NPR lets Texas education official throw stones at Obama, doesn't mention her glass house

On NPR's All Things Considered, host Noah Adams, introducing a report on President Obama's September 8 speech to schoolchildren, stated that “some parents and conservatives ... called it a political intrusion into the school day.” But NPR did not note that one of the conservatives quoted in the report, Texas State Board of Education member Barbara Cargill, has repeatedly engaged in political intrusions into the Texas school system, seeking -- sometimes successfully -- to change Texas schools' curriculum to fit her conservative ideology.

From the September 7 broadcast of NPR's All Things Considered:

ADAMS: Today, the White House tried to calm a storm over a speech that President Obama will deliver to the nation's schoolchildren tomorrow. The early release of the text of that speech is meant to reassure some parents and conservatives who called it a political intrusion into the school day. But as NPR's Larry Abramson reports, the actual message of the address isn't the real issue.


ABRAMSON: Regardless of the actual message, McCluskey has a bigger problem with the way the speech was packaged. The Education Department initially distributed a lesson plan that urged teachers to discuss with students how they could help the president. On CBS' Face the Nation yesterday, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said even though that message was harmless, it was modified.

DUNCAN: It was talking about helping the president hit his goal of having the highest percent of college graduates by 2020. He's drawn a line in the sand in that. We just clarified that to say write a letter about your own goals and what you're going to do to achieve those goals.

ABRAMSON: But that change mollified few critics. Barbara Cargill of the Texas State Board of Education said the White House can't change the way news of the speech was sent out.

CARGILL: Bypassing state boards and local school boards, and sending the emails straight to school districts.

ABRAMSON: Cargill says she works hard to scrutinize textbooks and give parents access to lesson plans. The president's speech, she says, circumvents that process. The White House has also taken steps to ease those concerns by releasing the speech early. And Secretary Duncan emphasized yesterday this event is voluntary.

DUNCAN: Schools can do this. They can not do it. They can watch it during school day. Children can watch it at home with their families. They can watch it a month from now. They could never watch it. It's purely voluntary.

ABRAMSON: But even that step made things worse for some school systems. No matter what they choose to do, some parents will be upset. And Texas educator Barbara Cargill says parents don't like the choice that they face either.

CARGILL: If they opt their children out, they're going to feel ostracized. They're going to have to leave the comfort of their classroom to be dismissed to a gym.

Cargill injected her politics into Texas social science curriculum review process

Cargill reportedly asked prospective appointee to a social studies curriculum review committee, “Would you consider yourself a conservative?” “Board members appoint the review committees and typically choose people who share their philosophies. Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, was not sure about one prospective appointee -- so she asked. 'Would you consider yourself a conservative when it comes to patriotism, the constitution, the heritage of our forefathers, etc?' Cargill wrote last year in an e-mail to Rhonda Williams, an education coordinator at Stephen F. Austin State University. Cargill appointed Williams to one of the social studies review committees.” [San Antonio Express-News, 8/20/09]

  • Williams reportedly said she didn't “understand” use of " 'conservative' in this context," was given a position on a “lesser panel.” From a July 12 Nacogdoches (TX) Daily Sentinel article [requires fee]:

“Would you consider yourself a conservative when it comes to patriotism, the constitution, the heritage of our forefathers, etc?”

That was the last question that State Board of Education (SBOE) member Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, asked SFA's Education Coordinator Rhonda Williams in an e-mail interview for a spot on the state's world history curriculum writing committee last December.

Williams was nominated to sit on a writing panel that would help shape the state's social studies curriculum for the next 10 years. She was hoping that she would be selected for the world history writing committee where she felt her expertise could be best utilized. The writing teams are usually made up of high school and college level educators who help to draft curriculum standards in their respective fields.

In her response to Cargill's question of whether or not she considered herself to be “a conservative,” Williams wrote, “Although I do not entirely understand the use of the word conservative in this context, I do believe that civic virtue, or responsible citizenship, cannot occur without knowledge of the structure and responsibilities of the government, and the exploration of the ideas that led to the development of our government, including those incorporated into the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.” Williams went on to stress how the two aforementioned documents have had a central role in “every class” she has taught over the years, including in her five years as a junior level English teacher.

