Texas State Board of Education Recommends Eliminating Hillary Clinton and Helen Keller from the History Curriculum!

Dear Commons Community,

Every year the Texas State Board of Education reviews its mandatory curriculum and recommends changes.  Its decisions to add and delete various sections or people generally draws some attention.  This year was no different.  As part of an effort to “streamline” the social studies curriculum in public schools, the Board voted Friday  the removal of several historical figures including Hillary Clinton and Helen Keller.  The board also voted to keep in the curriculum a reference to the “heroism” of the defenders of the Alamo, which had been recommended for elimination, as well as Moses’ influence on the writing of the nation’s founding documents, multiple references to “Judeo-Christian” values and a requirement that students explain how the “Arab rejection of the State of Israel has led to ongoing conflict” in the Middle East.  The vote Friday was preliminary. The board can amend the curriculum changes further before taking a final vote in November. As reported by the Dallas Morning News:

“Barbara Cargill, a Republican board member from Houston and former chairwoman, said work groups recommended removing Clinton and Keller, and the board agreed.

“In speaking to teachers and testifiers, they did not mention these specific deletions,” she said.
High schoolers have been required to learn about Clinton, who was the first woman to win a major political party’s presidential nomination, in history class. Under a section about citizenship, students were assigned to “evaluate the contributions of significant political and social leaders in the United States” including Clinton, Andrew Carnegie, Thurgood Marshall and Sandra Day O’Connor.

Barry Goldwater was also removed from this teaching requirement. A work group tasked with the curriculum streamlining also recommended removing evangelist and Baptist pastor Billy Graham, but the state board kept him.

Third-grade social studies teachers have been required to educate kids about the life of Keller, who despite being deaf and blind graduated from college and lived a life of activism and authorship. But Keller did not make the work group’s list this time, and students in other grades aren’t required to learn about her life.

Removing figures like these from the curriculum doesn’t forbid them from being taught but just means they’re no longer mandatory. Also, the streamlining of the curriculum won’t affect textbooks or other instructional material, which the board is not updating at this time.

So why didn’t Clinton, Keller and several dozen other historical figures make the cut?
The Dallas Morning News spoke with two teachers from the group of board-nominated volunteers that made the recommendations. Both said the state required students to learn about so many historical figures that it resulted in rote memorization of dates and names instead of real learning.
The 15-member work group came up with a rubric for grading every historical figure to rank who is “essential” to learn and who isn’t. The formula asked questions like, “Did the person trigger a watershed change”; “Was the person from an underrepresented group”; and “Will their impact stand the test of time?”

Out of 20 points, Keller scored a 7 and Clinton scored a 5. Eliminating Clinton from the requirements will save teachers 30 minutes of instructional time, the work group estimated, and eliminating Keller will save 40 minutes.

By contrast, local members of the Texas Legislature (whom fourth-graders learn about) got a perfect score, as did Barbara Jordan, Sam Houston, Stephen F. Austin and Henry B. González. President Donald Trump isn’t included in the list by name, but students are required to learn about the current president, governor and mayor.

Earlier this year, the work group split up and each subgroup took a set of figures to grade using the rubric, said the two teachers, who both said they wanted to keep politics out of the decisions.
“There were hundreds of people” kids had to learn about, Misty Matthews, a teacher in Round Rock, told The News. “Our task was to simplify. … We tried to make it as objective as possible.”
Jana Poth added that the work group did “not want to offend anyone” with its choices. “But there’s too many [figures],” she said.

Third-graders, for example, are required to learn about three dozen figures. Fourth-graders have to learn about 69, and in eighth grade, when students take the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness social studies test, they must learn about 50 historical figures.

Neither Poth nor Matthews said she was in the small group that made the decisions about Clinton and Keller. In a note next to the deletion from the third-grade social studies curriculum in which Keller was included in a lesson about “the characteristics of good citizenship,” the work group wrote, “Helen Keller does not best represent the concept of citizenship. Military and first responders are best represented.”

