by Joe Shea
American Reporter Correspondent
May 29, 2010
A MAN AND A SUMMER TO REMEMBER
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- The late, great Molly Ivins famously called Texas "the laboratory for bad government," and what the Texas State Board of Education did last week reinforces that notion.
By a 9-5 vote along party line, the conservative majority on the board adopted a set of social studies curriculum standards for Texas students that by any objective standard constitute educational malpractice.
How else would one explain the decision to remove references to Thomas Jefferson from the state's history books? It's true that Jefferson is not a conservative hero, since he coined the term "separation between church and state." But to have John Calvin and Sir William Blackstone replace our nation's third president in discussions about the ideas on which this country was founded - at least in Texas classrooms - is absurd.
It's a pretty big stretch to take the author of the Declaration of Independence and one the most influential political philosophers in American history out of the textbooks. But the board's far-right faction was just getting warmed up. The new curriculum also drops references to the slave trade in favor of the more innocuous "Atlantic triangular trade." It asserts the "right to keep and bear arms" is an important element of a democratic society.
The board rejected an amendment to ensure that children learn how the United States was founded on the principle of religious freedom and refused to require that "students learn that the Constitution prevents the U.S. government from promoting one religion over all others."
The board removed the word "democratic" in references to the form of U.S. government, opting instead to call it a "constitutional republic." They removed references to "capitalism" and "the free market" because the board's right-wingers think "capitalism" is a negative term. The only permitted term for such an economic system is "free enterprise."
They added to the requirements that students learn 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."
Students will now learn about the "unintended consequences" of Title IX, affirmative action and Lyndon Johnson's "Great Society," and how Sen. Joseph McCarthy's investigations into alleged communist infiltration of the U.S. government in the 1950s wasn't the horrible thing that most historians say it was.
"In Texas, we have certain statutory obligations to promote patriotism and to promote the free enterprise system," board member Cynthia Dunbar told the British newspaper The Guardian. "There seems to have been a move away from a patriotic ideology. There seems to be a denial that this was a nation founded under God. We had to go back and make some corrections."
Corrections? I would call it rewriting history and indoctrinating students with right-wing views on religion and economics, while diminishing the role of women and minorities in shaping Texas, and American, history.
If Texans want their children to be backward and ignorant, that's their decision. But Texas is the nation's second largest textbook market, right behind California, and the decisions of a handful of Christian conservative fundamentalists could affect the curriculums of schoolchildren in the rest of America.
According to an recent article in The Washington Monthly by Mariah Blake, Texas is one of the few places "where the state picks what books schools can buy rather than leaving it up to the whims of local districts, which means publishers that get their books approved can count on millions of dollars in sales. As a result, the Lone Star State has outsized influence over the reading material used in classrooms nationwide, since publishers craft their standard textbooks based on the specs of the biggest buyers. As one senior industry executive told me, 'Publishers will do whatever it takes to get on the Texas list.'"
And, since California's current budget crunch means they won't be buying new schoolbooks for a while, Texas' clout becomes that much bigger. But California isn't taking any chances. Its state legislature is considering a bill that would require the California Board of Education to look out for any of the Texas content as part of its standard practice of reviewing public school textbooks.
The bill points out the obvious when it describes the new Texas standards as "a sharp departure from widely accepted historical teachings" and that the Texas curriculum represents "a threat to the apolitical nature of public school governance and academic content standards in California."
Every state legislature ought to be considering similar legislation. Texas' warped vision of American history must not be exported to the rest of the nation.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 30 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.