“I believe that citizens cannot be truly patriotic without being fully informed about the history of their country -- its background, its development, its achievements, and its mistakes,” Williams said in her response.

Without ever hearing from Cargill again, she was notified that she had been relegated to a lesser panel where she would not be responsible for drafting any content for the general classroom. Williams taught secondary level history in Texas public schools for 11 years, as a graduate student taught at Vanderbilt University and is now working at SFA where she develops digital lesson plan materials that are available free of charge for teachers and students all over the world.

Cargill ended up appointing to the committee the social studies department chair from Whitehouse ISD, a district that has a student body of approximately 4,500 students, according to its Web site.

Cargill reportedly justified use of ideology in selecting curriculum review committee personnel. "'The majority of the constituents in my 24 counties tend to have conservative views, especially about how history is taught to our students," Cargill said, explaining her inquiry [to Williams]. Cargill said she expects the review committees will 'work toward a fair and balanced approach on this topic when they meet a final time in October.' " [San Antonio Express-News, 8/20/09]

Cargill's stance on what Texas should teach students about evolution driven by ideology

Cargill voted to require that students in Texas science classes be taught about “strengths and weaknesses” of scientific theories. Voted in support of motion to “replace[e] the proposed language in subchapters 112.32, 112.33, 112.34, 112.35, 112.36, 112.37, 112.38, and 112.39 part (c)(3)(A) with the following: '(A) analyze, review, and critique scientific explanations, including hypotheses and theories, as to their strengths and weaknesses using scientific evidence and information.' ” [Minutes of the March 26 Texas State Board of Education meeting]

Sponsor reportedly said language was specifically targeted at evolution. “Many scientists contend that basic evolutionary theory at the high school level has no weaknesses, and to suggest it does would confuse students. However, Ken Mercer, R-San Antonio, fought to restore the 'strengths and weaknesses' clause, saying not all scientists agree about evolution theory. 'There are questions about evolution,' he said. 'There are weaknesses.' ” [Houston Chronicle, 3/27/09]

  • “Strengths and weaknesses” language part of creationism advocates' efforts to undermine evolution. Federal district judge John Jones III, in his opinion in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, concluded that the Dover school district's requirement that teachers read a statement about purported "[g]aps" in evolution, coupled with a reference to “intelligent design,” was an unconstitutional teaching of creationism. From the opinion:

Further evidence in support of the conclusion that a reasonable observer, adult or child, who is “aware of the history and context of the community and forum” is presumed to know that ID [Intelligent Design] is a form of creationism concerns the fact that ID uses the same, or exceedingly similar arguments as were posited in support of creationism. One significant difference is that the words “God,” “creationism,” and “Genesis” have been systematically purged from ID explanations, and replaced by an unnamed “designer.” Dr. Forrest testified and sponsored exhibits showing six arguments common to creationists. ... Demonstrative charts introduced through Dr. Forrest show parallel arguments relating to the rejection of naturalism, evolution's threat to culture and society, “abrupt appearance” implying divine creation, the exploitation of the same alleged gaps in the fossil record, the alleged inability of science to explain complex biological information like DNA, as well as the theme that proponents of each version of creationism merely aim to teach a scientific alternative to evolution to show its “strengths and weaknesses,” and to alert students to a supposed “controversy” in the scientific community. [Kitzmiller v. Dover, 12/20/05]

Regarding her vote, Cargill reportedly said she was fighting against “indoctrination” by evolution backers. “The theory is not without its critics. Darwinists try to conceal some of the weaknesses and fallacies of evolution theory, said Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands 'They are not the sole possessors of truth. Our schoolchildren belong to the parents, and they want their children educated,' she said. 'They don't want them indoctrinated with one side. They know that evolution has weaknesses.' ” [Houston Chronicle, 3/27/09]

Cargill reportedly pointed to “significant challenges” to evolution to explain her position. “Rep. Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, who supported the weaknesses requirement, said there have been 'significant challenges' to evolution theory. She cited a recent news article in which a European scientist disputed Darwin's 'tree of life' showing common ancestors for all living things. She also denied that some board members were trying to make it easier to teach creationism in science classes. 'I don't think this means you're supposed to teach creationism or intelligent design,' she said, referring to another movement related to creationism.” [Dallas Morning News, 1/23/09]