Obtaining news, the Houston Chronicle is my last place to turn due to their leftist bent. My hats off to editor Linda Falkenberg on coverage of CSCOPE. Though I don’t agree with Ms. Falkenberg’s attempt to minimize concerns with the CSCOPE’s controversial content. I would like to say she did a fantastic job outlining the events that have led up to what has become a state controversy.
August 21, 2013
The real shocker among the claims of conservatives fighting something called “CSCOPE” isn’t that the state-produced lesson plans are allegedly pro-Marx and anti-Christ, or even that they’re trying to indoctrinate Texas children into Islam.
It’s that, when you get past the craziness, there are some good questions being asked.
It remains to be seen whether any of those questions will get answered this Saturday in Tyler when Houston state Sen. Dan Patrick debates State Board of Education member Thomas Ratliff.
But the planned clash between the two Republicans – one a tea party darling running for lieutenant governor, the other an outspoken East Texas pragmatist who helped dismantle the Religious Right’s grip on the state education board – has elevated to center stage a little known controversy thus far followed only by online conspiracy theorists and political junkies.
At issue is a computer-based curriculum tool known as CSCOPE produced by Texas Regional Education Service Centers. Until recently, it was being used in some part by 70 percent of Texas school districts, many of them in rural areas that may not be able to afford their own curriculum writers.
Teachers, some of whom have been using the curriculum guide since 2006, have complained of errors, shallow skimming of concepts and, mostly, the instructions they’ve received from some local administrators not to deviate from scripted lesson plans.
But a retired teacher named Janice VanCleave takes the credit for bringing the other issues to light. VanCleave, who lives in Riesel, just east of Waco, and has written many science-related children’s books, said she was trying to tutor students in her local district in 2011 when she asked about the textbook. When the children said there was no textbook, VanCleave got suspicious.
Doors began shutting
When she tried to obtain information on the computer-based lesson plans, she was turned away by the local school district and then by the regional service centers that produced the curriculum. Similar attempts by parents and even State Board of Education members to gain access to the material were rejected. The state centers claimed propriety concerns, but grass-roots conservatives smelled a rat.
And, since nothing feeds conspiracy theories like secrecy, accusations of a government curriculum rife with a progressive, even anti-American bias spread like wildfire. The lessons began to trickle out, providing endless fodder for bloggers who spun webs of intrigue and claims of insidious indoctrination. Glenn Beck and Fox News seized on the story. Then came the politicians, Patrick and the incumbent whose job he’s seeking, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, took up the cause in their respective bids to out-conservative each other.
Tea Party terrorism
The panic grew, even as Attorney General Greg Abbott announced that parents should have access to curriculum. Bloggers took issue with social studies lessons that, in one case, asked students to consider whether, from the British perspective, the Boston Tea Party was a terrorist act. (The fact that student had every right to say “heck, no!” didn’t seem to matter.) Another lesson asked students to design a socialist flag. Another that drew concern simply defined “Allah,” in short, as a monotheistic deity, otherwise known as the God of Abraham.
Not sure why this last one was such a big deal.
Lynn Mitchell, director of the religious studies program at the University of Houston, explained that “Allah” is simply Arabic for “God.” He pointed out that even Arabic-speaking Christians refer to God as “Allah.”
In May, Patrick announced that the state education service centers had agreed to no longer produce the curriculum and conservatives cheered. But the issue flared back up when critics realized that some districts rushing to prepare lessons for the coming school year were still using the curriculum.
There have been some good issues raised by critics. No teacher should be forced to follow a one-size-fits-all canned script in the classroom. No state-written curriculum should be hidden from parents. The CSCOPE finances should be studied, and perhaps, as Patrick suggested, more oversight is needed in developing such curriculum tools. Certainly, a better editor to weed out the errors.
But these points could have been made without the fear-mongering, without the apocalyptic rhetoric. Even Peggy Venable, director of the conservative, anti-tax group, Americans for Prosperity, who raised solid concerns recently in her op-ed against the curriculum, couldn’t resist the temptation to include the charges of “indoctrination.”
That kind of language scores with the local tea party activists. It gets you on Fox News. And it gets certain primary voters riled enough to show up at the polls. But it’s not constructive.
For her part, the woman who started all this, Janice VanCleave, seems to be a thoughtful woman who is genuinely passionate about children’s education. She’s right that if the curriculum isn’t thorough enough to provide a solid foundation in a historic event such as the Boston Tea Party, then asking whether that event could be construed as a terrorist act is a jarring proposition some kids would be ill-equipped to answer.
“If you don’t really understand why they were throwing the tea, then you can’t really have critical thinking about it,” she says.
It’s her opinion that the curriculum left students ill-informed about Boston. But that’s a concern that makes sense. That’s a debate we could have had without all the drama.