PTA Mom Looks at Political Extremism – Coming Soon to a School Board Meeting Near You
by PTA Mom
Everything is bigger in Texas. And sometimes that even includes political extremism. As often portrayed by the likes of Jon Stewart, The Onion, and late-night comedians, Texas is often known as much for its incendiary political proclivities as it is for its barbecue and oil fields.
But when political extremism crosses the threshold of the schoolhouse door, it ceases to become one of Texas’ quirky endearments and instead becomes a problem that burdens and distracts public schools. Look no further than the Texas School Board of Education (SBOE) for near legendary examples of ideological paralysis and political agenda pushing that has not only made for embarrassing national headlines, but has even been the subject of film documentaries. And as the SBOE has demonstrated, students suffer when extreme politics enter education. Unfortunately, that’s what’s happening in my town. And it may well be on its way to a school board meeting near you, too.
What’s the furor all about this time? Common Core. As explained here, Common Core is the set of national educational standards adopted by 45 states. In theory, Common Core standards were a good idea – ensure that students learn the minimum standards for success regardless of where they’re located in the country. Of course, adoption of these standards came with all of the fine print, attached strings, and red tape that one would expect from the federal government. As you can imagine, controversy quickly followed the Common Core rollout, particularly as many states struggle with rocky implementations, over-reliance on standardized testing, and other controversies.
So why do so few Texas parents know about the Common Core standards that have wreaked havoc in schools around the nation? Because Texas is not a Common Core state! Texas maintains its own standards (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills or TEKS), which exceed Common Core standards. Further, Texas TEKS are more comprehensive, including science and social studies; whereas Common Core only focuses on mathematics and English language arts. With no benefit to moving to lesser standards, Texas chose to reject Common Core. And to further make a political point as only Texas can, in 2013 its state legislature passed legislation making the use or adoption of Common Core illegal in the state.
Then what has caused the Common Core ballyhoo to come to a state that actually outlawed its use? Politics of extremism. This political extremism has encouraged the spread of radical conspiracy theories including Common Core sneaking into Texas’ schools to “indoctrinate” our students into rejecting American exceptionalism and embracing Islam and Sharia law, among other things. While there are many well-reasoned and very legitimate complaints against Common Core, these fringe views are not among them.
This is the same extremism that led a Texas political party in 2012 to oppose critical thinking in its party’s education platform. And it’s the same extremism that led to the 2013 witch hunt of Texas’ educator-developed curriculum tool, CSCOPE, because of allegations that it was anti-American and promoted Marxism and Islam. (By the way, an independent review of all of CSCOPE’s lessons just last month indicated that these allegations were false. The SBOE launched an independent review team of 140 volunteers that included parents, educators, and business people tasked with reviewing CSCOPE lessons for bias and errors. Fewer than 10 found evidence of the claimed political and religious bias that led the state legislature to force Texas schools to abandon the educator tool in favor of more expensive in-house curriculum development.)
With the slaying of CSCOPE in 2013, political opportunists have now focused their attention to Common Core as the next boogeyman on their hit list. These radicals are known throughout the state for trying to push their political agendas into our schools – they include former educators promoting junk-science views of education that have little basis in actual educational theory. They include activists who actually make money by booking speaking gigs and “consulting” on how to spread radical views. It even includes a homeschooler and zealot shrieking blog-based warnings about the United Nations transforming Texas education, the dangers of “progressive educators,” and fears about everything from technology to project based learning to “social engineering” eliminating “a traditional education where ‘absolute truth’ and American Exceptionalism is taught.”
These radicals are located from Waco to Argyle to Magnolia; they do not reside in my community. But that didn’t stop them from spreading Common Core paranoia to my child’s school district. A small group of parents in my community has been deceived by these interlopers’ campaign of confusion, leading some parents to believe our school district was sneaking Common Core into our schools through the “back door.”
Their efforts led parents to believe that classroom lessons about the Pillars of Islam are examples of Common Core. (In reality, this lesson would likely not fall under Common Core’s language arts or mathematics standards, but instead could be a social studies requirement of Texas TEKS strand 17B requiring students be able to “describe major world religions, including animism, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and Sikhism, and their spatial distribution.”) They’ve also accused my local school district of using Common Core materials like SAT preparation texts that indicate alignment with Common Core as a marketing tagline on the book cover. (Please note the difference between alignment with and use of Common Core standards to replace TEKS.)
These attack groups have even encouraged parents to find elements of Common Core in 21st century learning programs that encourage collaboration, problem solving, and innovation. They see Common Core in college and career readiness requirements. They seem Common Core in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education tools. Reminiscent of the movie The Sixth Sense, they see Common Core standards – they’re everywhere.
Many will ignore their efforts as fringe Texas politics at its finest. Some suggest it’s best to ignore extremists, which may very well be true. But when extremism threatens educational opportunities for Texas students, it can no longer be ignored. In my district, these fringe elements worked to hinder the district’s vision to implement 21st century learning into our schools since, through their lens of paranoia, it’s just another sneaky name for Common Core.
So what is a parent to do when the politics of extremism lands before their district’s school board? I’m proud to say parents in my district spoke up. (You can see a copy of my statement to the school board here.) They worked to educate their neighbors. They talked about what Common Core is (and isn’t) at PTA meetings. They reviewed the facts. They discussed concerns with experts – actual educators and administrators. They arrived at their own conclusions without the influence of political opportunists and agenda pushers. And most importantly – they served as vocal advocates for their children and community.
Texas public schools face so many challenges – over testing, under funding, and fighting off a state legislature that, according to a recent legislative report card, generally does not have its best interests at heart. The last problem schools should be focused on is defending against political extremism. Our schools and students deserve better. I’m proud to be part of a district and community of parents that recognized and fought extremism on behalf of their children.
I hope you will put up the same fight when extremism comes to your district. And it will.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are prepared in the author’s personal capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, any other organization with which the author is affiliated.