The Long Game: Texas’ Ongoing Battle for the Direction of the Classroom

Airs Sunday, October 27 at 6 p.m. From KUT, Austin Public Radio, the world premiere of a new radio documentary, The Long Game: Texas’ Ongoing Battle for the Direction of the Classroom. Produced by Peabody award winner Trey Kay, Long Game delves into the culture war battles over public school curriculum content, which have ebbed and flowed in the Lone Star State for the past fifty years.

For more than a half a century, citizens of the Lone Star State have had intense, emotional battles over what children should and should not be taught in public school classrooms. While there have been fights over just about every academic subject, debates over history, evolution, God and country generate the most heat. Listen again here.

In many ways, Texans are stuck.  Some believe teachers should lay out relevant facts before students and have them draw their own conclusions. Others believe there should be particular values —perhaps absolute values— added into the mix to help guide students. As he did with Textbook War, Kay gives each side ample room to present their best argument.  The documentary opens with the recent controversy over the Texas-generated CSCOPE online lesson plans, which drew fire when Tea Party parents were outraged by lessons that equated Boston Tea Party participants to terrorists and encouraged students to design a flag for a new communist country.  Parents were also troubled by lessons that taught the fundamental principals of Islam.  When these concerned parents asked to see their children’s lessons, they were told that CSCOPE lessons were protected by a non-disclosure agreement and that parents couldn’t have access. Long Game also profiles the influence of late textbook watchdogs Mel and Norma Gabler, who pioneered a method for religious conservative citizens to challenge textbook content.  The mom and pop couple became concerned after finding numerous factual errors in their son’s textbooks. Over time, the Gablers became more concerned with school materials that they believed to be amoral, anti-Christian and un-American.  The Gablers persuaded the Texas State Board of Education to reject certain textbooks that were beneath the couple’s standards.  National textbook publishers took notice of the Gablers’ reviews, since Texas had long had a reputation as the 800-pound gorilla in the conversation for determining textbook content used throughout the nation. Also featured in Long Game is Texas’ perennial battle over the content of biology standards and whether there is room to teach alternatives to the theory of evolution.  In 2009, the Texas State Board of Education adopted science standards that encouraged students to challenge some of the tenets of the theory of evolution.  They raised doubts about the age of the universe and the reliability of the fossil record and questioned scientific explanations for the complexity of cells.  Science magazine called Texas’s standards “a major blow to the teaching of evolution.” This part of the report is topical because the Texas Board of Education is presently adopting new science textbooks.   Long Game focuses on the fundamentally different mindsets that are pitted against one another when deciding how to educate the next generation.  The culture war differences in Texas are not that different from those in other states.  Long Game suggests that based on the differences among Texans— those who advocate for a values-neutral classroom and those who see the mission of educating tomorrow’s generation as an epic religious struggle— the prospect of common ground for common national standards may be bleak. Producer Trey Kay has contributed numerous reports to national programs, including This American Life, Marketplace, Morning Edition, American RadioWorks and Studio 360.  In 2005, Kay shared a Peabody for his contribution to Studio 360’s “American Icons: Moby Dick” program.  Long Game was edited by Deborah George, five-time DuPont winner and two-time Peabody winner. The Long Game is a project made possible by the Spencer Fellowship for Education Reporting at Columbia University's School of Journalism with additional funding provided by the Fund for Investigative Journalism, Marist College, the CRC Foundation and Friends of West Virginia Public Broadcasting.