The Texas State Board of Education is a lot like the weather.Everyone talks about it, nobody does anything about it.
Except Judy Jennings. She's running for the Texas State Board of Education in District 10, which stretches in vast zigzags from the "burbs of Austin to the "burbs of Houston. In area, it is bigger than 12 states. It was gerrymandered by Tom Delay to include lots of Republicans.
Jennings is a Democrat. She thinks that public education is a good idea, that actual science should be taught in science classes supported by tax dollars, and that the Texas State Board of Education should not be a laughingstock in large newspapers and small blogs around the world.
Jennings wants to succeed retiring board member Cynthia Dunbar, a Republican who voted with a majority bloc of social conservatives who banished Thomas Jefferson from history because he advocated separation of church and state, substituted Jefferson Davis as a deep thinker, and put creationism in the biology curriculum. A part-time professor of law at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University, she wants history books to call the slave trade the "Atlantic triangular trade." In her book, One Nation Under God, Dunbar says that public education is a "subtly deceptive tool of perversion."
The Republicans have nominated Marsha Farney for the SBOE in the 10th District. Farney bills herself as a "common sense conservative," apparently to distinguish herself from Dunbar and Dunbar's chosen successor Brian Russell, who Farney beat in a primary. It is hard to tell what might constitute common sense for Farney. She doesn't address any issues relevant to education with any specificity on her website. At a debate she said that she thought evolution should be taught "only as a theory." That would move the SBOE, as it is called, about an inch closer to respectability.
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Compared with Dunbar, Farney is the lesser of two medievals. Or maybe she's just better at looking slightly lesser.
In this time of uncontrollable outside events making both political parties look hapless, it will be interesting to see if the United States regresses further into far-right mythology or learns to face physical reality in the 21st century.
In that sense the race to control the Texas State Board of Education, which oversees 4.5 million students and has huge influence on textbook content around the country, is more important than most Congressional races, even though the actual job offers no salary.
Conflict of interest: Judy Jennings is married to Hal Jennings, who works for IBM in Austin and has been my friend since 1963 when we were students at Van Hise Junior High in Madison, Wisconsin. Hal and I have been playing rock & roll together since the 9th grade Halloween party, reuniting the band periodically for special events, like the party we threw in 2006 when Judy completed her Ph.D thesis (A Comparison of Statistical Models Used to Rank Schools For Accountability Purposes) at the University of Texas. So I confess that I'm prejudiced. Judy, a Cheesehead by birth and Texan by choice since 1990, has been a big supporter of my band, the Schmoes, and I'm hoping we can reunite again and play her victory party this November.
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