An email sent out today by the Texas Freedom Network alerts us to the latest shenanigans of the Texas State Board of Education, as it's currently being run by Dan McLeroy, lackey to Governor Rick "Oh, The Evil Liberal Elite Atheists Are Persecuting Us, Now Drop to Your Knees and Pray, Mofo" Perry. I'll just post the main section of the email in full.
Today we learned that the far-right faction controlling the State Board of Education wants to torpedo new language arts curriculum standards that took teachers and education experts two years to develop. The Texas Education Agency has even been paying a consulting firm $85,000 to help develop those new standards, which govern what more than 4.5 million children learn in Texas public schools.
The Dallas Morning News is reporting that the State Board of Education’s chairman, Don McLeroy, wants to throw away that money and all of the hard work put in by Texas teachers and education experts. McLeroy is instead promoting an alternative curriculum – one developed more than 10 years ago by a far-right activist more interested in promoting the religious right’s agenda in public schools than making sure Texas schoolchildren get a sound education.
That activist, education gadfly Donna Garner, has promoted her alternative curriculum ever since the state board and then-Gov. George Bush’s education commissioner rejected it in 1997. Now McLeroy and other far-right members who control the state board have breathed new life into Garner’s efforts.
In e-mails to supporters, Garner suggests that her standards are the solution to a host of ills in public schools. She is particularly critical of the use of “multicultural authors” in classes, contemporary literature she deems as inappropriate, and a perceived promotion of the “gay lifestyle.” Her proposed standards even includes specific reading lists – lists that would allow the state board to censor the works of any authors the religious right doesn’t like.
Even though education experts and the board have spent two years working on the revision of the language arts curriculum, McLeroy sent Garner’s alternative to board members just a few days ago! That last-minute surprise prevents parents, teachers and even board members from giving the 100+ pages in the document the thorough review it should get. This is a classic bait-and-switch tactic the religious right has used often in the past.
Now, I support TFN, but I like checking these things out for myself. I Googled Garner, and was disturbed by what I came up with.
I found what I think might be the program TFN is warning about, that Garner endorses, here. Garner declares that she's more interested in "classrooms where the teacher, an authority figure, teaches curriculum that is academic and knowledge-based, and students are tested primarily through objective testing (i.e., right or wrong answers). The other camp supports classrooms where the teacher is the facilitator who emphasizes a performance-based, constructivist curriculum (e.g., projects, discovery learning, inquiry-based learning) which is subjectively assessed."
Certainly I support the notion of making sure kids get facts first and foremost. But if Garner is the Christian-right agent provocateur the TFN is making her out to be (and which seems to be the case the more I learn), then my own dealings with average creationists lead me to wonder exactly how accurately she's portraying the dichotomy between how she'd like to see students taught, and how students actually are being taught. Garner's tendency to use emotionally laden language like this also sends up red flags:
Texas teachers have been led by the TEA into utilizing failed fads such as whole language, teacher-as-facilitator, holistic scoring, self-esteem movement, inventive spelling, group grading, outcomes-based-education, fuzzy math, rain-forest algebra, block scheduling, open concept, portfolios, integrated curriculum, year-round schools, subjective scoring, etc. The public is disillusioned with the public schools and rightfully so. Parents are tired of their children being used as guinea pigs in education experiments.
Just what in tarnation is Garner babbling about when she throws out terms like "rain-forest algebra" or "inventive spelling" or "holistic scoring"? Once this kind of rhetoric starts getting tossed around, I have a hard time taking anything the person is saying seriously. And even good points about making sure kids get the best education they can get washed overboard once the crazy comes out. I was a student in Texas public schools from the fifth grade on, and I can't ever remember learning "rain-forest algebra" or being told I could just make up my own spellings to words. I'll be the first to admit our public schools are in major need of a firmware upgrade, and that lazy policies like "teach to the test" do nothing to get a child excited about learning, instead resulting in the indifferent, assembly-line processing of mediocrity that only cares that a student does well enough to pass with a C- and go away. But bizarre rhetoric tends to cloud good solutions.
