Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?—I See Anti-Marxists Looking at Me!

Part I

Earlier this year, the Texas State Board of Education removed children’s author Bill Martin Jr. from a proposal to include him in the third-grade curriculum section.  Martin would have been put on a list of authors who had made cultural contributions—along with Laura Ingalls Wilder and Carmen Lomas Garza—until board member Pat Hardy made the motion to toss out Bill Martin’s name. You see, Hardy had learned that “Bill Martin” had written an adult book that contains “very strong critiques of capitalism and the American system” from another board member named Teri Leo.

It was while Leo was researching Bill Martin on the Web site that she discovered that he had written a book called Ethical Marxism. Leo alerted Hardy to her discovery in an email. Hardy explained: “She said that that was what he wrote, and I said: ‘ … It’s a good enough reason for me to get rid of someone.’ ”

Well, someone named “Bill Martin” may have written pro Marxist books for adults—but it wasn’t Bill Martin Jr. No, Bill Martin Jr. is the author of perennial picture book favorites Brown, Brown Bear, What Do You See?; Rock It, Sock It, Number Line; and Chicka Chicka Boom Boom—which, I might add, most people would not consider to be anti-capitalist literature.

Part II

Why bring this nearly year-old story up now? I’m doing it because of a recent decision made by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit in the case of Evans-Marshall v. Board of Education of the Tipp City Exempted Village School District. That case involved Shelley Evans-Marshall, “an Ohio teacher whose contract was not renewed in 2002 after community controversy over reading selections she assigned to her high school English classes.” The appeals court ruled that teachers do not have “First Amendment free-speech protection for curricular decisions they make in the classroom.” In its opinion, the Court also said: “Only the school board has ultimate responsibility for what goes on in the classroom, legitimately giving it a say over what teachers may (or may not) teach in the classroom.”

Part III

When I read about the decision in the Evans-Marshall case a couple of weeks ago, it got me to thinking about the Texas Board of Education/Bill Martin Jr. story, the new Texas social studies curriculum, and the case of Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District. State Boards of Education can wield a lot of power. In my state of Massachusetts, members of the State Board of Education are appointed by the governor. In Texas, they are elected. As far as I know, one doesn’t have to have any special background in education/educational philosophy or expertise/knowledge of curricular subjects to serve on the State Boards of Education in Massachusetts or Texas. I don’t know about other states.

Part IV

Do you have any thoughts on the subject of who should be the ultimate “decider(s)” of what is and what isn’t taught to children in your state? Do you think that the individuals who serve on these boards should have some kind of special knowledge or expertise?


Name confusion gets kid’s author banned from Texas curriculum (Dallas Morning News)

Court: No Teacher Speech Rights on Curriculum (School Law blog at Education Week)

Texas Conservatives Win Curriculum Change (New York Times)

Pepper Hamilton LLP

– Elaine Magliaro, Guest Blogger

48 thoughts on “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?—I See Anti-Marxists Looking at Me!”

  1. James M.

    I was in California when Mr. Reagan was elected governor. The first two things he did was change the tuition free University of California into a pay for tuition institution; and he emptied many of the state mental hospital patients out onto the streets.

    We signed a recall petition and were later (I believe) denied employment because of that. At least I convinced my Republican parents to not vote for him for President.

    As President, of course, he tripled the national debt. In doing so, he convinced the Russians to give up the nuclear arms race, but at such a cost….

  2. W=c,

    Sorry for the awkward sentence! I blame the wonderful ham and bean soup I was shoveling down as I relayed that article. 🙂

  3. Elaine,

    That’s the first I’ve heard of the Yee bill and that is good news, but I’ll tell you this: as goes Texas? So will go Louisiana (these backward monkeys down here would make your educated head spin), Oklahoma, Mississippi and Alabama. The body count after Texas gets done revising history will be five plus.

    On the plus side, Texans should find it much harder to get into colleges out of state after this, so perhaps that will “contain the damage” a bit.

  4. James M. Martin,

    Professor Turley didn’t write this post. I did. I brought up the Dover case because it came to mind when I was thinking about some of the poor decisions that state education boards have made.


    Book publishers want to publish textbooks that they can sell to big markets. Texas is a big market. I know that Texas used to do statewide adoption of textbooks. I believe the state still does–but I’m not sure.

    From Science Blogs:

    Calif. Bill Would Block Texas Textbooks
    Posted on: May 22, 2010 9:16 AM, by Ed Brayton

    This is very promising. A California legislator has submitted a bill to prevent that state from using textbooks tailored to the new and distorted Texas standards:

    Under Yee’s bill, SB1451, the California Board of Education would be required to look out for any of the Texas content as part of its standard practice of reviewing public school textbooks. The board must then report any findings to both the Legislature and the secretary of education.

    California already has a very rigorous process for evaluating textbooks, so much so that textbook publishers typically put out editions specifically for that California market.

    “While some Texas politicians may want to set their educational standards back 50 years, California should not be subject to their backward curriculum changes,” Yee said. “The alterations and fallacies made by these extremist conservatives are offensive to our communities and inaccurate of our nation’s diverse history.”

    But this risk is much higher for other states than it is for California. I’d like to see other states take a similar stand.

  5. A question: if a science teacher desires to teach intelligent design in class, may the school board trump that or does the teacher’s expertise control? What if the school board says the teacher must teach intelligent design: whose expertise wins then? Can you give a consistent answer about who has authority? Or is there not an easy answer?

