Activated: Texas Freedom Network vs. Liberty Institute

The education of polar opposites

The State Board of Education fights are more than just squabbles among politicians – there are also activist groups that do all they can to drive the debate and motivate citizens. The two most prominent have been the Texas Freedom Network (which "advances a mainstream agenda of religious freedom and individual liberties to counter the religious right," according to its website) and the Liberty Institute (formerly the Free Market Foundation), "dedicated to protecting freedoms and strengthening families" and closely affiliated with James Dobson's Focus on the Family organization.

Both have organized citizens to show up at board meetings to testify, and both will play a role in getting voters to the polls, although a somewhat indirect one – LI does not endorse candidates; TFN does, but only to its members, not to the public at large. But both produce voters' guides to let people know candidates' positions.

"The willingness of several members of the State Board to promote political and personal agendas through curriculum and textbook decisions they make has undermined Texans' confidence in the quality of our education standards, has subjected the state to ridicule from around the country for making education policy decisions in such a ridiculous way, and in the end it does a disservice to students who ought to be taught what teachers and academic scholars think is necessary to prepare them for college and the jobs of the future," says TFN President Kathy Miller. "This is a big deal. We are increasingly in an education-based economy."

"The decisions of the State Board of Education are really a reflection of commonsense education policy," counters Jonathan Saenz, an attorney and spokesman for the Liberty Institute. "And that's why you've seen a lot of the votes be an overwhelming majority – many of them are bipartisan and really largely a reflection of what people in the education community and voters at large want.

"Our goal has been to help educate people about the facts of what's going on," asserts Saenz. "If you look at the issue of science, where the State Board of Education voted to keep the debate open to allow students to ask questions and to analyze all sides of all scientific theories, what educator would be against that? What State Board of Education member would, if they're being objective, would be against that?" (Of course, the flare-up over evolution happened because the board's teacher-led writing teams wanted such debates limited to actual scientific theories, not pseudoscience such as creationism or "intelligent design" – and indeed, at least one federal court, in Kitzmiller v. Dover, has already ruled that those "theories" do not rise to scientific status and may not be taught, although that ruling has not been tested nationwide.) The board's willingness to overrule those teachers is the major point of contention, although Saenz and the arch-conservative board members insist they are listening to what teachers want.

"That's convenient for them to say, but I don't have a lot of evidence for it," TFN's Miller says. "Every board member has an opportunity to nominate and appoint teachers to the curriculum and textbook review teams. [District 5 board member Ken] Mercer, for example, nominated no one to the social studies curriculum review teams. And so for him to now claim that he heard from teachers, that he was doing what they wanted, seems questionable at best. For someone like Mr. Mercer to claim that he's listening to teachers while at the same time writing an op-ed saying that the board gave English arts teachers a 'well deserved spanking' seems disingenuous."

To download the two groups' voter guides, go to www.tfn.org and www.libertylegal.org.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More State Board of Education
State Board of Education Brings a New Anti-Sex Circus to Town
State Board of Education Brings a New Anti-Sex Circus to Town
Anti-choice, anti-LGBTQ, and creationism advocates to help revise Texas public schools' sex education

Mary Tuma, July 5, 2019

SBOE Gets Schooled on Women
SBOE Gets Schooled on Women
State Board of Education reverses decision to remove Hillary Clinton, Helen Keller from curriculum

Austin Sanders, Nov. 16, 2018

More by Lee Nichols
From the Music Desk
From the Music Desk
On Willie, Billy, Stevie Ray, Blaze, and more highlights from four decades of covering Austin music

Sept. 3, 2021

Game Changer
Game Changer
A new football culture for Austin bars

Oct. 23, 2015

KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

State Board of Education, Liberty Institute, Texas Freedom Network

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle