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David Barton

Our stupid social studies

Unbelievable, except that it totally is believable.

The publisher of one of Texas’ controversial social studies textbooks has agreed to change a caption that describes African slaves as immigrant “workers” after a Houston-area mom’s social media complaints went viral over the weekend.

On Wednesday, Roni Dean-Burren of Pearland posted a screen shot on Facebook of a text message exchange with her son who sent her a photo of an infographic in his McGraw-Hill Word Geography textbook.

“The Atlantic Slave Trade between the 1500s and 1800s brought millions of workers from Africa to the southern United States to work on agricultural plantations,” a caption on the infographic read.

“We was real hard workers wasn’t we,” Dean-Burren replied, including an irked emoji. The next day, she posted a video showing more of the textbook. It has since garnered more than 1.7 million views.

“It is now considered immigration,” the mother says of slavery in the video, noting that the section in her son’s textbook titled “Patterns of Immigration” describes “indentured servants who worked for little or no pay” but fails to describe the similar, if far worse, circumstances for slaves.

The next day, publishing giant McGraw-Hill said in a Facebook post it had “conducted a close review of the content and agree that our language in that caption did not adequately convey that Africans were both forced into migration and to labor against their will as slaves.”

“We believe we can do better,” the publisher continued. “To communicate these facts more clearly, we will update this caption to describe the arrival of African slaves in the U.S. as a forced migration and emphasize that their work was done as slave labor.”

The changes will be made to the digital version of the textbook immediately, the publisher said, and in the print version during its next run.

[…]

“We are encouraged that the publisher is correcting this passage downplaying the history of slavery in the United States. But it’s no accident that this happened in Texas,” said Kathy Miller, the president of one of those groups, the Texas Freedom Network. “We have a textbook adoption process that’s so politicized and so flawed that it’s become almost a punch line for comedians. The truth is that too many elected officials who oversee that process are less interested in accurate, fact-based textbooks than they are in promoting their own political views in our kids’ classrooms.”

Thomas Ratliff, a Republican board member from Mount Pleasant who has defended the textbooks, described the caption as “an isolated incident” while noting that the 2010 curriculum standards known as the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, or TEKS, inspired him to run for the board because “they did go too far on some political issues.”

“But I don’t think that’s what caused this specific poor word choice,” he said, praising Dean-Burren for being proactive. “One of the biggest challenges we face in public education is parents who don’t care.”

With all due respect to Thomas Ratliff, the proximate cause is a State Board of Ed and a Legislature that seeks advice from professional liars like David Barton. People with an ideological ax to grind have long meddled in the affairs of school boards and textbook publishers, and craziness like this is the natural result. I absolutely agree that more involvement from people who would like to see more objectivity and accuracy in school curricula and textbooks is vital, though as recent polling has shown there’s a disconnect between what the people will say and what the Legislature will do. It’s still necessary. Daily Kos, Think Progress, the Chron, the Press, BOR, the Observer, and TFN Insider have more.

Steve Brown confirms he’s in for RRC

It’s official.

Steve Brown

Late Thursday, Steve Brown, the former chairman of the Fort Bend County Democrats, announced his candidacy to join the three-member Railroad Commission, the powerful agency that regulates the oil and gas industry, pipelines and natural gas utilities. He is vying for the seat now held by Barry Smitherman, who is running for Texas attorney general.

Brown said that, if elected, he would look for ways to keep Texas’ oil and gas sector growing while managing its less desirable impacts. “It’s important that we do all that we can to continue the abundant growth of our energy industry, as it is the engine of our state’s economy,” he said in a statement. “It’s equally important that this agency has the resources to quickly respond to everyday Texans’ concerns about safety, private property rights, and the environment.”

According to his Facebook page, Brown has worked on campaigns and in legislative offices of several public officials, including U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee, D-Houston; state Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston; and former U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk.

Brown said he wants to transform the commission into a “functional, twenty-first century state agency,” likely alluding to the agency’s decades-old computer and software systems that have strained its capabilities. The Legislature recently gave the agency permission to use millions of dollars in fees to begin an upgrade.

