Thanks to all our visitors interested in the great challenges and opportunities that face public education in Texas today. For the latest from Rebecca and her campaign for State Board of Education, see the blog at www.voterebecca.com/rebeccas-blog/ and check out all the resources at www.voterebecca.com .
For as long as I can remember, I have had a hard time asking for money. My mother said that even when I was little, she would offer to buy me something and I would say, “Oh no, that costs too much.” As a fiscal conservative, I will probably bring some of this same frugality to my work on the State Board of Education. I’ve been bothered by how much money the current board wastes, what with unwise investment decisions and millions spent on initiatives like abstinence only, which was long ago proven ineffective.
I started looking more at this connection between money and the board when I saw some campaign advertising sent to me by a supporter who also receives literature from my opponent. Then the next day, an article appeared in the San Antonio Express about my opponent’s campaign. It occurred to me that some pretty big bucks were going into this media blitz. I have received a number of donations from individuals in Texas and around the country, but when it comes to my opponent, he takes in figures like $35,000 from one source for his 2006 campaign. One has to wonder why anyone would be that generous to a candidate for State Board of Education.
I’ve figured out that I need to start asking for money more aggressively. When I do this, I will think of my mother and how I used hear her on the phone asking PTA parents to donate their time, money, and chocolate chip cookies for fundraisers. I’ll remember how she hounded parents to pay their dues for the 4-H club she headed for so many years. I will think of how proud she would be now, if she could see me asking for thousands of dollars to support the education of our young people in Texas. And I will ask for money, even if it hurts.
We need to restore three basic values in order to fix the Texas State Board of Education: 1) community, 2) economy, 3) respect.
Let’s put students, teachers, and the local community back at the center of education. The State Board of Education has been micromanaging school curriculum for almost twenty years, and the results have been disastrous, putting us in 51st place in high school graduation rates in the US.
Teachers and students are tied to a grim routine of preparing for TAKS tests for most of the year, under the threat of firing or loss of school accreditation. Teacher creativity and independence are stifled and students suffer the consequences. The goals for education have been transformed from an enriching growth experience to a crippling process of teaching to the test with dumbed-down texts personally edited by a group of eight extremists on the State Board of Education. We must put teachers, students, and local communities at the center of education.
The value of economy directs us to follow the money and see how it’s being used, who’s paying for candidates and why, and how public education can support the economy and higher learning. Currently, an eight member majority of the fifteen-member board squanders millions of dollars on useless initiatives like abstinence-only education, which has been proven ineffective and even harmful. These extremists are in the pocket of private education advocates who don’t even believe public education is constitutional.
Such campaign donors take taxpayer money for their private schools and make billions of dollars from them, while funding candidates who destroy public schools in Texas and elsewhere around the country. We need a Texas State Board of Education that makes public schools an engine of the economy, coordinated with higher education and the real world of work and local communities.
The final concept of respect is an essential value for all people. Right now, incumbent Ken Mercer ignores this fundamental principle, and the board’s oversight process is broken. He bragged about giving a “spanking” to people testifying before the language review committee. To say that hard-working professionals should be spanked is a horrible insult. This nasty talk and disrespect for the women and men who testify before the board has to stop. There is no place for that kind of disrespectful talk on the State Board of Education.
We must restore the values of community, economy, and respect, in a reasoned and deliberative process that coordinates local communities, legislative bodies, public schools, universities, and the world of work. Let’s stop the nonsense now!
I was an environmentalist long before I knew what the word meant. Growing up on a farm in northern Indiana, I learned from my father how to identify insects, birds, and animals, and I learned from my mother how to grow a garden. My parents had a 460-acre farm, and my father was constantly researching how to reduce artificial fertilizers, pesticides, and disturbance to the land, because it made good economic sense. He used crop rotation as the best method for fixing natural nitrogen in the soil, and he took advantage of the government soil bank program—which has received ridicule as “paying farmers not to grow crops”—to rest the land and enrich soil naturally.
Meanwhile, my mother, good child of the Great Depression, taught me to garden, raise chickens for eggs, and save every scrap of food, paper, and cloth. On our farm, we reduced waste, reused whatever could be reused, and conserved as a matter of principle and economic wisdom. My mother was one of those homemakers who used the printed cloth from chicken feed sacks to make dresses. At the time, I was embarrassed to wear recycled sacks, but looking back on it now, I’m proud that I wore those eco-friendly clothes.
When I grew up and entered the Peace Corps to serve in Chad, one of the poorest and most environmentally devastated countries in the world, I saw firsthand the disastrous results of deforestation. I also learned what it really means to reduce, reuse, and recycle. Not a single scrap of paper, glass, plastic, or metal ever went to waste in Chad. Every item was used again and again. People came by the house to collect bottles to resell in the market. Merchants used newspapers to wrap items, and children made toy cars from coat hangers and cans salvaged from people’s garbage.
Returning from Chad, I suffered culture shock as I witnessed with new eyes how much was wasted on a daily basis in my home country. When I saw people throwing away paper, cans, and bottles, I wanted to shout, “No, someone can use that! Please don’t throw it away!” I restrained myself, but I did reduce my own consumption, hoarding and reusing materials, and taking them wherever I could for recycling. I also encouraged my students to do the same, using community-service writing projects to heighten their awareness of environmental issues.
My awakening coincided with the growth of the sustainable living movement, and I joined every organization I could find, from National Resources Defense Council, to the Sierra Club, to World Wildlife Fund, to Greenpeace, to the Nature Conservancy. I served on the San Marcos Solid Waste Commission, which developed our first city-wide recycling program.
