MADISONVILLE, TEX. -- As vendors sold yellow "Don't Tread on Me" flags nearby, Texas State Board of Education member Don McLeroy assured a gathering of Tea Party activists one recent evening that President Obama was going to keep his hands off the schools in the Lone Star State.
There would be no bid for Obama's Race to the Top grant program, no endorsement of new math and English standards that Obama backs. And the state school board, under McLeroy's prodding, would continue its push to adopt social studies standards that set Texas apart from other states because, among other changes, they recast sections on the American Revolution to put more emphasis on Christianity and less on the writings of Thomas Jefferson.Here in this Bible Belt town of 4,200, where Washington is seen not as the solution to problems but their cause, Texans are pushing back. Hard.
"Our children will now study some of the unintended consequences of the Great Society, such as the destruction of the black family," said McLeroy, a compact, enthusiastic dentist who keeps a copy of the Constitution in his breast pocket. "Our students will be taught that this country was founded on biblical principles."
Apparently, he's never opened that pocket copy of the Constitution he's carrying around. And since they're studying the Great Society, I wonder if they'll hit on the 1980's "War on Drugs" and what that's done for the "destruction of the black family."
Historians have said many of McLeroy's assertions are dubious and have worried about politicization of such classroom staples as the Revolutionary War and the civil rights movement.
But in Madisonville, where pickups are sold in red, white or blue and "Pray for Our Nation" signs dot lawns of the modest one-story homes, residents embrace local control and look at Washington with caution.
"We've got a good system here, and we don't need anybody messing with it," said Jana Corley, after her son took part in the county rodeo last month.
Damn straight. And it's a sentiment the superintendent agrees with too.
The morning after the Tea Party gathering, Madisonville School Superintendent Keith Smith, who oversees the town's four schools -- all just beyond his office door -- sat and shook his head at the growing power struggle between Washington and Austin. Smith and his schools are caught in the middle.[the sound of crickets chirping]
"The Tea Party people, they seem angry and disenfranchised. You see that in educators, too," he said, as policymakers increasingly dictate what teachers must cover in class. "It's somewhat insulting as an educator to have someone write your curriculum for you."
I wonder, of course, how much of this is simply "elitist media" making fun of small town America by playing up the "rage" that is supposedly sweeping the country at the moment. These "Tea Party" gatherings are never more than what, a couple of hundred people, tops? Is that really indicative of "pent up rage throughout the country"?
I'm a firm believer in local control of education and schools. The disastrous NCLB is a shining example of precisely why the federal government shouldn't be involved in education to the extent that it is. As I've written already, the Obama proposal to "revamp" NCLB seems toothless and interchangeable with the current version.
However, there must be guidelines to keep school districts somewhat uniform when constructing curriculum. Education itself isn't relative, and districts shouldn't be free to embrace or reject factual information based on some moral or religious litmus test.
Unless you're Texas, of course.