May 25, 2010 12:18PM

Too Quiet on the Texas Front?

Over at Matt Yglesias’ blog, Ali Frick wants to know why she hasn’t detected any “conservative outrage” over the great Texas textbook tangle. Strangely, though, she only critiques Cato by name. That’s odd because (a) Cato is a libertarian organization, not conservative, and (b) there are many other libertarian — as well as truly conservative — think tanks out there.

Unfortunately, those things are just the beginning of the post’s odd twists.

Before I get into the weirdness, though, let me cop to the charge of relative silence. I’ve been meaning to hit the Texas situation harder, but have been dealing with a much greater education threat to the country — truly national curriculum standards — as well as other big issues.

Which reminds me: If Ms. Frick is very concerned about having one set of standards imposed on the entire nation, I invite her — and anyone else — to a major debate we’ll be having at Cato on the same day that proposed national standards are expected to be released to the public. Register here to attend!

So anyway, I have been relatively quiet on Texas. But not completely silent, and Ms. Frick could easily have found things that both I and others have written on the Lone Star social studies shootout just by searching for “Texas” and “social studies” on Cato’s website. That search brings up this, and this, and this. Oh, and we sent this statement to media outlets, resulting in lots of radio interviews on the subject. How Ms. Frick missed all of these things, I do not know.

What is especially strange about Ms. Frick’s post, though, is not that she called Cato conservative (that’s all too common), or didn’t actually seem to check if we’d done anything on this. What is especially strange — or maybe just confused — is that she thinks people at Cato should be very upset about the Texas situation because the content of textbooks for Texas is often the content other states get stuck with.

For one thing, that Texas essentially dictates content for everyone else is an increasingly debatable point. More important for Frick’s piece, though, is that she asserts that somehow Texas being a big, centralized market is clearly something that creation of the U.S. Senate was supposed to mitigate, as well as the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause:

[I]t’s hard for me to think of really anything so antithetical to the Founding principles than for one state to mandate radical changes that all the other states are forced to swallow. Indeed, avoiding such an outcome was in large part the purpose of the Senate, not to mention the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution — really, the scrapping of the Articles of Confederation altogether.


First off, if you read Federalist no. 62, there is just no way to interpret it as saying that the Senate will represent states so that an individual state’s policies won’t adversely affect other states. It simply discusses the need to give representation to both states and people in the national government of the new republic.

But that isn’t Frick’s biggest stretch. That is reserved for her application of the Supremacy Clause, which reads:

This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.

Once again, this says absolutely nothing about whether it is constitutional for a big state to adopt textbooks even if it affects the textbook choices of smaller states. The clause is entirely about the supremacy of federal laws — when made to exert the specific, enumerated powers given to the federal government — over state laws. It says diddly about state actions that simply have some impact on other states, especially when those actions have nothing to do with federal powers.

All that said, libertarians do have good reason to be concerned about what has transpired in Texas, as it illustrates brilliantly the conflict, politicization, and academic dangers inherent to government schooling. But that is an issue about which many of us at Cato have dealt at great length. I invite Ms. Frick to read it all.