While a lot of people breathed a sigh of relief this week when Mary Lou Bruner, the Tea Party activist and former teacher who believed President Obama was once a gay prostitute and that baby dinosaurs were on Noah's ark, failed to win the Republican nomination for a seat on the State Board of Education, we aren't out of the woods yet.
In the wake of Bruner's failed bid to win District 9's GOP nomination — she was trounced by Lufkin chiropractor Kevin Ellis — we've had stark reminders that the SBOE is still the troubled, fractious body it was before Bruner started campaigning to join it.
“She would have been a train wreck on the board, and that's saying a lot considering the outrageous things board members have done,” says Dan Quinn, a spokesman for the Texas Freedom Network, a grassroots organization that has been focused on the board's approach to textbooks for years. “But while Bruner's loss keeps things from getting worse, I don't think they're going to get much better.”
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Just this week, the textbook proposed to teach the cultural history of Mexican-Americans to Texas students came under fire from critics who say the textbook is racist. The book, Mexican American Heritage, describes Mexican-Americans as people who "adopted a revolutionary narrative that opposed Western civilization and wanted to destroy this society." And then, because apparently that wasn't enough to make the point, the book goes on to tie Mexican-Americans to undocumented immigrants who have "caused a number of economic and security problems" in the United States including "poverty, drugs, crime, non-assimilation, and exploitation."
The textbook was submitted to the SBOE by Momentum Instruction, a company owned and operated by former SBOE member Cynthia Dunbar. Dunbar was the board member who questioned whether public schools were constitutionally allowed and called the public education system "tyrannical" in her book One Nation Under God among many other similar dubious achievements. "That's a red flag right there, and there are all kinds of red flags about this textbook," Quinn says.
Texas Freedom Network has scholars across the country reviewing the textbook right now, Quinn says, and their findings aren't doing anything to change that view. “We can't find any information about one of the named authors on the cover of the book ever having studied this topic, but she lists herself as a blogger and a top-rated amazon reviewer on LinkedIn,” he says. “Unfortunately, she's also something of a fanatic who is determined to root out leftist leanings in school textbooks.” People have until September to submit comments on the book, which the board will then review and vote on in November.
Considering this is mostly the same board that signed off on a ninth-grade textbook that described slave laborers as immigrant workers, Quinn admits he's not feeling terribly optimistic. Plus, the science and social studies curricula — the subjects that sparked the culture wars on the board in 2009 and 2010 in the first place — are set to be reviewed and streamlined in the coming year. “It's likely to be fairly contentious on the board,” Quinn says. “Mary Lou could have been a part of it all, but there will still be plenty of nonsense this year and next year, even without her.”