Should We Really Elect School Boards?

Flickr/<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/theresasthompson/2999130055/" target="_blank">Theresa Thompson</a> (Creative Commons)

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By now pretty much everyone has read Russell Shorto’s New York Times Magazine cover story on the Texas state board of education. The whole controversy is kind of fascinating, but one aspect of the Texas textbook wars that can’t be overstated is the skill with which conservative activists, in Texas and elsewhere, have exploited the democratic processmost notably by packing school boardsto advance their cultural agenda. Shorto digs up a pretty telling quote from Ralph Reed, formerly of the Christian Coalition: “I would rather have a thousand school-board members than one president and no school-board members.”

That’s probably right. After all, if you have a thousand school-board members, there’s a pretty good chance that no one will even notice; it’s a stealth revolution. With that in mind, I think Sara Mead nails it at Eduwonk:

Although it varies by state, Americans tend to elect a whole bunch of public officials, including a lot of officials in relatively obscure roles….that aren’t well understood by the public. Most voters, who have limited time and energy to devote to these issues, can’t possibly follow the performance and positions of all these officials. Having more of them be appointed by mayors, governors, and other public officials who are better known to voters may actually increase accountability.

I consider myself politically engaged, but the best way to sneak some major reform past me is to put it on the local ballot. When you leave it to the voters to assemble a panel of education experts, who, in turn, craft a state-wide curriculum, they often make weird choicesfor instance, the leading conservative voice on the Texas board of education, Don McLeroy, is a dentist. Naturally.

In the meantime, expect more stories like this, fron the Austin American-Statesman, on the moderate school board candidate who’s now being smeared as soft on terror:

“Could Tim Tuggey, who has made tens of thousands of dollars by helping the Saudis to scrub their image, be trusted to stand up to the far left to make sure our history books do not undergo revisionism?” wrote Donna Garner, a conservative education commentator who then urged her readers to donate to [the incumbent Ken] Mercer.

Well, someone had to ask, I guess.

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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