Mary Lou Bruner believes that Barack Obama worked as a gay prostitute in New York during his 20s in order to pay for a drug habit. She additionally likes to refer to the president as “Ahab the Arab,” because she thinks he’s a Muslim and is fluent in Arabic (and because she is apparently a fan of Ray Stevens). Bruner also believes that the ongoing existence of the United Nations is a secret Illuminati plot to control federal and local governments. (Apparently state governments still haven’t come under control of oppressive conspiracy cabals from a Dan Brown novel.)
While the Facebook views of a retired kindergarten teacher from Mineola, Texas, wouldn’t normally have much impact on the rest of the country, Bruner’s views do. That’s because she is pretty much a lock to be joining Texas’ State Board of Education next year. And the Texas State Board of Education can have a significant impact on what goes into textbooks all over the country. It’s unclear exactly how far and where Texas textbooks spread today, but because the state is so large, when textbook companies write their books, many make them fit Texas’ standards.
While some of Bruner’s more out-there opinions—like the Democratic Party assassinating JFK and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan’s beard making him appear to be a secret Islamic extremist (“He looks like a terrorist to me”)—won’t likely be seen in our nation’s school books anytime soon, some of her other dangerous political and historical ideas could shape those books in subtle but profound ways.
As just one example, Bruner has written that it would “DESTROY PATRIOTISM” (caps hers) to teach about historic injustices toward Native Americans. “Many [Native American] tribes were war-like and vicious and they lived like many of the tribal people in Iran and backward Middle Eastern Countries,” she once wrote on Facebook.
She certainly wants to replace any talk of crimes against native people with nutty conspiracy theories. For example, she subscribes to the One World Order theory, the idea that all conspiracy theories are true, and connected. “Our textbooks do not teach about Agenda 21 and the United Nation’s plan to take over the world,” she has written on Facebook. As a state board member she hopes to change this. “WE DO NEED TO TEACH THE CHILDREN OF THIS GENERATION ABOUT THE ONE WORLD ORDER AGENDA BECAUSE IT IS REAL.” (Caps still hers.)
As a leading candidate to oversee public education in Texas, Bruner also opposes public education itself, at least for children of immigrants. “We must stop ALL of the magnets which are attracting illegal aliens including the sacred cows: Birthright Citizenship and Free Public Education,” she wrote on Facebook.
After Tuesday’s runoff Republican primary election, which Bruner was heavily favored to win, she will likely go on to trounce the Democrat in November, becoming the State Board of Education member from Texas’ District 9. (Update, May 24, 2016, at 10:45 p.m.: On March 1, Bruner received 48.4 percent of the vote in a three-way race for the seat, 17 points and almost 40,000 votes ahead of her nearest competitor. But Bruner managed to blow that enormous lead in Tuesday’s runoff and actually lost the race for for Texas State Board of Education to Keven Ellis, who had 59 percent of the vote as of this update. Memo to Donald Trump, it turns out saying crazy things can hurt you in elections, even in Texas.)
Again, this doesn’t mean Texas is actually about to put the One World Order into America’s textbooks or dismantle all public schools. Instead, Bruner is likely to use her influence to make smaller but equally insidious changes to textbooks and education policy based on whatever random political issue du jour catches her eye.
This kind of politicking is already going on in Texas’ textbooks. Bruner’s election will just add one additional layer of crazy revisionism based on personal politics.
This most recently happened in 2014, when Texas last adopted new history textbooks. One Pearson textbook had a quiz that asked, “Which of the following helped cause the Great Depression?” The correct answer was originally “The uneven spread of wealth in the 1920s.”
But after the Occupy Wall Street movement, income inequality had become a red flag for one of the topics that conservatives didn’t want taught in public schools. The board chairwoman at the time, Barbara Cargill, ordered Pearson to meet with conservative activists, and Pearson ended up changing the income inequality answer to attribute the Great Depression to “the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy decisions.” This answer is more in line with the political philosophy of someone like Ron Paul, but the actual answer to this question is still debated by historians and economists, who are divided on the issue.
