Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Texas Gets Out In Front

      The following information has been gleaned from various Texas sources with the exception of the section that begins with the words "Among the new Texas directives..." and ends with the words "...separation of church and state." That section was taken from an editorial in The Keene (N.H.) Sentinel of the same date. I don’t think it needs any comment.

      For several years the Texas Board of Education members have been locked in an ideological battle between a bloc of conservatives who question Darwin’s theory of evolution and believe the Founding Fathers were guided by Christian principles, and a handful of Democrats and moderate Republicans who have fought to preserve the teaching of Darwinism and the separation of church and state. Last Friday the board approved a social studies curriculum that will put a conservative stamp on history and economics textbooks, stressing the superiority of American capitalism, questioning the Founding Fathers’ commitment to a purely secular government and presenting Republican political philosophies in a more positive light.
      Among the new Texas directives are an instruction to emphasize the positive role of Christianity in American history, to the exclusion of other faiths and beliefs. Board members ruled that educators should not use the word “capitalism,” but should refer instead to the “free enterprise system,” which they believe sounds more positive. “Let’s face it, capitalism does have a negative connotation,” said one conservative member, Terri Leo. “You know, ‘capitalist pig!’” They insisted that Texas instruction include arguments against government regulation and in favor of limiting the role of government.
      Other subjects receiving prescriptive treatment were terrorism (emphasis must be on the Muslim variety) and hip-hop music (mustn’t be mentioned at all). Teachers and publishers are also instructed to include information about “the conservative resurgence of the 1980s and 1990s, including Phyllis Schlafly, the Contract with America, the Heritage Foundation, the Moral Majority and the National Rifle Association.”
      And there were heated arguments over which historical figures should and should not be singled out for attention, with people counting up representatives of races and ideologies. Even Thomas Jefferson was dropped from a list of world history standards, replaced by Protestant theologian Jean Calvin. Jefferson’s writings, including the Declaration of Independence, were not enough to overcome his heresy in coining the phrase “separation of church and state.”
      The new standards require positive references to American “exceptionalism” (this is the best darned country in the world) and a caution that the Founders did not favor a secular form of government (so much for the separation of church and state).
      Dr. McLeroy, a dentist by training, pushed through a change to the teaching of the civil rights movement to ensure that students study the violent philosophy of the Black Panthers in addition to the nonviolent approach of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He also made sure that textbooks would mention the votes in Congress on civil rights legislation, which Republicans supported.
      Other changes seem aimed at tamping down criticism of the right. Conservatives passed one amendment, for instance, requiring that the history of McCarthyism include “how the later release of the Venona papers confirmed suspicions of communist infiltration in U.S. government.” The Venona papers were transcripts of some 3,000 communications between the Soviet Union and its agents in the United States.
      The board approved an amendment saying students should study “the unintended consequences” of the Great Society legislation, affirmative action and Title IX legislation. It also approved an amendment stressing that Germans and Italians as well as Japanese were interned in the United States during World War II, to counter the idea that the internment of Japanese was motivated by racism.
      Mavis B. Knight, a Democrat from Dallas, introduced an amendment requiring that students study the reasons “the founding fathers protected religious freedom in America by barring the government from promoting or disfavoring any particular religion above all others.” It was defeated on a party-line vote.
      There are seven members of the conservative bloc on the board, but they are often joined by one of the other three Republicans on crucial votes. There were no historians, sociologists or economists consulted at the meetings, though some members of the conservative bloc held themselves out as experts on certain topics.
      In a perfect society, the information in our children’s textbooks would be vetted by scholars in the appropriate subject matters. In our less than perfect society, the weightiest minds in textbook preparation may belong to the 15 elected members of the Texas State Board of Education, and they presently include no academic experts in any field. Because of the huge share of the textbook market represented by Texas, publishers will undoubtedly revise their entire line of books to confirm to the board’s requirements – even those sold in other states.
      The board’s final votes on its new rulings will be held in May, with the books reflecting them expected to show up in 2012. But there is new hope for relief for America’s children, at least for those who don’t go to school in Texas.
      First, there’s the advent of the Internet, which can bypass Texas and slavish publishers and put a full range of instructional materials into the hands of teachers and students in other states.
      Then, believe it or not, there is the poor economy. Budgetary woes in Texas have reduced the amount of money now available to purchase textbooks. There’s speculation in academic circles that if circumstances don’t improve, publishers might find that it no longer pays to seed their wares with Lone Star ideology.
      In the meantime, teachers in other states should reach beyond standard textbooks to explore academic subjects, as many already do. And parents and educators alike should keep their eyes on Texas.

To read excerpts from “The Spirit Runs Through It,” click here.

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