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 Borders.com 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.
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.”
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.
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)
– Elaine Magliaro, Guest Blogger