There was no comment next to the recommendation to remove Clinton. Students in that grade are still required to learn about former President Bill Clinton’s impeachment.

Each year, the board discusses and debates new classroom standards for Texas’ 5.4 million schoolchildren. Its members, currently five Democrats and 10 Republicans, are elected to four-year terms and represent specific geographic areas.

The board’s process has always garnered attention — and often controversy. Five years ago, members clashed over whether science books should have to teach an alternative to evolution. In 2014, math standards were revised, drawing criticism from parents and teachers. And earlier this year, a new Mexican-American studies course was the subject of the latest culture war.

Many of the work group’s recommendations that were rejected by the board dealt with descriptions of the nation’s “Judeo-Christian” heritage. Texas Values, a conservative Christian political advocacy group, sent representatives before the board this week to speak out against removing the descriptions. On Friday, they applauded the board’s decision to keep them.

“In Texas, you don’t mess with the Alamo and you don’t mess with our Christian heritage. We applaud the majority of the State Board of Education for doing the right thing by restoring our foundational rights and history,” Texas Values President Jonathan Saenz said in a statement. “We are prepared to fight to protect these standards all the way to the end.”

Others criticized the board’s vote. House Democratic Caucus Chairman Chris Turner urged board members to add Clinton and Keller back into the curriculum.”


Paul Manafort Agrees to Cooperate with Special Counsel Robert Mueller!

Dear Commons Community,

Paul Manafort agreed yesterday to tell all he knows to the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, as part of a plea deal that could shape the final stages of the inquiry into Russian interference in the 2016 election.  As reported by the New York Times:

“The deal was a surrender by Mr. Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign chairman, who had vowed for months to prove his innocence in a case stemming from his work as a political consultant in Ukraine. And it was a decisive triumph for Mr. Mueller, who now has a cooperating witness who was at the center of the Trump campaign during a crucial period in 2016 and has detailed insight into another target of federal prosecutors, the network of lobbyists and influence brokers seeking to help foreign interests in Washington.

Mr. Manafort’s decision, announced at a federal court hearing in Washington in which he pleaded guilty to two conspiracy charges, was likely to unsettle Mr. Trump, who had praised Mr. Manafort for standing up to prosecutors’ pressure and had hinted that he might pardon him.

It is not clear what information Mr. Manafort offered prosecutors in three days of negotiations that led to the plea deal. But in court on Friday, Mr. Manafort agreed to an open-ended arrangement that requires him to answer “fully, truthfully, completely and forthrightly” questions about “any and all matters” the government wants to ask about.

A New York Times editorial this morning commented:

“…Mr. Trump’s expectation that there is any honor among thieves has been confounded once again…

Unless Mr. Trump is watching Fox News, he can’t be feeling too good right now. In January, NBC News reported that he had told friends and aides he had decided Mr. Manafort wouldn’t “flip” on him. And the two men’s lawyers have been in regular contact as part of a joint defense agreement, according to Mr. Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani. If any of those conversations involved the dangling of a pardon for Mr. Manafort — which prosecutors might consider to be obstruction of justice — they would not be protected by any privilege and would probably be fair game for Mr. Mueller.

What else might Mr. Manafort reveal? Mr. Mueller is very interested in that curious meeting he attended, along with Donald Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner, at Trump Tower in June 2016 — the one with the Russian government representative who promised to provide “dirt” on Hillary Clinton…

The bad news for Mr. Trump is that there are still many unanswered questions about how Mr. Manafort exploited his Russian connections in the service of helping Mr. Trump’s campaign, and whether Mr. Trump knew or was involved in any way. Beyond the Trump Tower meeting, there’s evidence that Mr. Manafort hoped to use the campaign job — for which he took no paycheck — to help Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch with close ties to President Vladimir Putin, and to extract himself from a multimillion-dollar debt to the tycoon.

