Texans and their Reading Habits: from Playground to Prison Yard

From an editorial in the Amarillo GlobeNews, “Social Studies Curriculum,” the current chairwoman of the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE), Gail Lowe, recounts recent rumors and outright lies concerning the omission of various VIPs from the next batch of social studies textbooks soon to be printed for the state’s public schools. Lowe tactfully reminds invested Texans, as well as outside onlookers:

[In] Texas, students spend two full years—fourth grade and seventh grade—learning about our state and its founding. That study could not be done effectively without students knowing the contributions of Cabeza de Vaca, Francisco Coronado, Jose de Escandon, Martin de Leon, Antonio Margil de Jesus, Francisco Hidalgo, Erasmo Seguin, Juan Seguin, Jose Antonio Navarro and Lorenzo de Zavala—all significant Latinos who played a pivotal role in our history.

Lowe then restates the aim of the SBOE:

Our focus is on a general diffusion of knowledge about history and the free-enterprise system, not on the politics of racial or cultural division. It is unfortunate that news reports are not focused on the same goal for Texas students.

But after reading a report, “New Statewide Achievement Tests to Replace TAKS” on the Austin American Statemens Homeroom Blog, readers are tempted to ask: Why bother worrying over schoolbooks when Texas students are solely focused on finding a way to adequately pass standardized tests? Such a question might nag readers, particularly after scanning over a chronology of these ever-changing tests, in all their dismal glory (provided by the Statesmans blog):

Texas Assessment of Basic Skills—The TABS, in use from 1980 to 1985, was the first state-mandated test administered to students in grades 3, 5 and 9 in reading, mathematics and writing.

Texas Educational Assessment of Minimum Skills—The TEAMS was used from 1986 to 1990 and tested reading, mathematics and writing in grades 1, 3, 5, 7, 9 and 11. The TEAMS was the first state test students were required to pass to earn a diploma.

Texas Assessment of Academic Skills—The TAAS, in use from 1990 to 2002, tested reading, mathematics and writing. The TAAS was ultimately given to students in grades 3 to 8 and 10. Additionally, eighth-grade students were tested in science and social studies, and Spanish-language tests were available for students in grades 3 to 6. Four end-of-course exams provided an optional method for meeting graduation requirements.

Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills—The TAKS, in use from 2003 to the present, assesses students in grades 3 to 11 in mathematics, reading, writing, English/language arts, science and social studies. Student promotion is tied to test results for students in grades 3, 5 and 8. The TAKS expanded graduation requirements to include English/language arts, mathematics, science and social studies.

In related readings, Eric Dexheimer, at the Austin American Statesman, reports on “Banned in Texas prisons: books and magazines that many would consider classics” whereupon readers realize that—when it comes to reading lists and content choices in Texas—it is perpetually becoming more difficult to tell the difference between the state’s public school students and its prisoners. Readers might conclude that the kind of librarian skills exhibited by prisoner Andy Dufresne at Shawshank wouldn’t exactly be welcomed at any facility run by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

In other readings, a book review of William P. Young’s “The Shack—The Missing Art of Evangelical Discernment” by Albert Molher, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (in Kentucky not Texas):

The Shack [(2007)] is a work of fiction. This must be kept in mind in evaluating the book, but the book is also a sustained theological argument, and this simply cannot be denied. Any number of notable novels and works of literature have contained aberrant theology, and even heresy … When it comes to The Shack, the really troubling fact is that so many readers are drawn to the theological message of the book, and fail to see how it conflicts with the Bible at so many crucial points.

Thankfully, for both Christian and heathen readers, Mohler’s solution stays sensible:

The answer is not to ban the The Shack or yank it out of the hands of readers. We need not fear books—we must be ready to answer them.

UPDATE: While Texas prisoners may not have much to read, they might attempt some writing, as this colleague demonstrates:

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