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Texas Textbooks and Taxes

November 30, 2014

Texas has been in the news recently… and not in a good way from the perspective of public education advocates.

One of Diane Ravitch’s blog posts yesterday highlighted a recent curriculum adoption by the Texas that included the “fact” that Moses influenced the writers of the Constitution. My surmise is that the Board members would have preferred a curriculum that asserted JESUS influenced the writers, but settled for Moses because he was a less contentious figure… but the inclusion of Moses on the list at least underscores the prevalent belief among many conservatives that the US was founded as a “Christian nation”.

Texas’ textbooks were also in the news in the NYTimes, where an article by Morgan Smith described a battle over the Highland Park Superintendent’s decision to temporarily ban six textbooks followed by his subsequent decision to reinstate them after there was a hue and cry over the ban. The Art of Racing in the Rain was the book that was initially challenged, but one of the books on the list that caught my eyes was The Working Poor. At this writing, a committee of parents has reviewed the book and all but one of the parents found it acceptable. The lone parent who opposed the reinstatement of the book is not letting the issue die, and so it found its way to the NYTimes.

The whole thing brought to mind a book banning effort I dealt with in Wappingers Falls NY roughly 15 years ago. A parent who was upset with the fact that a HS teacher assigned Bless Me Ultima by Rudolpho Anaya approached a school board members on the eve of one of our meetings and read him a page that she found particularly reprehensible. The page was full of profanity and sexual innuendos which, when taken out of context, seemed needlessly vulgar. After she read the page at a school board meeting as part of the citizen’s comments, she demanded that the board immediately take this book off the reading list and out of the library. Fortunately, one of the longstanding board members knew there was a review policy in place, a policy that required the superintendent to be the final arbiter. Thus it came to pass that I read Bless Me Ultima and determined that in the entire context of the book, the “vulgar” pages in question were essential to the story and, on balance, not offensive given the characters’ reactions. Once one book was called to question, two others followed, one of which is the only Harry Potter book I’ve read (and no… Harry Potter is not satanic!).

The final Texas story is about taxes and how the total amount needed it determined in the state. The NYTimes/Texas Tribune story by Ross Ramsey suggests that Texas might low ball their revenues because of a pending lawsuit regarding the state’s insufficient funding in light of the ambitious standards they set for local schools. If the state prevails in court (they are evidently arguing they don’t need to fund their mandate), the taxpayers might get a tax break if the revenues are “higher than expected”… if they lose the court case, they can use the “windfall” to cover the funds in the short term and defer the ultimate decisions on how to cover their costs for another year or so.

So… TX believes Moses influenced the authors of the constitution, does not want to have children reading texts that question the disparity of wealth in our country,   and wants to do everything possible to avoid rectifying the disparity of wealth in their state. There are many things wrong with this picture!

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