May 28, 2009
Members, let’s remember a couple of points from the start. Dr. McLeroy is and will remain a member of the State Board of Education. His voters know him. They know what he stands for, and they deserve to have him represent them on the board. He will continue to do so – no matter what we do here today.
So the question before us is not whether Dr. McLeroy should be on the board, or whether he should be in a position to determine what our children read or learn. It isn’t about the power of scientific consensus versus the notion of anecdotal evidence. It isn’t about evolution versus creationism. And it isn’t about Democrat versus Republican.
Let me say that again, members – this is not about partisanship. Forget all of the shouting and protesting and bickering that have surrounded this nomination from day one. This is not about Don McLeroy’s party or his even his point of view.
This is about his leadership as chair. This is about the role he is supposed to play in this state. This is about whether or not this particular public figure should sit atop the Texas Board of Education.
And this is not about what divides us; it’s about what should unite us.
Education is the great bridge for all of our people. Yes, education has the power to lift a person, no matter his or her circumstances. But even more than that, education embodies the unifying values and priorities that have been handed down by Texas’ leaders since our foundation. For all of the things we debate in this room, I don’t question anyone’s commitment to education.
Nor do I question that our faith and religious traditions influence our public service – in the legislature and everywhere else. Indeed, particularly in the vital area of education, this commitment should be a powerful bond for all of us.
For me, this shared fundamental truth of education is evident in the Old Testament, in which King Solomon was beloved because of his hunger for wisdom. And it’s in the New Testament, in which a young Nazarene boy first showed himself exceptional in talks with his teachers.
Even today, right here in the state’s Capitol city, at the base of one of the iconic pillars of Texas education – the tower at the University of Texas – the proclamation of purpose is taken from scripture, John 8:32: “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”
Education is truth, our key to freedom, prosperity, salvation, and all those things imply.
So given this history, this legacy, this sacred mission that we all share, it should trouble us all that on this board, chaired by this nominee, education has become endlessly, hopelessly divisive.
Dr. McLeroy disputes the assertion that he’s sewn division and controversy; he says division and controversy found him, not the other way around.
If – if – that’s true, then I’m sorry for him. But even he doesn’t dispute that regardless of how this started, he’s embraced the controversy, and deepened the division.
During his confirmation hearing, Dr. McLeroy was asked what he’d do differently, given the swirl of invective on both sides – and the Travis Building’s growing status as a nationally infamous culture war battleground. It was plainly obvious that he’d never considered the question. And his only response was to tell us that he’d use a committee structure more.
I wish I were kidding.
I’m not talking about a mere perception problem here, members. There is a lack of credibility in this board, under this chairman, that’s undermining the institution among Texans regardless of whether they agree with Dr. McLeroy or not.
Texas parents, and all Texans, deserve to have an education board that transparently operates in the best interests of schoolchildren, no matter what individual board members might personally believe.
But just as importantly, people have a right to believe that will happen. They have a right to be confident that the State Board of Education is putting the interests of our children above ideology, politics, and everything else – including the so-called “good fight.”
And whether they agree with Dr. McLeroy or not, Texans simply cannot have faith in this board when it is led by a man who has so enthusiastically embraced his role in these endless culture wars – who has shifted the board’s apparent focus from our children’s education to . . . himself.
They can’t be reassured when the most routine rules of order and procedure, such as whether experts can speak about potential school textbooks – or whether board members should have a minimal amount of time to review substantial curriculum changes – explode into conflicts that play out in newspapers across the country.
Parents can’t be at peace when, after years of watching the legislature take power and responsibilities away from the board, they see that problems are still so entrenched that 15 bills are filed to strip this board’s powers even further.
And they can only be troubled when faith and science – faith and science, complementary forces in the lives of so many everyday Texans – seem constantly pitted against each other in this board’s everyday decisions because of its leadership.
Dr. McLeroy stands proudly by his notion that education is so important that it needs to be politicized.
Well, I say that education is far too important to be little more than a front in ideological, political, and cultural battles.
Because there are real casualties in these battles, members. There are real repercussions that are tragic for children today – and will be cataclysmic for our economy tomorrow – when education becomes nothing more than another scorecard showing who’s winning and losing in state government.
Dr. McLeroy has chosen his path. I salute him for his commitment to it, I defend his right to follow it, and I wish him the best as he continues, no matter what, to represent the people of District 9.
But leaders must lead, and Dr. McLeroy has proven conclusively that he is less concerned with leading the board than he is with fighting the battle.
Let’s leave him to his battle, and let’s request that the Governor find a true leader to chair the Texas Board of Education.