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Perry names Barbara Cargill to chair State Board of Education

On Friday, Gov. Rick Perry appointed Republican State Board of Education member Barbara Cargill to lead the tumultuous 15-member body.

Former SBOE Chair Gail Lowe (R-Lampasas) had been forced to step aside earlier this year, with her confirmation blocked by a group of Senate Democrats dissatisfied with board leadership. Lowe’s predecessor Don McLeroy (R-Bryan) met a similar fate, as the Texas Independent previously reported.

Though Perry’s last two initial SBOE board choices were nixed by lawmakers, Cargill won’t need Senate confirmation until 2013.

The watchdog group Texas Freedom Network said the appointment amounted to “strike three for Gov. Perry,” in a statement from communications director Dan Quinn. “Once again, he is putting politics ahead of the education of Texas students by installing an ideologue in the chairman’s seat. Just like the governor’s two previous appointees as chair, Ms. Cargill has worked since her election to the board to promote her own personal beliefs rather than facts and sound scholarship in our kids’ classrooms.”

Cargill’s promotion over Lowe may not make much of a difference for the board’s direction, as both members vote in line with the social conservative bloc, advocate for diluting the teaching of evolution and pushed for a version of the social studies curriculum critics viewed as unrepresentative of minorities and tilted toward a conservative view.

Cargill herself has sought to vet her own curriculum review committee appointees through a conservative lens. Highlighting the findings of email correspondence obtained under the Texas Public Information Act by TFN, The San Antonio Express-News reported an exchange between Cargill and an education coordinator at Stephen F. Austin State University that showed a line of politicized inquiry while determining the merits of panelists:

“Would you consider yourself a conservative when it comes to patriotism, the constitution, the heritage of our forefathers, etc?” Cargill said. “The majority of the constituents in my 24 counties tend to have conservative views, especially about how history is taught to our students.”

Cargill is also noted for appointing the late Christian minister Rev. Peter Marshall to the social studies review panel. In a series of commentaries, Marshall wrote about the dangers of Islam calling it “a demonic and perverse caricature of Judaism and Christianity.”

Marshall contended “good Muslims” could not be also be “good Americans,” because Islam is “completely incompatible with either Christianity or patriotic Americanism.”

In September, Cargill and former board member Cynthia Dunbar invited testimony proposing the board adopt a resolution against ‘pro-Islam, anti-Christian-bias’ in school history books, a measure that Cargill helped pass.

The longtime science educator was a proponent of reintroducing the “strengths and weaknesses” of evolution into science textbooks and co-nominated an out-of-state intelligent design creationist to the science standards review panel.

Cargill’s appointment carries weight, as the chair is tasked with setting the board agenda. After receiving preliminary versions of the schedule from the commissioner of education — currently Robert Scott, also appointed by Perry — the chair has the power to approve or deny agenda items, including the possibility of revisiting the contentious social studies curriculum standards. Trusted to ensure speakers with varying viewpoints have a chance to address the board, the chair is also in charge of determining which speakers will be heard from given limited time, even those who didn’t initially register.

The Liberty Institute, a conservative advocacy group, lauded Cargill’s achievements and thanked Perry for selecting “a proven conservative” to lead the board.

“Ms. Cargill has stood strong against censorship of science teaching and attacks on the teaching of Independence Day, military leaders, and Christmas, while supporting history standards that ensure teaching about the U.S Constitution, our Founding Fathers, the religious heritage of our country and American Exceptionalism,” said Jonathan Saenz, Liberty Institute’s director of legislative affairs, in a statement.

Cargill successfully pushed for the elimination of “sex and gender and social constructs” from sociology curriculum, the Texas Tribune points out.

“This allows students to go into the world of transvestites, transsexuals and God-knows-what-else,” she said at the time.

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