Now, as candidate for the State Board of Education District 5, I bring a passionate, long-standing commitment to environmental education as part of a comprehensive curriculum for the 21st century. We can no longer afford to squander the earth’s resources and poison the water and air we all share. It’s not just a good idea to conserve; it’s a matter of life and death, quite literally. Texas, as the nation’s biggest polluter, must take the lead in cleaning up our mess, using the wide open spaces and vast capacity for renewable energy—wind, solar, hydroelectric, wave, and geothermal—to develop a new economy and take us to a clean and prosperous future.
Wild Ride on the Campaign Trail
Joining the ranks of people on the campaign trail has been a wild ride for me, filled with much more excitement than I ever would have imagined. When I decided to run, I pictured myself at events where I would have a hard time staying awake. Instead, this campaign takes me back to my early days of the Peace Corps in Chad, where an intense group of idealistic people kept a grueling schedule, with passion and enthusiasm.
I was twenty-three, fresh from graduate school at Indiana University in Bloomington. At our first Peace Corps dinner with the French Ambassador to Cameroun, this Indiana farm girl had to eat frog legs with a smile and then ride home on a bicycle through a pitch-black night, along unpaved streets with no streetlights. My bike was one of those big balloon-tired rentals, repaired countless times, with no headlight.
I recall my thoughts as I rode through the dark, following the bike in front of me, hoping I wouldn’t crash and land in the dark water of an open sewer at the side of the road. Here I was in Africa, I had just met an ambassador, and I was sailing along on at breakneck speed with no clue where I was headed. Someone shouted out, “This is the stuff of life!” How perfectly that phrase captured my feeling that I was engaged in a glorious adventure, that every moment was a learning experience.
That feeling of excitement has returned to me with my decision to campaign for State Board of Education. I’m racing along, not always sure of the way. In fact, I got a little sidetracked on my way to the Tejano Democrats conference in San Antonio. The receptionist told me the location on the seventh floor, so I bopped on up there and marched into the first room I saw with food and a big crowd. I grabbed myself a plate and headed for a table of friendly-looking people who gestured for me to join them. We talked for a while and I was looking around thinking that except for our table and the great food, this just didn’t seem like a Tejano Democrats reception.
After some chitchat, it came out that this was an Air Force Reunion meeting, with people who had served mainly in World War II and Guam. My table mates were most gracious and said they were glad I had joined. They added that they were sorry they couldn’t vote for me, since they were all from outside of District 5.
I had finished eating, so I excused myself and then went to the right reception next door. There, Senator Gonzalo Barrientos, who had invited me, was speaking about the importance of the State Board of Education race. I waved my hand at him, but he couldn’t see me, so he didn’t introduce me. I was crestfallen. Moments later, though, he found me and had me stand up with him in front of everyone. The senator held my hand up as he introduced me, whispering that I’d have to be aggressive to succeed in politics.
Senator Barrientos’ kindness is typical of the warm welcome that seasoned campaigners offer to people like me, a beginner in politics. Encountering this strange new world, I feel just the way I did back in the 1970s in Africa, sailing through the darkness, pedaling as fast as I can to keep up, riding on faith, and following the lights of those who know the way.
“Mom, you have to do this!”
Back at the beginning of 2009, it seemed like every week I would shake my head over those crazy statements coming out of the State Board of Education. My friend at work told me, “You should run for the board. You have kids who went to public school in San Marcos and you have a background in education and public service.” At Texas State University I have been teaching students who come through Texas public schools for 28 years and I’ve seen how hard many of them have to work to catch up – to learn what they should have been taught in high school or earlier.
I’m not a politician and I thought I wasn’t about to run, but I did start educating myself. I discovered the State Board of Education was even worse than I had realized. Frustrated teachers and parents talked about being shut out of discussions and having their work ignored and rejected by arrogant board members. The billions of dollars of public funds that are supposed to help our children get the education that they need to get ahead in life are being wasted. A majority of State Board members just do not seem to have any respect for our children, teachers, parents, or education itself.
I began to consider the possibility of running and I agreed to speak to a group along with a couple of other prospective candidates. I didn’t prepare much, since I figured I probably wouldn’t end up running. Someone else would step up to the task, I was sure. But listening to the others speak, it dawned on me that maybe I was the best person for the job. All I had to do was listen to people and tell them what I truly believed—why I care passionately about education and how my experience in teaching and community service in Texas over the past twenty-eight years has prepared me to serve on the State Board of Education.
It was my turn to speak, and suddenly I knew exactly what I was going to say. I looked around the room and realized that I had the best listeners I could ever hope for. They wanted what I wanted. They wanted to change the face of Texas. They wanted to bring ideas and knowledge into the public school classroom. They wanted to bring respect for community, for education, and for our duty to the next generation to the Board. We could do this together. I didn’t have a set agenda, but I knew the educational system.
When I got home that day, reality struck, and I started thinking about how much time and effort it would take to campaign. A few weeks later at a training session for candidates they gave us gigantic books filled with lists of things to do. They talked about spending at least three days a week making calls to ask for money and support, walking neighborhoods, and speaking to every possible group in the central Texas area. I went home and asked my husband, Jean-Pierre, what he thought, and then I called our daughter Marisa to see what she thought. They both said I should do whatever I believed was right.
Then I went to visit our younger daughter, Thea, in North Carolina, where I got an email from a person with long experience in Texas politics. He had heard me speak and he said I was, quite simply, the only person in the field who could win. If I didn’t run, we would have the same representative on board for another term, and another generation of students would suffer under this backward system.
I showed Thea the email, and she said, “Mom, you have to do this.” She was right. I have to do this.