Now we get to the more disturbing stuff. I discovered that someone who may or may not be the same Donna Garner posted to a Christian-homophobe hate site. The email on this article is different than the one Garner uses on the Lone Star Foundation page, but that doesn't mean anything; I have at least five email addresses, two of which I never even use. I was inclined to believe it was the same Garner, as I then found this article in which she goes off on illegal immigrants, titled "This Is Not Being Racist," but which is also inexplicably titled "Promoting Homosexuality in the Public Schools" in the header. Maybe she meant to write the one, then chucked it and wrote the other instead.
In the Americans for Truth (gag!) post, Garner talks about her experiences dealing with Wal-Mart, where she warns all red-blooded American apple-pie eating straight folk that, using Wal-Mart's search engine, "I typed in the words 'gay and lesbians.' In the top, lefthand corner, it states, '576 items found for ‘gays and lesbians.' Wal-Mart still has some cleaning up to do before it can say it is not supporting the gay and lesbian agenda." Oh yes, the empire is sure to fall!
In my effort to make sure that the teacher Donna Garner was the same person as the homophobe Donna Garner, I narrowed my Google search to "donna garner homosexuality," and this article at Baptist Press essentially confirmed it, in which it's written that...
Donna Garner, a retired English teacher, is an example of a leader in the grassroots effort to help Wal-Mart live up to the family friendly description the company gives itself.... One of Garner’s main concerns is that adolescents can easily stumble upon the homosexuality-promoting books and be drawn into a lifestyle that is proven to be detrimental to their health. “I have extensive medical data to show how very dangerous the homosexual lifestyle is,” she told BP.
So that pretty much nails it then. The Donna Garner who writes so passionately about improving students' learning skills — only to overplay her hand with weird rants about presumed hippy-dippy new-age teaching techniques that are supposed to be state-approved — is the same hateful homophobe who thinks a store merely offering products to a certain segment of their clientele involves some kind of organized push to force teens everywhere into sodomite gangbangs. Apparently Garner missed the shelves in Wal-Mart that are stacked to the ceiling with delusional monkeypoo like this. Wal-Mart stocks more fundie drivel than any other major retailer I've ever seen. But for Garner, even that's not good enough. It has to be all Christianity, all the time, with no room allowed for anyone "unsaved." And they say gays are the ones with "an agenda."
For the record, I did an "entire site" search at WalMart.com for "gay and lesbian," and got 37 results total. "Gay" alone got 153, and "lesbian" got only 43. "Homosexuality" only got 5, and "homosexual" a mere 3. "Christianity" got 1,829 results, and "christian" got 4,385. ("Atheist" only got 6, and half of those were lame Christian attempts at rebuttals such as the fake Antony Flew book.) So where's the big "gay agenda" promotion, Mrs. Garner? Or are you still threatened by the fact those search numbers are any higher than zero?
Here's another stupid rant on a website with the hilariously inappropriate name of belogical.com (well, you know, Socrates was a cat), in which Garner continues her vendetta against Wal-Mart and bolsters it with such asinine nonsense as this:
Race and ethnicity cannot be changed; they are inherent. Homosexuality can be changed and is not inherent. The proof is that thousands of homosexuals have walked away from the homosexual lifestyle and are now happily married heterosexuals. No one has ever met a person who was born an Anglo and who has changed himself into an Afro-American. Putting homosexuality under the same umbrella as race/ethnicity is a ploy developed by the homosexual movement to give legitimacy to their terribly destructive sexual practices, and Wal-Mart and HEB have bought into the lie.
"...Terribly destructive sexual practices." Remember, in the mind of the Christian homophobe, being gay is about nothing more than fudge-packin', day in and day out!
So I guess I have to join TFN in opposing any influence Garner may have on the course of education in Texas. Even if her ideas about teaching were entirely valid, that fact that she's such an obvious and unrepentantly frothing bigot and hatemonger — and one who validates her hate with brazen lies — frankly disqualifies her from any respectful consideration. She needs to be relegated to the fringe and ignored, where she can spew her bile without splashing it on decent folks.
But then, that idiot McLeroy ought to be out on the fringe too. And look where he is. Looks like education in Texas is going to be a bigger battleground than we originally thought. And you thought it was just about evolution!