His website is here. Stace was first with the news, though we had a preview two weeks ago, and a hint before that. The filing period officially opens today, so expect to hear a bunch of candidate announcements over the next 30 days. Texas on the Potomac lists a few Democratic challengers to Republican members of Congress; note that Smokey Joe Barton is in CD06, so either they got the district wrong or the Dem in question is running against Kay Granger. I’ll be keeping an eye on all the filings going forward. One person who apparently will not be running, much to the disappointment of some observers, is wingnut “historian” David Barton. I’m sure there will be plenty of crazy to go around in other races. Please leave any reports or rumors of interesting candidacies that you know of in the comments.

UT/TT poll has Davis trailing Abbott by five

I know today is Election Day 2013, but for better or worse much of the attention lately has been about the 2014 elections. Filing season begins later this week, and we now have a new poll result suggesting that the Governor’s race starts out as a close one.

Attorney General Greg Abbott, the leading candidate for the Republican nomination for Texas governor, holds a single-digit lead over the likely Democratic nominee, state Sen. Wendy Davis of Fort Worth, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

In a head-to-head race, Abbott got 40 percent of registered voters to Davis’ 34 percent, with 25 percent of the voters undecided. In a three-way general election, he would get 40 percent, Davis would get 35 percent and Libertarian Kathie Glass would get 5 percent.

“What you’ve got is a race in which, for the first time in a long time, the Democrat is as well-known as the Republican at the outset of the race,” said poll co-director Daron Shaw, a professor of government at the University of Texas at Austin.

“These numbers are not evidence that the underlying fundamentals are changing in Texas,” said Jim Henson, who co-directs the poll and heads the Texas Politics Project at UT-Austin. “We have not seen a big change in party identification, and we don’t see any large-scale shifts in the underlying attitudes that are forming.”

[…]

Davis holds a lead over [Tom] Pauken in a potential head-to-head race, according to the survey, getting 38 percent to his 34 percent, with 28 percent undecided. When Glass was added to that mix, Davis got 36 percent, Pauken 33 percent and Glass 6 percent, with 25 percent undecided.

The poll methodology is here and the summary is here. I believe this is the first venture by UT and the Trib into the Governor’s race. Public Policy Polling will be doing Texas this week, so we’ll have another result to compare this to. PPP had done earlier polls involving both Abbott and Rick Perry against a variety of potential candidates; PPP had Abbott over Davis 48-40 in July, shortly after the famous filibuster, and Abbott over Davis 46-34 in January. We’ll see what they have this time.

A couple of things are clear. One is that unlike previous elections, this one starts out with two candidates that are about as well known as the other. One wonders when Abbott will start dipping into his gazillions of dollars to start blanketing the airwaves with positive messages about himself and negative ones about Davis. For her part, Davis can jump in anytime and start running issue ads herself. She probably doesn’t need as much of an introduction as Abbott does, which is more than a little weird when you think about it. The situation overall is pretty fluid, with Abbott having a few points’ partisan advantage, but not enough of one to feel comfortable.

Obviously, this is a decent result for a lot of reasons, but let me play the wet blanket here for a minute and stomp down on some excessive exuberance.

Do you wanna know when was the last time a Democrat in Texas started within single digits? I don’t know either so it had to be while the earth was cooling.

Actually, the last time a Democrat in Texas was within single digits in the Governor’s race was 2010. PPP had Bill White tied with Rick Perry in June 2010, and trailing 48-42 in February. Rasmussen had Perry over White 49-43 in March, right after the primary, and up 50-40 in January, which was the first poll for that race. Yes, that was a two-digit lead, but still. For many reasons, I don’t believe 2014 will be like 2010, I just want to point out that we have seen encouraging poll results before. Let’s not believe we’ve won anything just yet.

Again, this is a decent result, but it’s just one result and it’s early. We’ll need to keep an eye on the trend, and see if Davis can make gains. In particular, we need to see if she can get past 42 or 43 percent, regardless of what that makes the difference between her and Abbott. I don’t think I’ve seen any Dem top 44% in a poll in the last decade. That will be the test.

There were other races polled as well, mostly Republican primary races.

Davis is the only Democrat in the race right now, but Abbott faces a five-candidate Republican primary. According to the poll, he would win that primary race handily: Half of the Republicans polled said they would vote for Abbott. His opponents — Lisa Fritsch, Tom Pauken, Miriam Martinez and Larry Kilgore — combined for only 8 percent, while 42 percent said they haven’t decided how they would vote in the GOP primary.