For now, Mr. Manafort can take comfort in the knowledge that he joins an ever-growing crowd of top Trump associates who have pleaded guilty to federal offenses: Michael Flynn, the president’s former national security adviser; George Papadopoulos, a foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign; Rick Gates, Mr. Manafort’s business partner and deputy campaign chairman; and Mr. Cohen, whose case is being handled by federal prosecutors in Manhattan. All have agreed to cooperate with authorities, except Mr. Cohen — and even that may be changing.

How many more guilty pleas and convictions will there be in Trumpworld before all this crime starts to look — how can we put it — organized?”

The dominoes are toppling!


The Chronicle of Higher Education:   “Academic job market for budding humanists is a punchline.”  Ouch!

Dear Commons Community,

The Chronicle of Higher Education had an article earlier this week lamenting the sad state of the job market for those with Ph.D.s in the humanities.  The article starts with a prediction by the late William Bowen, former president of Princeton University president and head of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, who in 1989, issued a study projecting that there would be a major shortage of faculty members starting in the next several years.  He further  projected that there would be “a cascade of openings for secure academic jobs in the years ahead — especially in the humanities.”  For reasons both outside and within higher education’s control, those jobs never materialized. It’s become common for humanities Ph.D.s to face applicant pools of hundreds.  The article comments that “Today the academic job market for budding humanists is a punchline.”

The article also goes on to attribute this state of affairs to the overall decline in public funding for higher education, the adjunctification of higher education, and rising costs forcing many colleges to devote precious resources to areas other than full-time faculty.

Here is an excerpt describing the current situation.

“The Bowen Report remains relevant today because the questions raised by its assumptions ­— and by the failure of its projections — are important and unsettled. How should academics communicate about job prospects to aspiring graduate students? Should universities be better at preparing doctoral students for careers outside academe? Should they be accepting fewer Ph.D. students? How do you change an entrenched culture that defines success narrowly?

The long-term effects of the report lingered well after it became clear that Bowen’s projected faculty shortage would not materialize. By the late 1990s, professors stopped pointing to it as evidence of better times ahead. Meanwhile, the job market kept tightening. Yet students kept pouring into Ph.D. programs, even after the 2008 economic collapse. And universities kept churning out more doctorates.

The mirage vanished. The dream endured.

Take English, for example. According to the Modern Language Association’s Job Information List, the number of assistant-professor job openings in English drastically declined in the 10-year period starting just before the collapse. In 2007-8, there were 879 such jobs. In 2016-17, that number was 320. Meanwhile, non-tenure-track job postings now represent 34 percent of openings in English. Such positions accounted for 21 percent in 2007-8. The pattern is similar in the foreign languages.

During roughly the same period, federal data show that the number of doctoral recipients in the disciplines that feed into English departments remained about the same. The story is the same for all arts-and-humanities disciplines during roughly that same 10-year time frame. In 2006, about 5,300 people received arts-and-humanities Ph.D.s, while roughly 5,500 did in 2016. Despite the tales of woe, which are now everywhere you look in the higher-ed and general press, people keep applying to doctoral programs, and universities keep accepting them. And the academic labor market keeps getting tighter.”

In sum, our universities have to be honest and do a better job of making doctoral program applicants aware of job prospects in their chosen fields. 



Governor Andrew Cuomo Easily Wins Democratic Primary in New York!

Dear Commons Community,

As expected, incumbent Andrew M. Cuomo easily defeated Cynthia Nixon by 30 percentage points for the Democratic Party nomination for New York State governor.  His running mates, Letitia James won the attorney general nomination and Kathy Hochul won the lieutenant governor’s nomination.  Letitia James will be the first black woman running for attorney general in New York.  The race was called about 30 minutes after the polls closed, with Mr. Cuomo watching the results with senior staff at the Governor’s Mansion in Albany. Mr. Cuomo never appeared publicly after the polls closed on Thursday, letting the results speak for themselves.

