March 2010 Newsletter

Dear Fellow Educators and Friends,

On March 12th, the State Board of Education met for our March meeting of the full board. The major topic of discussion was the passage (on second reading) of changes to the social studies curriculum, which we do about every 10 years. These revisions are used by the textbook publishers to bring their books up to date.

Because Texas is such a large state, it is one of the leading textbook buyers in the country, and therefore, the standards we set will influence the revisions of textbooks nationwide. As a result, there was a flurry of media coverage – more media than I have ever seen in my time on the Board. Much of what the media reported was incorrect, which has unfortunately resulted in unnecessary criticism of the Board’s actions. I will explain these further along in my newsletter.

As you know from my previous newsletters, it was brought to our attention about a year ago that some of the recommendations made by the writing team took out significant historical references and added a number of little known individuals, politicizing the entire process. It became my goal to ensure the social studies standards were historically accurate and not a re-written account of our history.

I have always said that education is not a Republican or a Democrat issue. It is about giving our children the best possible resources to succeed. When we begin to re-write history to favor one side or the other, those it affects most are the children.

I voted to maintain traditional Judeo-Christian values by reinserting Christmas into the standards as opposed to substituting it for lesser-known religions. I also voted to stick with references to capitalism, the free-market enterprise system, and other principles our Founding Fathers had in mind when they established our government.

It has come to my attention since the SBOE Meeting, though, that there were a couple amendments I voted for with which some people are unhappy and that the media have taken to mean something other than was intended. So, I want to explain my votes and set the record straight.

The first eliminated a reference to Thomas Jefferson from World History. The media incorrectly reported that we he was completely taken out of the curriculum framework. In fact, Thomas Jefferson was stricken in an 8-6 vote in reference to his influence of Enlightenment thinkers that included John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, Voltaire, Charles de Montesquieu and Jean Jacques Rousseau. I am obviously pro-Thomas Jefferson. However, I voted in favor of the elimination because I felt like his name did not belong there as he was not an Enlightenment philosopher, and I thought he was more relevant in other history classes. He remains a part of grade 5, grade 8 and US Government.

A second amendment was presented that would have had students “examine the reasons the Founding Fathers protected religious freedom in America by barring government from promoting or disfavoring any particular religion over all others.” A dissenting position was given by one of the lawyers on the Board whose explanation of the Founding Fathers’ intent of this legal and political principle led me to vote against the amendment. That said, I believe separation of church and state is a valuable principle, and I certainly didn’t intend for students not to be taught about its significance.

The First Amendment of the United States Constitution reads:  “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” In a letter to the Danbury Baptist Association in 1802, Thomas Jefferson said: “(Religion) is a matter which lies solely between man & his God…I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation between church and state.”

The votes taken this week were only on second reading, and thus, if my constituents believe they need to change, I will certainly reintroduce these two items so we can vote again. Please do not hesitate to contact me to let me know your opinion on these and other issues coming before the Board in May. I will keep you apprised as to the final vote on the social studies standards following that meeting.

Finally, the Board passed four amendments clarifying the open-source issue. The first requires each textbook to be fully accessible on the Texas Education Agency’s Web site for public review at least 60 days before a vote is taken, and a public hearing must be held. The second requires the group that produces open-source materials to comply with all regulations that the textbooks publishers follow. The third calls for Board approval of certification presented by the producers of the open-source materials. The certification provides information regarding its textbooks already on the list and the numbers of students not being prepared as a result of using the textbooks. And the fourth amendment states in the TEC that open-source textbooks will not fulfill the requirement of a classroom set. By further defining the open-source issue and placing more stringent parameters on the materials, the Board as a whole is much more comfortable.

I want to thank you for your support over all these years that I have been on the Board. It has been such an honor working with you and doing my part to help improve education in Texas. I am very proud of all we have accomplished together. I will continue to send out my newsletters providing you with a summary of the Board meetings until the end of my term in December of this year. Please contact me with questions or concerns by going to my Web site at:

www.tincymiller.com.

Respectfully,

Geraldine “Tincy” Miller, SBOE, Dist. 12

Member since 1984, Chair from 2003-2007