Education Board war escalates
Education Board war escalates
Editorial Board, Commentary, Austin American-Statesman, 7/18/2011
Texas and the nation will get their first real look at how the newly appointed head of the State Board of Education performs under pressure this week when the 15-member panel meets to discuss science.

The board has drawn national attention in the past as it struggled over social studies curricula that were more flights of ideological fancy of dubious academic value, but with Texas Gov. Rick Perry contemplating a presidential run, the education board's antics are sure to invite even more state and national scrutiny.

Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, will make her debut as chairwoman of the board when it meets this week. Included on the agenda is a public hearing on adoption of instructional materials in science.

If you've never seen the State Board of Education talk science, you've missed one heck of a show. Social conservatives on the board and their allies in the audience talk down the science of evolution and support a creationist view of how life on Earth began. Scientists from academia who stoutly defend evolution theory usually counter the social conservatives.

One former board president, Bryan dentist Don McLeroy, made national news with his belief that dinosaurs and people inhabited the earth at the same time, despite ample scientific evidence to the contrary. McLeroy failed to secure Senate confirmation as chairman and later lost his seat on the board in last year's Republican primary.

That, too, was quite a show.

Unfortunately for the state and its children, the board isn't in the entertainment business at least not intentionally.

Instead, its narrow, ideologically driven view of education sets the tone and content for public school students who will be expected to compete in a global economy.

Perry appointed Cargill, who is aligned with the ultraconservative fundamentalists, to succeed Gail Lowe, R-Lampasas. Lowe, another member aligned with the ultraconservative board faction, didn't even get a confirmation hearing in the Texas Senate during the recently concluded regular session. So Lowe, who remains on the board, had to relinquish the gavel McLeroy relinquished to her.

That makes Cargill the third social conservative Perry has appointed. Cargill's term expires Feb. 1, 2013. The timing will avoid another potentially embarrassing showdown with the Senate, which must approve the nomination.

As noted here previously, Cargill has the opportunity to broker a peace in the ongoing ideological war, and for a short time it looked as she might take it.

In an article published July 5 in the San Antonio Express-News, Cargill was quoted as saying, "I expect to facilitate the meetings with a lot of character and a listening ear because we all represent our various districts, and so we certainly want to hear from every board member on the issues."

Nice sentiment, but shortly after the article was published, she told members of the Eagle Forum a conservative activist group at a meeting in Conroe that there were "six true conservative Christians on the board" after last year's primaries so the fundamentalist faction had to struggle to find two more votes to keep promoting the agenda.

It was a slap at the beliefs of other board members and certainly at five Republicans on the board. Republicans hold 11 of the 15 seats.

Cargill's comment encourages ideological warriors to sharpen their swords.

Here's something else Cargill said to the Eagle Forum: "The media has enjoyed making the board a mockery."

With all due respect, ma'am, your board has done a good job of that all on its own. And with the kind of encouragement you just gave them, it looks like they are going to continue working at it.