Judging the past along our modern political spectrum, this new answer had been moved from left to right, actual historical debate notwithstanding. It’s little facts like this where Bruner is most likely to have her own dangerous influence.
If she gets the chance, one of her first revisions might be to the history of the Reconstruction period. Bruner, who doesn’t believe the Civil War was fought over slavery (Lincoln freed the slaves “for the wrong reason”), has recently taken an interest in reparations. (Maybe she’s been skimming Ta-Nehisi Coates.) “Black folks have been taught they deserve reparations because their ancestors were slaves,” she wrote on Facebook. But she believes that black Americans have already been given reparations for slavery. “The blacks were given land and a mule, which were usually confiscated from the plantation owners’ land,” she wrote.
What Bruner didn’t bother to learn was that this land was confined to a portion of coastline from South Carolina to Florida, and even if this had been enough in the way of reparations, former slaves didn’t get to keep the land. In 1865, President Andrew Johnson “returned the land along the South Carolina, Georgia and Florida coasts to the planters who had originally owned it,” wrote historian Henry Louis Gates for PBS.
But, if Bruner gets her way, Texas’ textbooks might solve today’s political debates by emphasizing that 40-acres-and-a-mule was a successful and final reparations program during Reconstruction. No need for “white folks” to be “ashamed to be white” (Bruner quotes on this historical topic) or to understand things like housing discrimination and poverty in the context of past history and racism. Bruner might also teach that ending slavery is actually what caused racial tension. “Many historians say the propaganda spread during the War between the States and RECONSTRUCTION are the things which caused the great division between the races in the USA,” Bruner has written.
Bruner also has issues with feminism, writing, “fathers have been replaced by welfare money.” This idea is already being taught by the largest charter chain in Texas, Responsive Education Solutions, which uses a history textbook that says that feminism caused women to turn to the government as a “surrogate husband.” With Bruner in place on the board, we could very well see this idea spread even further.
Another topic Bruner could leave her mark on is Mexican American history. In 2014, Slate reported that Texas’ history textbooks gave “scant treatment” to Mexican American history, including the Mexican-American War. Bruner seems to be comfortable keeping it that way. “People from other countries are Germans, Spaniards, Frenchmen, Mexicans, Canadians,” she has written. “We should not have labels such as German-American, French-American, Mexican-American, African-American, Asian-American, and American-Indian.”
She could team up with current state board members like David Bradley to block Mexican American history classes. In 2014, Bradley called Mexican American history “reverse racism” and skipped hearings on the subject after declaring that he was going “to pull a Cesar Chavez and boycott.”
Still, there is one Mexican American history book that Bruner might support, and it’s up for adoption by the state board in November: Mexican American Heritage is published by Momentum Instruction, a company run by Cynthia Dunbar, a former Texas state board member known for her religious extremism. The Huffington Post found the LinkedIn page of one of the book’s authors, Valerie Angle, which lists her as a “professional developer of conservative instructional content,” with qualifications including “Extensive book reviewer on Amazon.com.”
These less-than-stellar credentials might explain why the book about Mexican American heritage instructs students on Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Chilean American writer Isabel Allende, and Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho, none of whom are Mexican. The Texas Observer, which first exposed the problems with this textbook, notes that the book says, “Every year, Mexican American festivals feature mariachi bands and traditional Spanish dancing.” Then it “goes on to mention the not-quite-so-Mexican salsa, tango, and rumba.”
Still, who knows if Mexican American Heritage will pass her historical muster, even if it successfully butchers the subject? Anything vaguely Latin might be enough to get the axe, because Bruner doesn’t really know what Spanish is, but she doesn’t like it. She has previously noted her displeasure with the Spanish language, including bi-lingual teachers and politicians who cater to Hispanic voters.
In one Facebook post, she implied that her senator, John Cornyn, was speaking out both sides of his mouth on illegal immigration because he ran a foreign language campaign ad. The ad said “Gia dinh. Tu’ do. Co’ Hoi.” “My Spanish is not good enough to translate the message,” Bruner responded. The ad actually translates to “Family. From that, opportunity,” in Vietnamese.
God help us when Bruner reaches her language standards rewrite.