Condoms! Homosexuals! Lesbian Adoption!

After a vicious campaign, the religious right is poised to push its agenda on the State Board of Education

"This is not in the books anywhere," Perkins says. "We never ever saw that."
No matter.
"It worked," Perkins acknowledges.

Although the mailing boasted Ballard's picture and logo, Ballard says she didn't see it before it went out.

"I would not have done that," she says of the brochure, "but on the other hand, that picture is nothing compared to material I've gotten from the Austin AIDS Services. I mean, I have pictures of men having oral sex -- that's what kids could get if they call the hot lines."

Ballard and the other two new Republicans were recruited to run by incumbent board member Bob Offut of San Antonio, who along with Montie Hasie of Lubbock composed the religious right's pre-election contingent on the board. Groups such as the Texas State Teachers Association and People for the American Way worry that the strengthened presence of Christian conservatives on the board, along with the growing influence of their organized pressure groups, could influence moderate Republican board members to embrace an extremist agenda.

Jack Christie says those fears are unfounded. A chiropractor from west Houston who's been on the board for four years and encouraged Ballard to run, Christie describes himself as a "moderate Republican who happens to be an environmentalist," and, he adds, a Catholic. Christie acknowledges he didn't see any of the material mailed out against the incumbent Democrats, but he says he's "very comfortable with the new members, and I'm not worried at all that they're going to have an extreme right-wing agenda ...."

What he foresees is simply a shift from a dominant "liberal" philosophy to a conservative one -- a return to "common sense" that he says is more reflective of the wishes of the vast majority of voters and parents in Texas.

As an example of what sort of changes might be expected under the new board, Christie suggests that the teaching of evolution as a hard scientific fact may shortly be a thing of the past in Texas schools. "The conservative viewpoint ," he says, "would be, 'Give us the pros and cons of the theory of evolution.' No one's asking for creationism to be taught in science books, they're just saying give the positives and negatives on the theory of evolution." (Which raises some interesting possibilities for the teaching of other sciences, er, theories....)

Christie also suggests the outcome of the struggle over high school-level health textbooks would have been different if the new board members had been in office. Requests for about 900 changes in the textbooks were lodged by the public or board members while the texts were being considered, most through presentations organized by the religious right; Christie says he agreed with about 600 of the proposed changes. The board ultimately adopted about 300 revisions, deletions and additions, which were agreed to by four of the five publishers of the textbooks being considered for adoption.

Christie says the new board probably would have asked the publishers for the 600 changes he favored. The Democrat-dominated board only "acquiesced" to 300, Christie avers, because of "pressure from Texans in general, not the religious right."

Among the more outrageous objections to textbook material lodged by the minions of the religious right were to the inclusion of a number for a child abuse hot line and to a picture of a woman with a briefcase (an objection, Christie acknowledges, that was "silly"). Then there was the demand that high schoolers be instructed that a woman won't be able to bond with her newborn unless she breast feeds.

One addition the board did demand in the books, Mary Perkins notes, was the inclusion of the incontestable fact (you can look it up) that sodomy is illegal in Texas -- not exactly the kind of thing you'd expect from a bunch of wild-eyed liberals intent on promoting homosexuality in the schools.

On the other hand, the majority of board members did hold fast in the face of demands for the removal of drawings demonstrating self-administered testicular and breast examinations. They probably figured that 16, 17 and 18 year olds -- especially ones who, say, might have been exposed to the works of Texans for Governmental Integrity -- could handle clinical drawings of parts of their bodies.

One of the targets of Ballard and the other new board members is Texas' continued participation in the federal Goals 2000 program, which had its beginnings in the Bush administration as a way of bringing American schoolchildren up to the academic standards many of their foreign counterparts are achieving. It is aimed at ensuring that younger schoolchildren learn the basics.

Under the program, Texas school districts could be eligible to apply for up to $60 million in grants over two years. The primary objective of the districts' first-year participation in the program, according to the state board's application to be a part of Goals 2000, would be to "ensure that all fourth-grade students are fully proficient" in the basic reading, writing and math skills measured by the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS) tests.

Hard to find fault with that, right?
Wrong, according to Donna Ballard, who professes to have spent a good deal of time poring over the federal and state documents related to the program. She says Goals 2000 will result in "an immense bureaucratic nightmare" and is actually part of a "very complex," long-in-the-works plan to impose federal control on local schools. One of the requirements for schools that receive Goals 2000 grants, she says, is that they provide "school-length social services."

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