By Nick Braune
A teacher friend raved to me about a funny but also very informative new book about this troubled state: As Texas Goes, by Gail Collins. Although I told him I would look it up, I wasn’t going to, until it clicked who Gail Collins is. I had drawn a blank momentarily because I was picturing a Texas writer, then I recognized who she is, the very clever, skewering, biting, regular political columnist for the New York Times. (Love the Times or hate it, everyone knows that its editorial writers are world-class — not everyone who wants to write for the Times gets to.)
I whisked over to Barnes and Noble to snag one: Gail Collins skewering Texas…it’s got to be good. And – let me be clear — my trip to the store was worth it. The book is fairly short, refreshing, and a real kick. It has everything, from current digs at Governor Perry’s incoherent, “oops” campaign for the Presidency to a demystified interpretation of the historic, sentimentalized, Alamo stand of Davey Crocket: Historic, maybe; heroic, maybe; stupid, stubborn and adolescent, surely. I am constantly aware that Texas is not normal, but I have lived here so long that I forget just how people outside the state look at it. And Gail Collins’ book is a brutal, friendly reminder.
According to Collins, Texas always thinks it should be a model for other states. Governor Perry, for instance, campaigned for president in 2011, touting some economic miracle which Texas could provide for the nation. But of course few people rushed to Perry’s incoherent model once they found out that Texas has very high foreclosure rates, is 49th in average credit scores, is 38th in average hourly earnings in manufacturing, and surpasses every other state except four in child poverty rates.
Twelve years before Perry was bragging about how America should model itself on Texas’ economy, George W. Bush was campaigning for president saying that Texas is a miracle model for education.
That campaign was twelve years ago and, not incidentally, Texas is still low (42nd) in the number of high school graduates going to college. Eighth graders in Texas are three percent below the national average in reading, and yet the amount of state aid per pupil is 47th in the country. Collins shows that higher education (from community colleges, on up) is also cheated by Texas: Texas only has two public institutions listed in America’s “100 Best” colleges and universities (U.S. News and World Report’s famous ranking). Two out of a hundred, and UT is ranked 45th and A&M is ranked 63rd.
Want to shudder, remembering Governor George Bush’s “Texas model” of education and how America fell for it? Get Collins’ book, which has a few chapters on education:
“Then came the 2000 elections. During the campaign George W. Bush couldn’t stop talking about education. ‘It’s important to have standards,’ he’d say, holding up his hand to indicate the setting of a bar – a gesture that seemed to indicate the standards he had in mind were about five feet high…As a presidential candidate, George W Bush wasn’t just issuing general promises to improve the schools. He claimed to have the secret recipe.”
But in actuality, according to Collins, Texas’ education testing model was phony and ill-conceived, to the extent that the Bush/Perry Republicans are now denying they ever pushed it.