I’m writing to begin to introduce myself as a candidate to the Daily Kos community, but I feel compelled to devote much of this diary to Texas: the state you’ve been reading about and the state you haven’t been reading about.
Our Texas State Board of Education has been spinning out of control for a while. There’s an excellent organization here, the Texas Freedom Network, that for 15 years has been monitoring and standing up to the ultra-conservative extremists who have been meddling with public education.
TFN was started by Governor Ann Richards’s daughter, Cecile, the year after Ann, one of the most inspiring women to ever hold office in America, lost a bruising re-election battle with George W. Bush. Now think about that. Cecile was deeply involved in her mother’s campaigns, and Ann was a wonderful, popular governor, brought down by a very negative campaign. But Cecile just dusted herself off and went back to work. That, as Molly Ivins might have observed, was a very Texan thing to do.
The Texas Freedom Network is a great advocate at the legislature and in front of the State Board of Education, and I’ve found it to be a reliable source of information for my campaign*, but they can’t change minds that aren’t open to persuasion. That’s where the election process comes in, and that’s why I’m hoping Americans from Maine to Hawaii will care enough about what’s happening here in Texas to help me prevail in District 10, a true swing district based on the number of statewide Democrats who have come close to carrying it since it was drawn nine years ago.
Major national news coverage has called attention to the voting bloc of ultra-conservatives who dominate our State Board of Education. At their bi-monthly meetings, at a pace rivaling that of a cattle auction, board members routinely introduce scores of amendments overriding the recommendations of educators pertaining to textbooks and the curriculum.
Because of Texas's out-size impact on the textbook market, a good part of the world is indeed taking notice. But the impact, of course, is even greater here, where the whims of the board determine what must be taught in our classrooms.
Texas newspapers have taken notice, too, and their coverage has contributed greatly to public awareness of the folly of our current board. Numerous editorials have called for the ouster of the most extreme incumbents. More than a year ago, the Austin American-Statesman said of the representative from the district where I am running, “In effect, Dunbar is on the board to sabotage public education,” and called for her to resign.
That editorial helped me decide to run, even though I am a Democrat in a district that was redrawn in 2001 to favor a Republican. Of course, there have been changes in the district's electorate since then, and I don't believe the majority of its voters are looking for a partisan to represent them. That's why I'm running first and foremost as an educator with relevant experience in developing lesson plans that kindle young minds with the excitement of learning.
As a board member, I will accept the recommendations of scientists on the teaching of science, of historians on the teaching of history, and of educators on the best ways to reach all of our students, who come to school from diverse backgrounds and with a variety of learning styles and needs. I will work collegially to move past the unproductive contention that has been the hallmark of this board toward developing a public school system worthy of a great state with a great history of support for education.
Though the recent actions of the board have caused many Americans to cast aspersions on the Lone Star State, a quick review of some of the major contributions to education made by Texans may help us all realize that we don’t have to go very far back to find Texas political leaders who venerated education.
There was Ralph Yarborough, U.S. Senator from 1957 to 1971.
One of Mr. Yarborough's first victories was the passage of the National Defense Education Act of 1958. In adopting the legislation, the Federal Government for the first time supported the principle that it should contribute to higher education by making loans and grants available to universities and their students.
There was Lyndon Johnson, whose first year in the presidency saw passage of the Higher Education Act, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and the creation of the National Endowment of the Arts, the National Endowment of the Humanities, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
There was our late Austin Congressman, J.J. “Jake” Pickle, who did so much for research at the University of Texas that its most prestigious research center is named for him. I think it’s fair to say that what distinguishes Texas Democratic leaders of all eras from many of today’s Republican leaders is a reverence for education and a dedication to extending its benefits to the humblest of citizens.
Consider these words of Sam Houston concerning public education:
No longer will the means of elementary learning be limited to those whose private resources are equal to the expense, but the road to distinction in every department of science and moral excellency, will be equally open to all.
Houston’s reverence for public education became enshrined in the Texas Constitution:
A general diffusion of knowledge being essential to the preservation of the liberties and rights of the people, it shall be the duty of the Legislature of the State to establish and make suitable provision for the support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools.
Like Sam Houston, I am unreservedly, unabashedly and proudly for public education. With your help getting there, as a board member, I’ll work tirelessly to get the board back on track and open “the road to distinction” as wide as possible for the schoolchildren of Texas.
In writing this, I realize, I have not said much about my background, the district or any number of aspects of my candidacy. However, I hope that in considering the history of what some great Texas Democrats have done for our country (because history, after all, is what focused national attention on the board), I will inspire you to help me spread the word that heaping ridicule on Texas for the actions of a few, some of whom obtained their positions through stealth and gerrymander, is not going to help. Electing educators to the State Board of Education will, so I ask you to please support my candidacy by visiting my website or ActBlue page.
For some basic background information on the State Board of Education, please refer here. And please let me know via the accompanying poll what you'd like me to write about next.
*Disclaimer: The Texas Freedom Network is a non-partisan 501(c)4 organization. I am not running as their candidate but on my own merits and experience as an educator. They are a primary source, though, for anyone seeking information about the radical right's dominance of the Texas State Board of Education and the effect on Texas and the nation.