[…]

“I’m a little surprised that Pauken is so nowhere,” Shaw said. “I thought he would be the main challenger, and he may well be, but there’s nothing in the data to suggest that.”

I didn’t think much of this, but via PDiddie, I see that Harvey Kronberg did think it was.

The stunner in today’s Texas Tribune poll was not that Wendy Davis is within shouting distance of Greg Abbott in a general election, but that with all his money and name ID among Republican primary voters, he just hits 50%. One wobble and he could be in an unpredictable and volatile runoff where anything could happen.

Honestly, I wouldn’t read that much into it. It’s known Abbott isn’t universally known even among Republicans. But look, he’s at 50%, and his opponents don’t even add up to five. I don’t see him as being in any danger of a runoff, unlike David Dewhurst or Big John Cornyn, who couldn’t crack 40% even without the wingnut David Barton in the race. Cornyn’s been busy campaigning already; I wouldn’t let up if I were him. BOR, Texpatriate, Texas Leftist, and Burka have more.

Barton versus Cornyn?

From Warren Throckmorton:

Big John Cornyn

Big John Cornyn

There is a lot of chatter these days among tea partiers in Texas about who should run against John Cornyn in the 2014 Senate primary. Despite a conservative voting record, Cornyn is being targeted by the tea party set because he is perceived to be soft on Obamacare, immigration, taxes and the national debt. As I reported on Monday, David Barton has been asked by some tea party folks to consider a challenge to Cornyn. The spin is that Barton has party experience, broad name recognition, and, probably with Glenn Beck’s help, could access adequate funds for a Senate campaign.

Without Barton in the mix, Cornyn seems safe. Cornyn’s current challengers probably could not mount a significant campaign to unseat Cornyn. Thus far, those challengers include attorney Linda VegaErick Wyatt and Dwayne Stovall.

[…]

If these three are the only challengers, the Senate seat seems safe for Cornyn. However, I suspect the situation would change if Barton gets into the race.

Barton’s name recognition would swamp the other three challengers and soon involve the national media. A Barton v. Cornyn confrontation would place additional focus on the current GOP Civil War. Barton’s supporters would invoke memories of Ted Cruz’s improbable victory over an establishment candidate in Texas with Barton cast as Cruz’s ally. Given Barton’s early support for Cruz, I suspect Cruz would endorse Barton. Cornyn would have a boatload of opposition research to use but Barton’s followers seem immune to such things. All of this is probably enough to cause major heartburn among the GOP establishment in Texas.

Ed Kilgore fills in a few details.

This possibility dwarfs even Craig James’ disastrous 2012 Senate campaign in Texas as a possible source of schadenfreude.

In case you’re not familiar with David Barton, he’s the “historian” who is heavily responsible for the “Christian Nation” meme beloved of conservative pols, and for the inversion by conservative evangelicals of their historic support for separation of church and state (the above-mentioned Warren Throckmorton, an evangelical Christian scholar himself, co-authored a recent book debunking Barton’s especially twisted take on Thomas Jefferson).

The Texas Freedom Network has a good primer on Barton, whom they’ve been keeping an eye on for awhile since he’s been heavily involved in the textbook wars around here. I have no idea if this really is a thing or not, but if Barton were to get elected, hard as this may be to believe, he could displace Ted Cruz as the craziest Senator from Texas. Thankfully, we Dems will have a candidate in the race, so get to know Maxey Scherr, you’ll need to know that name later. Burka, Unfair Park, and The Slacktivist have more.

The best way to fix a mistake is to avoid making it in the first place

In re: the fight over social studies now brewing in the State Board of Education, the problem is described as follows.

About 75 teachers, principals, social studies coordinators, college professors, retired teachers and ordinary citizens are developing the new curriculum standards. The so-called “writing teams” are taking guidance from six expert reviewers appointed by the board. The group’s first draft is expected to be finished before the board’s September meeting. Public hearings will follow before the board acts next spring.

But some of the expert recommendations are already stirring controversy, suggesting for example that biographies of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Stephen F. Austin should not be included in books for early grade-school children. And some of the experts want to emphasize the role of the Bible and the Christian faith in the settling of the original colonies.

The suggestions also are attracting the attention of the national media, which lampooned Texas earlier this year when the board struggled with the teaching of evolution in public schools.