In addition to these major leadership positions, another important development for the Democrats in New York was that six of eight members of a group of rogue Democrats who in recent years formed a coalition with Republicans, lost their nominations.   Assuming all six nominees win their elections in November, this will give Democrats full control of both houses of the legislature.

Ms. Nixon, an actress and activist, was gracious in accepting her defeat by Cuomo and understood from the beginning that she had a steep uphill battle in trying to upset the popular and well-connected governor.

On to November.


What teachers are doing in their second jobs?

Dear Commons Community,

The New York Times Magazine this past weekend had a series of articles on the K-12 teaching profession. The one that attracted my interest the most was entitled, The Second Shift:  What Teachers are Doing to Pay their Bills?  It gave snapshots of eight teachers and what they do in addition to teaching to make ends meet.  Here are the titles of their second jobs:

  • Window washer
  • Theater manager
  • Cashier
  • Landscaping business
  • Loader for Amazon
  • Barista at Starbucks
  • Salesman at Sears
  • Dealer at a Casino

In sum, in addition to devoting up to 60 hours a week teaching,  preparing for classes, and grading assignments, many of our teachers now have to take on second jobs. The hours can be long, the labor can be physical, and in some cases, the pay close to minimum wage.

A sad state of affairs!


The Carolinas Brace for Hurricane Florence While Our Delusional President Pointed to the “Unsung Success” of the Federal Help During Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico!

Dear Commons Community,

Millions of coastal residents either are on the move or hunkering down anxiously in place as Hurricane Florence surges toward the Carolinas.  Early predictions have it on a path that could lead to tremendous destruction due to the enormous amount of rain it is predicted to produce.

“This could be an unprecedented disaster for North Carolina,” said Brian McNoldy, a senior research associate at the University of Miami, in a post on Tuesday on his popular hurricane blog.

As reported by various media, a powerful Category 4 storm, with winds over 130 miles per hour, Florence should reach land by Friday, and when it does, is expected to be a monster. In addition to its powerful winds, the storm will slam the coasts of North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia with a huge, life-threatening storm surge, the National Hurricane Center has predicted. And once it is ashore, its drenching rains may cause “catastrophic flash flooding and significant river flooding” over a wide area of the Carolinas and the Mid-Atlantic states.

In the face of those threats, many coastal residents and vacationing tourists streamed inland yesgterday, prompted by evacuation orders issued by the governors of North and South Carolina and many local authorities. Others said they would wait, hoping to squeeze in one more day of fishing or beachgoing before heading for the hills. And some said they would defy the storm and stay put.

There was also additional concern about the readiness of the federal government and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to assist during and after Hurricane Florence makes landfall. Confidence in the government was not helped by the words of President Trump who praised the  “incredibly successful” job done in Puerto Rico, where the government estimates that nearly 3,000 people died as a result of Hurricane Maria last year. Speaking from the White House, Mr. Trump sought to assure the public that the Federal Emergency Management Agency was ready for Hurricane Florence saying, “We are ready as anybody has ever been.”  As reported by the New York Times: 

“Trump boasted that the federal government got excellent grades for its disaster response in Texas and Florida, but he complained that the even better job done in Puerto Rico had been ignored. “I think that Puerto Rico was an incredible, unsung success,” Mr. Trump said.

“I actually think it is one of the best jobs that’s ever been done with respect to what this is all about,” Mr. Trump said of the federal government’s response. He also falsely stated that the island’s electric grid and generating plant “was dead” before Hurricane Irma and then Hurricane Maria struck within weeks of one another.

The grid was poorly maintained and in terrible condition, but it is not the case that “it was largely closed,” or that “when the storm hit, they had no electricity, essentially, before the storm,” as the president stated.

Electricity was not restored to every customer on the island until a few weeks ago. The director of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority said that about a quarter of the $3 billion in repairs, which were paid for by the federal government, would probably have to be redone.

“If he thinks the death of 3,000 people is a success, God help us all,” said Carmen Yulín Cruz, the mayor of San Juan, in a post on Twitter.

