, so lucky you can actually get someone there who is qualified to pull your tooth!

But my point is, why aren’t experts in the subject area making determinations about what should be taught? Among the members of the Texas State BOE we have 4 teachers, 1 school administrator, 1 substitute teacher/instructor/test monitor, 2 attorneys, 2 realtors, 1 investment banker, 1 businessman, 1 dentist and a couple of professional volunteers. Very few of these members would be qualified to be hired as a teacher in a Social Studies classroom, yet they are making decisions about what will be taught in those classrooms?

We cannot hold teachers accountable for poor outcomes if the standards are stupid to begin with. If we want to improve education in the United States, we need to look at the top and evaluate the processes whereby curriculum decisions are made– and I do not believe that allowing a group of people who have little to no specialized education or expertise in the field of
Social Studies is the best way to determine what should be taught in such classes.

What Are We Teaching Kids Anyway? September 13, 2009

Posted by Dindy in Church and State, Religion, Schools.
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In Texas, a proposal being reviewed by the State Board of Education would drop the mention of Christmas from the 6th Grade Social Studies curriculum, replacing it with information about Diwali, a Hindu religious festival. Not surprisingly, conservative Christians are up in arms and revisiting their Continuous “War on Christmas” battle cry.

Actually, to be precise, the standards being considered are a requirement that sixth graders be able to explain the significance of religious holidays such as Yom Kippur, Diwali, Ramadan and Easter. Christmas is not included in that list although it is included in the CURRENT standards and Diwali is not.

Personally, I’d include them both, however, it’s possible that the committee recommending the changes thinks that sixth graders are probably already very familiar with the significance of Christmas and don’t need the school to spell it out for them. Let’s face it, it is not possible to live in the United States and NOT be aware of the religious significance of Christmas. It’s kind of like expecting the schools to teach kids in Texas about the importance of football– oh, wait a minute, schools in Texas– Arlington, Texas– are already expected to teach students about the importance of football. That’s why the district is busing 500 fifth graders to the new Cowboys Stadium in September.

No! No! No! It’s not to teach them the importance of football! It’s so they can hear the former president, George Dubya Bush, explain the importance of a volunteer initiative that will happen during the 2011 SuperBowl.

Volunteering is important, and no one should have a problem with their kids hearing about it. After all, it’s an important value, kind of like staying in school and studying hard- but wait! This is the same school district that completely boycotted Obama’s speech to school children about staying in school and studying hard because it took 18 minutes of class time away from IMPORTANT things, presumably like teaching the significance of Christmas!