Voices will raise. Saliva will dampen microphones. Eyes will narrow, and eyes will widen. Fingers will tap furiously on keyboards and touch pads. Time limits will be up, and crowds will gather in hallways.
On Wednesday, May 19, the Texas State Board of Education will hear the final public testimony and take a final vote on social studies standards (think guns, God and government) for public school textbooks.
Debates have been raging for months, garnering the attention of everyone from Stephen Colbert to Fox News, the Washington Post to the New York Times. We all know that the big newspapers drool over Texas when the stories involve guns, the death penalty or the religious right.
Decisions have been made that will impact U.S. history, government and social studies classes in Texas public schools and beyond. The dominating Texas textbook industry penetrates state boundaries - textbooks written with Texas standards are sold around the nation. What goes in the textbooks will be reflected in classroom discussions and standardized tests over the next 10 years. Last year, the board revised science standards for the next decade. Sitting in that room, I felt I had traveled through time to Scopes vs. The State of Tennessee.
Wednesday's final meeting on social studies standards is not just any state hearing. Unfortunately, most Texans who have even heard about the meeting probably think it's your average meeting of elected officials most people forget to vote for.
The SBOE is made up of 10 Republicans and five Democrats. Seven of the 10 Republicans are considered far-right social conservatives, often dubbed the "conservative bloc." These 15 members are some of the most influential elected officials in the state - and if you consider how many Texas textbooks are taught in other states, perhaps the nation.
Former chairman Don McLeroy has even boasted about the influence his board has on what public school kids are learning, calling it "gigantic." McLeroy, is on his way out, after a March primary beating by Thomas Ratliff, who has a Libertarian, but no Democratic, opponent in November.
In a meeting earlier this year, board member Cynthia Dunbar, a Republican (who isn't seeking reelection), proposed to remove Thomas Jefferson from the Enlightenment curriculum, and add John Calvin. John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, Voltaire, Montesquieu, Rousseau, Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin and Sir William Blackstone remained after the board voted. Dunbar has called the establishment of public schools tyrannical and unconstitutional - an interesting view for someone elected to make decisions about public schools.
Board member Barbara Cargill, a Repubilican, proposed that adding a discussion of right to bear arms when discussing the First Amendment. Nothing wrong with discussing the Second Amendment, but how about during a discussion on the Second Amendment?
Board member Mavis Knight, a Democrat, proposed an amendment that would ask students to "examine the reasons the Founding Fathers protected religious freedom in America by barring government from promoting or disfavoring any particular religion over all others." The board, on a partisan vote of 10-5, voted against including this in the social studies curriculum, after hearing Dunbar's rebuttal that the Founding Fathers did not intend to promote the separation of church and state.
I'll be at the hearing tomorrow morning. From my experience blogging for the Houston Press last year when the board voted on science standards, I know tomorrow will be as entertaining as it is frightening. I only hope more Texans will open their eyes to the influence our elected officials have in the classroom.