Our prayers are with the people in the Carolinas!


Network for Public Education Report:  Hijacked by Billionaires – How the Super Rich Buy Elections to Undermine Public Schools!

Dear Commons Community,

The Network for Public Education has just issued a report entitled, Hijacked by Billionaires – How the Super Rich Buy Elections to Undermine Public Schools!  It documents ten case studies in the United States that describe how the super rich funnel donations to candidates friendly to their views on public education.  Each case study provides a summary of major donations by the billionaires. The case studies are as follows:

  • Newark, New Jersey: New York Billionaires Flood a New Jersey Mayoral Election with Cash
  • Washington State: Charter Advocates Refuse to Take “No” for an Answer
  • Los Angeles, California: Charter Advocates Buy Majority Board Control
  • Perth Amboy, New Jersey: Big Money Floods a Small School Board Race
  • Louisiana: Jeb Bush Calls and Billionaire Dollars Follow
  • Rhode Island: Anti-Pension Texas Billionaire a Major Player in Rhode Island Governor’s Race
  • Minneapolis, Minnesota: Billionaire-backed Reform Organization Funnels Cash into School Board Race
  • New York: Hedge-fund Billionaires Contribute Millions to Charter-friendly Governor
  • Denver, Colorado: Billionaire Dollars Ensure School Board Majority in a Reform-friendly District

It is well worth a read!


Charles Blow Welcomes Barack Obama Back to the Fight!

Dear Commons Community,

New York Times columnist Charles Blow has a piece today welcoming Barack Obama back to the fight as he embarks on a series of speeches blasting President Trump and the Republicans.  Blow explains how it has generally been the case that former presidents tend to stay out of the political limelight once their terms are over but that the times are such that the nation needs someone of Obama’s stature to take on Trump.  Here is an excerpt:

“It appears that that moment has finally come for Obama, though, in all honesty, it came months ago for many of us.

We have been howling into the wind so long that people dubbed our extreme objection to this deeply immoral and unscrupulous man Trump Derangement Syndrome. But, in fact, the new Bob Woodward book and the Op-Ed in this newspaper by an anonymous administration official prove us right. The fact is that most Americans now believe that Trump’s relationship to the Russian hacking and the hush money payments to women who say they had affairs with him are unethical or flat-out illegal.

Although Obama has made some tepid, often glancing, remarks about Trump’s policies and rhetoric before, his speech last week at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign was the first time that he has blasted Trump by name.

It was a departure from the genteel tradition of the presidents’ club in which the exes try not to personally criticize the current one and vice versa, although Trump had never adhered to this tradition. He insults and condemns his predecessors without end, particularly Obama, the black man whom his largely white base most detests.

Nothing Obama said was particularly new or revelatory. It was that he was saying it at all that arrested attention.

For instance, he told the audience that “each time we painstakingly pull ourselves closer to our founding ideals” there are dark forces that push us back, and that “it did not start with Donald Trump. He is a symptom, not the cause.”

He continued:

“He’s just capitalizing on resentments that politicians have been fanning for years. A fear and anger that’s rooted in our past, but it’s also born out of the enormous upheavals that have taken place in your brief lifetimes.”

He could have read similar words in a thousand essays written since Trump was elected.

But, for me, I deeply appreciate his words for another reason: He is loosening Trump’s stranglehold on the news.

There is only so much time in a news day, only so many column inches in a newspaper, only so much prominent real estate on a website. Up to this point Trump has dominated the news by overwhelming it, and no one has had the weight to challenge that dominance. Obama has that weight. Just by speaking he’s altering the diet of the news people consume.

His very presence in the fight, as a presidential voice — even if former, for some he’s forever — is disruptive.

For this I say, welcome back Mr. President. Your country was crying for help and you heard it.”

Towards the end of the movie, Casablanca, Victor Laszlo welcomes Rick back to the resistance movement during World War II, and says with confidence “now I know our side will win.”

Victor was right.  I hope Charles is right.