  6. I’m not sure what one would enjoin the Texas Board from doing. It is the book publishers who determine what products they will provide. As a practical matter they may choose to publish only books acceptable in Texas, but I haven’t heard anything suggesting that Texas will only approve books from publishers who only publish Texas compliant books. (I wouldn’t put it past them, but I haven’t heard anything about it)

  7. I doubt it would make any difference in Texas that the educational board members are appointed rather than elected: former speaker Tom Delay helped his party redistrict Texas in such a way that not even an accomplished Democratic mayor of Houston can win the governor’s job in a year of ousting incumbents. When Ronald Reagan had power of appointment in California, he got Nancy on the California board and proceeded to take revenge on the Dems by cutting university budgets where there was a lot of antiwar and other liberal-leftist sentiment against him. The governor of Texas is similarly vindictive. If he were appointing board members, things would be a whole lot worse.

    Also, I am afraid I do not see the *Dover* connection, Prof. Turley. In that case, the mindless halfwits of the religious right were trying to force the teaching of creationism (now cloaked with the euphemistic mantle of “Intelligent Design”) alongside biology, which champions evolutionism and Darwinian sciene: fact, not dogmatic speculation. The federal judge, appointed by a GOP, said I.D. was not science but religious superstition. In the Texas situation, things are much worse. These revisionist numbnuts are even characterizing as “myth” the line of separation between church and state.

    The solution, I should think, would be a class action in federal court with all the nation’s smaller school districts enjoining the Texas board from setting standards coast to coast since Texas has the demographic strength to warrant the writing and editing of history and science texts to a new kind of lowest common denominator. No nothings. The issue will be ripe for federal court with the next printing. Not by coincidence, one of the austerity measures proposed by the Teabaggers calls for abolition of the educational secretariat.

  8. We’re toast as a nation and gone as a civilization with thinking like this. No wonder people “don’t believe in” measurable climate data pointing to problems ahead! Since humanity can’t seem to learn simple lessons like
    “there’s only a finite supply of resources on a ball floating in empty space” and “if we poison the fishbowl, the fish die” that apply directly to our idiotic way of living – i don’t think there’s any way to improve public education. The clowns in charge are so enamored of their power and titles that they abuse them both to the detriment of all.

    Welcome to life in the banana republic of Amuraka.

  9. Elaine,

    Here, in Ohio, School Boards are locally elected and have the legal status under Ohio Law of “Thus Sayeth the King” … whatever the Board says, goes. There are a very few exceptions but any lawyer in this state will tell you that taking the School Board to court and winning is almost impossible.

    The Teacher’s Union is particularly strong in our town and, quite frankly needs to be as it often acts as a check/balance to the power of the School Board.

    Our school system is excellent and is directly tied to our property values in that people move here because of the excellent public education. Thus the Board enjoys unusual success with its Bond Issues as every home owner, no matter what their age, wants to maintain the re-sale value of their home.

    The town is also small enough that citizens feel they actually have influence with the Board and Board meetings enjoy heavy attendance. Someone like Hardy would have a great deal of trouble making it here … the Union would pounce, citizens would ridicule her “research” abilities and she would be seen as a danger to property values. It is more than likely that a “special” election would be in the works and she would find herself recalled. It has happened twice before.

  10. From the article,

    Leo alerted Hardy to her discovery in an email. Hardy explained: “She said that that was what he wrote, and I said: ‘ … It’s a good enough reason for me to get rid of someone.’

    We’re stupidly eating our own in some quarters…

    (And regarding the name-recognition/confusion issue, think “terrorist watchlist”… And once on it (or confused with someone who is)?

  11. One can only imagine the trauma of some tyke who has read ‘Chicka Chicka Boom Boom’ then gone to the school library to find another book by that author and been given ‘Ethical Marxism’ to digest. The poor kid would never enter another library – ever!

    The above makes as much sense as having M. Hardy and M. Leo on the Texas State School Board. Of course if M. Leo has been educated in Texas, the problem becomes more understandable; though I thought they often used “Junior” as a nickname in the South. Maybe not in Texas.

  12. I don’t believe that teachers have a first amendment right to design their own curriculum. Just like the rest of us, teachers work for an employer who may determine what the job entails. However, that does assume a curriculum designed by those with relevant knowledge–for elementary schools that is a combination of those with expertise in teaching that age and those who have expertise in a given subject. Once you devalue such expertise in the design process, you ensure that education will lose ground to indoctrination.

  13. Not only does this say bad things about the politicization of the Texas State Board of Education, it says a great deal about the competence of the board members.

    This just makes it more ridiculous that Texas has such a big impact on nationwide textbook standards.

  14. If I cover my ears, shut my eyes tight and stamp my feet, that bad Bill Martin (whichever one he is) will go far away!!

  15. Elaine,
    Buddha hit the nail on the head. It is one thing to have “civilian” control over the spending and personnel of a school district, but to allow narrow minded and uninformed elected or appointed stooges decide what students should be taught, the result is a nation of Fox News watchers and science deniers. If the school board has the ultimate authority in what a teacher can say, we don’t need teachers. We just need monitors to make the students are watching their 8 hours of Fox News and Michele Bachmann Con Law classes.

  16. Definitely a subversive… (My nieces love this one. WARNING: Don’t play it unless you want to be singing it to yourself for the rest of the day.)


  17. “Do you have any thoughts on the subject of who should be the ultimate “decider(s)” of what is and what isn’t taught to children in your state? Do you think that the individuals who serve on these boards should have some kind of special knowledge or expertise?”

    Whether elected or appointed, subject matter experts.

    It makes no sense to have classes in a given subject being designed by people who have no, a superficial or a complete misunderstanding of the subject in question. Just like you don’t take your car to the plumber for repairs, classes in subject X should not be designed by people who don’t know the material(s), or worse, those who foster a political or religious agenda that is at odds with a through and critical examination of the facts of a subject (the “what to think” crowd versus the “how to think” crowd).

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