The Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) is at it again, this time reviewing the U.S. History curriculum for Texas high school students with the goal of emphasizing what some claim were “Christian” ideals and beliefs that motivated our Founding Fathers.
Scientists and educators alike were frustrated and disappointed all across the nation when, in March of this year (2009), the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) cast its final vote on state science standards. Despite 54 different groups issuing an appeal to Texas lawmakers, House Bill 4224 was passed by our state legislature which is largely comprised of social conservatives. The bill put the “strengths and weaknesses” argument against evolution back into the science education laws.
“The final vote was a triumph of ideology and politics over science,” said Dr. Eugenie Scott, according to a report in Examiner.com. Dr. Scott is executive director of the National Center for Science Education (NCSE). “The board majority chose to satisfy creationist constituents and ignore the expertise of highly qualified Texas scientists and scientists across the country.”
House Bill 4224, and another “anti-evolution” bill, HB2800, which would have exempted institutions such as the Institute for Creation Research’s graduate school from Texas regulations governing degree-granting institutions, died on the Senate floor in June when the Texas legislature adjourned. But now the SBOE is at it again, reviewing the U.S. History curriculum for Texas high school students with the goal of emphasizing what some claim were “Christian” ideals and beliefs that motivated our Founding Fathers. ABC News on-line is currently featuring a story on this. You should check it out and read some of the comments people from all over the country are posting.
Why would the media, liberal-leaning or not, think the nation should be concerned or even interested in what Texas decides to teach to its high school students? Because Texas is the nation’s second-largest school system; it could very well influence the textbooks used by students in other parts of the country where there appears to be little or no lobbying for such religiously-oriented material. The debate about whether to teach religious-based social studies in Texas public schools has, according to ABC’s article, dominated a broader discussion about the state’s K-12 curriculum which is currently undergoing a review by state officials.
My personal view, and as a certified social studies teacher in Texas, I have a stake in this issue if not a say, is that the Religious-right in Texas seems to be more interesting in teaching students what to think (what they believe to be true) rather than how to think. But to get their message across, they would have to re-write history and that frightens me. The debate rages on among historians and pseudo-historians alike as to whether the Founders were Christian. Both Liberal revisionists and the Religious-right try to make the Founders fit their ideologies. But there is evidence in primary source historical documents only to support that, for the most part, the Founders were godly men. All could not respond, “Amen,” to the Apostle’s Creed. Yes, many had degrees in theology. But there were few institutions of higher learning in the colonies that were secular; most universities had presidents who were clergymen and most graduates went on to become Protestant ministers themselves.
A blogger who posted a comment this morning in response to ABC’s article, his “nom de plume” being, BubberDad, said that he was all for teaching religion in public schools. He said he thought it particularly important for students to understand what motivated people like Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. Obviously, BubberDad thinks he knows what he was talking about. So I responded:
“BubblerDad – It’s interesting that you should mention Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. Franklin was a Deist, you know, and history isn’t quite clear about Jefferson’s faith. From his writings, he seemed to teater between Deism and Christianity. We do know, however, that he fathered five children with his slave/concubine, Sally Hemmings — not exactly puritan behavior, right? So let’s be careful here, let’s not be rewriting history the way we wish it had happened.”
With respect to primary sources to support our beliefs about history, the following from James Madison, the principle architect of our Constitution, expresses well my concerns about the Religious-right’s attempt to characterize the United States as being a “Christian” nation:
“Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians in exclusion of all other Sects? That the same authority which can force a citizen to contribute threepence only from his property for the support of any one establishment may force him to conform to any other establishment in all cases whatsoever?”
If the attitude and apparent political motivations of members of the Texas State Board of Education, to inject religious teachings and, in particular, “fundamentalist” Christian teachings, into science and history curriculums for Texas public schools is a concern to you, as it is to me, you might want to contact Governor Perry’s choice to chair this board, Ms. Gail Lowe. Her office phone number is (512) 556-6262. To address the board collectively on this or any other issue involving education in Texas, you may direct an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I invite your comments.