Naked City

Not Quite by the Book

The State Board of Education has been in the news again during the past few weeks, adding new items to its already distinguished record of intellectual bankruptcy and absurd public policy. The most recent headlines concern its ideological rejection of several environmental science textbooks on the putative grounds of "factual errors." In the past, the board would simply reject any book its purblind members found objectionable for any reason (e.g., too critical of slavery, too supportive of women's independence). Now, the SBOE is pretending that they're objecting to "errors," which this year included such unremarkable notions as that the Industrial Revolution, while increasing social wealth, also led to environmental destruction. (That trustworthy fount of environmental wisdom, the Citizens for a Sound Economy, denounced such outrageous notions as presenting a "radical, controversial, political agenda" because they constitute an attack on "free enterprise.")

Follow the Money No. 1: The mostly far-right board members received guidance in this pseudo-research from the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a San Antonio-based think tank that owes its existence to corporate money and especially the largesse of right-wing fundamentalist James Leininger. (Conservative political candidates, including SBOE members, can count on large amounts of Leininger campaign dollars.) The TPPF is loudly patting its own back for having forced publishers whose books it didn't reject outright to kowtow to its politically motivated "corrections." According to the watchdogs at the Texas Freedom Network, one textbook was accepted after publishers agreed to delete a "Think About It" section designed to generate students' own ideas on environmental science. For the TPPF, thinking is definitely a no-no in Texas schools.

Follow the Money No. 2: Although the textbook follies have garnered most of the headlines, what may derail the board are several ongoing investigations into its investment activities. Recently, documents have surfaced suggesting collusion between current and former board members and private investment counselors over the management of the Permanent School Fund (as mandated by the state constitution). As reported by Maeve Reston in the Nov. 2 Austin American-Statesman, the Travis County D.A.'s office and legislative committees are closely examining relationships between board members and the investment consulting firm Collaborative LLC, which may have tried to parlay insider relationships with board members into outside investment contracts.

Call it just another textbook case of free enterprise in action.

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