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Textbook Politics

The agriculture commissioner of Texas has taken the unusual step of opposing a science textbook and writing all of the state's local school board presidents urging them to reject it.

Environmental Science: Ecology and Human Impact is published by Addison-Wesley Publishing Co. in Menlo Park, Calif. Several Texas schools have ordered the text, which Rick Perry, a Republican, contends uses "junk science" to tag farmers and ranchers as enemies of Mother Nature.

Last year, the state school board asked the publisher to make changes in response to Mr. Perry's charges, but he remains unswayed.

Many local school officials have said they are shocked by the lengths Mr. Perry has gone to. Political observers, however, say he is fighting on behalf of high-profile groups, such as the Texas Farm Bureau, that bankrolled his campaign for the elected commissioner's post.

"We dance with the ones that brung us," said Suzy Woodford, the executive director of the Texas office of Common Cause, an advocacy group that tracks campaign finance. "As long as special interests pay for campaigns, we are going to have problems with the power and influence they get in return and exercise over every aspect of our lives, which now includes what books our kids read."

Enter Silber

John R. Silber, the newly appointed chairman of the Massachusetts state school board, showed his flair for provoking controversy in a recent speech to local school superintendents.

Mr. Silber, the president of Boston University, denounced bilingual-education programs that do not quickly channel students into English classes, trashed whole-language reading instruction, and argued that, within two years, phonics should be the exclusive method used to teach young children to read.

Mr. Silber also implored black and Hispanic residents of Boston to fight busing and "stand up" for neighborhood schools.

Mr. Silber is known for generating headlines. As the 1990 Democratic gubernatorial nominee, he ran a colorful campaign against Republican Gov. William F. Weld, who named him to the state board.

"The general reaction was not about what he said, but the manner," said Peter Finn, the executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents. "He tends to polarize everything."

--Lonnie Harp

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