Cesar Chavez, Thurgood Marshall… Neil Armstrong?!

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Call it one small step back for the TEA, one giant step back for the people of Texas.

The Texas Education Agency has been in the news lately due to efforts to become a completely mockery of itself during revisions to state-approved textbooks. First, there was a push to remove Cesar Chavez and Thurgood Marshall from the history books, as the Dallas Morning News reports:

Two members of a board-appointed advisory panel had suggested removing Chavez and Marshall from fifth-grade social studies, which triggered a strong backlash from civil rights groups, teachers and parents statewide. …

Supporters argued that Chavez greatly improved conditions for Hispanic farm workers, but critics said he lacked the stature and impact to be listed next to the likes of Benjamin Franklin. …

Others testified that to not include Marshall, the attorney who won the case that integrated the nation's schools and later became the first black U.S. Supreme Court justice, was an insult to his contributions.

Yeah, maybe Chavez lacks the necessary stature to willfully-ignorant folks who don't care about Hispanics, or who feel threatened by the growing Hispanic population in our state. To remove him from the textbooks would only force this same ignorance on our Texas schoolchildren, who wouldn't be required to learn about his immense impact on the lives of so many Americans. And I can see why removing Marshall from the books might provide succor to those conservatives continually reeling at the progress of African Americans in our society. However, I'm pretty sure that if you kick Marshall out of the history books, the President's still going to be Black.

And as if removing noted Civil Rights leaders from textbooks wasn't ridiculous enough, now they've set their crusading sites on… Neil Armstrong?! From the Houston Chronicle's SciGuy Blog:

…a Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills review team composed of parents and teachers has suggested removing Neil Armstrong from a “science strand” in a 5th grade social studies book.

Why? Because apparently, the first man to walk on the moon isn't … wait for it… a scientist. So though he's perhaps history's most famous spaceman, and though NASA's home in Houston has been a huge boon to Texas, we'd better wipe him out of the history books. Except for one key detail: Armstrong actually is a scientist. SciGuy points out that Armstrong received aerospace engineering degrees from Purdue and USC, and taught science at the University of Cincinnati. Sounds like a scientist to me. Meanwhile, featuring prominently on the list of People Who Are Not Scientists would be most of the State Board of Education, the people who set science standards for the state.

As for the anti-astronaut efforts, maybe it's the fact that by its very existence as a government agency, NASA is a publicly-funded, dare-I-say Socialist program. I sense their fear: was Armstrong sent to the moon to try and start a socialist, government-funded space colony?

In their defense, the TEA name-unnamers in question claim that kids these days are just required to learn about too many prominent people. Too many good Americans doing too much good stuff! If we can't stop the do-gooding, maybe we can just keep other people from finding out about it.

Other famous folks potentially soon-to-be-stricken from the historical record, as taught by our Texas textbooks? Carl Sagan, Colin Powell, Nathan Hale, Eugene Debs, John Steinbeck and Mother Teresa. Well, not too many shockers there. Debs was an avowed Socialist, Mother Teresa ministered to the suffering, and Steinbeck wrote about the plight of the poor. Hale fought for American independence against the British, rather than Texan independence from America. Powell has three strikes against him: prominent African American, endorsed Barack Obama, and spoke out against the Bush administration. As for Sagan, his science fiction probably counts as religious blasphemy to some of the SBOE members.

Not only is this whole textbook revision process embarrassing, it's one of those times when I just want to throw my hands up and say “Fine, TEA. You're making it too hard to try and defend Texas as anything other than a huge tundra of ignorance.”

However, we have a chance to fix this: there are several SBOE seats up for election this year, including the two that subdivide Austin: SBOE 10, home to Cynthia “The President is a Terrorist” Dunbar, and Ken “Evolution Is For The Weak” Mercer in SBOE 5. Strong Democrats have declared for both primaries, and Texas will finally have the opportunity to elect folks who believe in book-learnin'.

In the meantime, to quote our the ex-president, “Is our children learning?” Maybe. We're just not sure about whom.


About Author

Katherine Haenschen

Katherine Haenschen is a PhD candidate at the University of Texas, where she studies political participation on digital media. She previously managed successful candidate, issue, voter registration, and GOTV campaigns in Central Texas. She is also a fan of UCONN women's basketball and breakfast tacos.


  1. State Board of Education–Come to our next forum, and hear candidates!
    The State Board of Education erupts into the news every so often, right now, in social studies, early this year on science.  

    From time to time people wonder why we have the people we have on the SBOE.

    The answer is, they have run, and they have been elected, often with no Democrats in opposition.  There are seven “social conservative” Republicans now on the board.

    “Social conservative” is their term. You might call them right-wingers.  The last names are Dunbar, Mercer, Cargill, Leo, Lowe, McLeroy, and Bradley.  Four of these, including the two, who represent central Texas, in districts split by Lady Bird Lake in Austin, ran last time with no Democrats in opposition.  No Democrat ran against Dunbar, or Mercer, when either ran for a four year term in 2006.  No Democrat ran against Cargill or Leo, in the Houston area, for 4 year terms last year.

