None so blind as those who will not see
Pride ranks high in the list of the seven deadly sins — a fact either lost on, or ignored by, the religious fundamentalists who control the State Board of Education.
Disregarding pleas from public school educators, academics and the public, board members earlier this summer adopted curriculum standards that pushed their narrow political agenda. This despite warnings from legislators that their actions would provoke more legislation trimming the board’s powers and the defeats of Don McLeroy, R-Bryan, a faction leader, and at least two other candidates who campaigned on fundamentalist platforms in the March Republican primary.
A boastful McLeroy declared before the election that the primaries would be a referendum on the board’s performance. If it was, then the board majority ignored GOP voters as well as the academics, legislators and the public in pursuing an agenda to push Texas education backward.
“Somebody has to stand up to these experts,” was a particularly memorable — and telling — McLeroy quote.
While all that was going on, pollsters hired by the Texas Freedom Network were surveying public opinion on the board and its approach to education. The group bills itself as a nonpartisan research and citizen education organization. It is a consistent critic of the fundamentalist State Board of Education bent.
Released last week, the poll showed that overwhelming majorities of those polled want educators — and not politicians — writing curriculum. The support was bipartisan, with 84 percent of the Democrats, 63 percent of the Republicans and 76 percent of the independents polled statewide saying experts should write curriculum standards.
An overwhelming majority of the sample, 80 percent, agreed that high school sex education classes should teach “about contraception, such as condoms and other birth control, along with abstinence.”
Sex education is another hot-button issue in the battle over what should be taught in Texas classrooms.
The pollsters, Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, surveyed 972 Texans whom they identified as likely voters. The researchers oversampled likely voters aged 18-29 and those living in Hays, Williamson, Comal, Collin, Fort Bend, Montgomery and Rockwall counties — the fastest-growing counties in the state. With the exception of Hays, the counties are also a reliable source of Republican votes.
The margin of error of the poll, conducted in May, is plus or minus 4 percentage points — meaning that if every eligible voter in the state were to be surveyed, the results would be within four percentage points of these poll results.
A 3-point margin of error is the standard for reliability, and when questioned why the margin of error on this poll was a point higher, the firm’s Anna Greenberg replied that the oversampling of likely voters in the fast-growing suburban counties was one factor. She added that a margin of error grows in importance when the responses are close. In this survey, she noted, the margins were so big that the survey’s margin of error has no impact on the results.
“Texas voters — regardless of political affiliation or ideological views — agree that politics has no place in developing public school curricula,” researchers wrote.
Not surprisingly, however, the study found that most Texans were paying little or no attention to the goings-on as the State Board of Education monkeyed with curriculum standards. Those who did pay attention did not approve. The more information those polled had about the curriculum changes the board eventually adopted, the more they opposed the changes.
While it is highly unlikely that the poll results will cause the state board to reverse itself, it paints a picture of a group out of step and out of touch with Texas voters on education policy.
While board supporters might dismiss the poll as the product of an organization of Austin liberals, they can’t wave away results of the March primaries. Nor should they ignore the warnings from the Legislature, which included the Texas Senate’s refusal to confirm McLeroy as chairman of the state board in 2009. Gov. Rick Perry appointed McLeroy chairman three years ago, but the Bryan dentist’s high-profile embrace of ignorance — he believes that humans co-existed with dinosaurs — was too much for even the Republican-dominated Senate.
Perry appointed Gail Lowe, R-Lampassas, to succeed McLeroy. She faces confirmation in 2011 and will encounter turbulence.
We suggest that the board majority consult the book of Matthew: “Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.”
the survey report is available at tfn.org/educationsurvey.