Some of the most important decisions that influence the public’s knowledge aren’t made by scientific societies and they don’t take place in Washington DC. For the most part, they’re made in the capitals of each state, as each has its own standards for what students leaving its public schools should know. Those standards set lesson plans and help decide which textbooks are acceptable.
That latter feature means that states with large student populations, like Texas and California, have an outsized influence on education in other states, as textbook publishers work hard to ensure that their products can sell in the largest markets possible. So the state school board in Texas, an elected body that approves education standards once a decade, can have a widespread impact on the US education system.
Unfortunately, the schoolboard in Texas has been a mess. Elections with tiny voter turnouts have put in place religious and ideological warriors who want to rewrite textbooks in the image of their own beliefs, disregarding the expertise of the people who actually know the subject areas at issue. Their contentious assault on science and history standards, which took place in 2010, has been captured in the film The Revisionaries, which PBS’ Independent Lens will be showing this coming week.