The Disloyal Opposition

They see conspiracies around every corner. They would rather lose than compromise. Their mean spiritedness knows no bounds. For the damage they’ve done to public schools in Texas, these five members of the State Board of Education deserve a failing grade.

Robert Offutt, a San Antonio pediatric dentist, is one the fifteen members of the State Board of Education, a panel whose obscurity masks its importance: It determines what every public school student should learn in every subject. In September he was going through his handouts for the upcoming state board meeting when he came across last spring’s end-of-course examination for high school U.S. history, a statewide multiple-choice test that many school districts require students to pass to get credit. “I consider myself something of a history buff,” Offutt told me, “so I sat down at my kitchen table and took the test. I considered it a matter of pride to get all forty questions right. After I had answered twelve or thirteen, I had an epiphany: Almost none of the questions required any knowledge of history. If you can read a map or a graph or a political cartoon or a paragraph, you can pass the test without knowing any history. The first question had a map of the United States with dots representing major gold and silver discoveries. If you know north, south, east, and west, you can answer the question.”

Offutt gave me a copy of the test, and sure enough, you didn’t have to know much history. Suppose that you are asked when the Great Depression ended; given as your choices are: “the reconversion slumps,” “the Korean War,” “World War II,” and “recessions.” Presumably you would know the answer. Even

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