    I think that's absurd.  I think everyone of you should be interested in the State Board of Education, and not just when it erupts into the news.

    Filing for the seven seats up in 2010, is this December, 2009.  I started discussions at a bakery in November of 2008.  I led more in January, 2009.  In February, I had the first, of what have so far been six forums to inform everyone about the State Board of Education.  I decided that from discussion, one gets candidates.  It looks like we will have two Democrats filing in each of the districts in central Texas this year.  Dunbar and Mercer can expect to have their first Democratic electoral opposition to tenure on the state board.

    Forum, for Saturday, October 3

    11:45am to 1:15pm

    Yarborough branch library

    2200 Hancock Drive, Austin, TX  78756

    Cost: free

    The room holds 70 people, and you can expect to get a chair

    There are expected to be two Republicans and two Democrats in that race.  The two Democrats have said they will participate.  The Republican challenger has declined, but might send a representative.  Mrs. Dunbar has been asked,

    but is not yet committed.

    Here's a complete flyer on this event:

    State Board of Education Forums at Yarborough

    For Saturday October 3, 11:45-1:15 pm

    Probable Candidates in SBOE10

    (This includes 59% of Travis County, which is that part north of the Colorado River, plus all of Williamson, Bastrop, Austin, Burleson, Colorado, DeWitt, Fayette, Gonzales, Lavaca, Lee, Milam, Waller and Washington, counties, plus 87% of Fort Bend County and 19% of Brazoria County.)

    Cynthia Dunbar (R) is the elected member to the Texas State Board of Education, for SBOE-10.  She writes that “District 10 is a very interesting district.  Although it contains part of Austin, the overwhelming majority of the district is staunchly conservative.”  Her undergraduate training was in biology and psychology and, as such, she has taught anatomy and physiology to high school juniors and seniors.  She has been a licensed, practicing attorney for over 18 years and dedicated much of her practice to the area of appellate law. She has researched and studied the law on numerous Constitutional and Common Law issues that framed our nation. She regularly defends and promotes Constitutional purity, pro-life, and conservative public policy, and preventing the erosion of our nation's identity.      [Invited but not yet committed]

    Judy Jennings (D) is a wife, mother and grandmother-and an expert in education policy. Her daughter is a public-school teacher in Williamson County, and her son is teaching English in Korea. Judy had not finished college when she met and married her husband, Hal, but as her children grew, Judy returned to school and earned her bachelor's degree in sociology. She then earned her Ph.D. in education.

    From her years as a teaching assistant at the University of Texas at Austin through her work on accountability at the Texas Education Agency to her current position as Director of Assessment at Resources for Learning, Judy has spent years working on the very issues for which the State Board of Education is responsible.

    Rebecca Osborne (R) [Running.  Has declined this event.  May send a representative.]

    Lorenzo Sadun (D) is a scientist and educator, who is a professor of mathematics.  Since 1991, he has taught math at the University of Texas, where he sees what our brightest students know, and also what they need to know but were never taught.  He knows that our kids need a 21st century education to meet 21st century challenges.  He knows they need better science skills, better math skills, better critical thinking skills, and better English skills.  Dr. Sadun is married with three children, who all attend public schools.  His wife Anita served on the Bryker Woods Elementary PTA board.  He has been an adult literacy teacher, a child reading coach, a math tutor in East Harlem, and a middle school teacher, all as a volunteer.

    Forums are at Yarborough Public Library, 2200 Hancock Dr., Austin, TX  78756  This forum will be the seventh of eight.  The last forum will be on Saturday, November. 7.

    If you received this sheet in printed form, and want it electronically, or if you want additional information contact John Keohane  keohane@prodigy.net  (512) 371-3853

  2. Also Nots

    Meanwhile, featuring prominently on the list of People Who Are Not Scientists would be most of the State Board of Education, the people who set science standards for the state.

    Don't forget they also are featured on the list of People Who Are Not Teachers, even though they are deciding what to teach.  

    • Make that ALL of the State Board of Education
      Not a single SBOE member has any significant background in science.  That was a huge problem in the debate over science standards, but it's something we can correct in time for the 2011 approval of science textbooks. A few SBOE members do have teaching experience, but most don't. That's another area where we can do a lot better.

      I've been teaching for 28 years. I've been doing science for 25 years, with over 60 peer-reviewed publications to show for it. If you want somebody with both scientific and teaching experience on the SBOE, please support my campaign to replace Cynthia Dunbar in SBOE10.  

  3. SBOE District 10
    Forum, this Saturday, Oct. 3, 11:45am – 1:15pm, Free

    at Yarborough Library, 2200 Hancock Dr., Austin, TX  78756

    Major party candidates (R and D) for SBOE-10

    Cynthia Dunbar(R) Invited, but not yet committed

    Judy Jennings(D) Panelist

    Rebecca Osborne(R) Turned down this panel, but may send a


    Lorenzo Sadun(D) Panelist

    This is all the Rs and Ds I know of planning to run in SBOE-10 in 2010 for the seat now held by Mrs. Dunbar.

    We'll hear from the panelists, then take your questions.

    You'all come.

    –John Keohane

    Forum organizer and chair


    (512) 371-3853

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