In an article earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal noted that two of the expert reviewers appointed by the socially conservative state board members have strong Christian perspectives.

David Barton is founder of WallBuilders, which pushes America’s Christian heritage. Another expert reviewer is the Rev. Peter Marshall, a Christian minister who preaches that Watergate, the Vietnam War and Hurricane Katrina were God’s judgments on the nation’s sexual immorality.

Board members said Thurs day they are optimistic they will avoid repeating the rankling that brought attention to the debate over new science curriculum standards. The TFN has more.

“I don’t see at all that we will divide into factions,” said new board Chairwoman Gail Lowe, R-Lampasas.

Bob Craig, R-Lubbock, said of the task: “It’s very difficult. It’s very emotional. I hope we would keep it factual.”

It would have helped if the “experts” hired to do the initial review had all been, you know, actual experts on the subject matter and had not included a couple of fringe wingnuts who want to push their bizarre worldview at the expense of genuine scholarship. Given that that ship has sailed, the only sensible thing to do now is to admit the mistake, throw out everything the current review panel has done, find a group of honest academicians to do a serious job of it, and apologize profusely to the people and especially the students of Texas for having wasted their time and insulted their intelligence. Needless to say, I do not expect this to happen. Good luck making something productive happen now.

The fight over social studies

We’ve talked before about how the State Board of Education wants to do to history what it’s been doing to science. The Chron adds some details to the discussion.

Biographies of Washington, Lincoln, Stephen F. Austin? Not fit reading material for children in the early grades.

Cesar Chavez? Not worthy of his role-model status.

Christianity? Emphasize its importance.

Such suggestions are part of efforts to rewrite history books for the state’s schoolchildren, producing some expert recommendations that are sure to inflame Texans, no matter their political leanings.

The State Board of Education expects to start discussing new social studies curriculum standards this week, with members of the public getting their first opportunity to speak this fall and a final board vote next spring.

The process is a long one with lasting impact: reshaping the social studies curriculum, including history, for 4.7 million Texas public school children.

As we know from the controversy over science textbooks, the decisions the SBOE makes affect schoolchildren outside of Texas as well. Expect this latest drama to get national coverage as well, which means expect Texas’ image nationally to take another hit.

“This is something that every parent would want to be paying attention to. This will determine whether or not the kids get the education needed to succeed in college and jobs in the future,” said Dan Quinn of the Austin-based Texas Freedom Network. “If we are going to politicize our kids’ education, that will put our kids behind other kids when they’re competing for college and good-paying jobs on down the road.”

Curriculum standards are updated about every 10 years; the last social studies update came in 1997.

According to a preliminary draft of the new proposed standards, biographies of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Stephen F. Austin have been removed from the early grades, said Brooke Terry of the Texas Public Policy Foundation.

The early draft, which is likely to change multiple times in the coming months, also removes Independence Day, Veterans’ Day, and anthems and mottos for both Texas and the United States in a section on holidays, customs and celebrations, she said.

“You have the ability to shape the next generation on the beliefs about the government and the role of personal responsibility but also understanding our history and the principles that we want to pass down to our children,” Terry said. “With many of the suggested changes, I think we would be backtracking on many of the important things that people fight for in defense of our country.”

You don’t see the TFN and the TPPF point in the same direction very often, that’s for sure. I hope that’s a sign that there will be enough pushback against this early draft to move it into non-ridiculous territory. Not that there’s a lot of precedent for that with the SBOE lately, but one hopes so anyway. TFN has more.

The SBOE’s assault on history

In my earlier post about the virtues of a pro-science PAC, I mentioned that the State Board of Education had turned its attention towards doing to social studies what it had done to science. Vince gives a great rundown of the so-called “expert” who is heading up the SBOE’s panel reviewing the curriculum. Check it all out, then tell me if you think I’m exaggerating about the need for those PACs I suggested.

In related news, the Texas Freedom Network chronicles the far right’s push to get Cynthia Dunbar appointed Chair of the SBOE, while the new Observer blog The Contrarian suggests that having Dunbar and her out-there in-your-face nuttiness would be better than having an equally conservative but much more presentable Chair like Barbara Cargill. On the assumption, which I’d made all along, that we’ll never get a sane Chair as long as Rick Perry is in charge, I have to concede the wisdom of that line of thinking. If nothing else, the likes of Dunbar will serve as good campaign material.