Texas Conservatives Attempting to Rewrite History

“Ignorance is preferable to error, and he is less remote from the truth who believes nothing than he who believes what is wrong — Thomas Jefferson (Notes on Virginia, 1782).”

It is a popular belief among conservatives, particularly the religious-right, that the mainline media, as well as academia, are liberally biased. Hmmm, perhaps… but I think it more likely that facts simply do not support conservative ideas. Conservative solution: revise the facts.

Although not yet final, the rules require a thirty-day period for citizens’ comments, the Texas State Board of Education, approved a social studies curriculum on a party-line vote last week that will put a conservative stamp on future editions of textbooks used in public schools. This was done, according to several independent sources, despite the fact that there were no historians, sociologists or economists serving on the board and none were consulted during deliberations. This, in my opinion as a certified and seasoned social studies teacher, is tantamount to rewriting history. This eliminates any pretense of independence for “independent” school districts in Texas, and this nails it for me. I had been thinking about whether to retire from my high school economics classroom at the end of this school year. I’m not just thinking about it anymore.

Approved curriculum changes include stressing the superiority of the American free-enterprise system rather than presenting advantages and disadvantages of different economic systems in the world and avoiding the word, capitalism in economics textbooks, which has a negative connotation for some as a form economic imperialism. Another change would require students to study “the unintended consequences” of Great Society legislation, affirmative action and Title IX legislation.

Although I have not been personally able to find any historical evidence to support the idea that American citizens of German and Italian national extraction were interned wholesale in the United States during World War II as were those of Japanese extraction, future Texas textbooks will imply this to counter the idea that the internment of Japanese was motivated by racism. This is teaching students what to think as opposed to teaching them how to think. It’s replacing facts with opinions. Other changes include questioning the Founding Fathers’ commitment to a purely secular government and presenting Republican political philosophies in a more positive light. 

The board, dominated by conservative members, claims that they are merely trying to correct what they see as a liberal bias in current textbooks. To that end, they made dozens of changes to a 120-page proposal submitted by a panel of Texas teachers, changes aimed at calling into question, among other things, concepts like the separation of church and state and the secular nature of the American Revolution.

One member of the board, David Bradley, a conservative from Beaumont who works in real estate was quoted in the New York Times as saying, “I reject the notion by the left of a constitutional separation of church and state.” He is further quoted as saying, “I have $1,000 for the charity of your choice if you can find it in the Constitution.”

Well, sir, the words, “separation of church and state,” may not be literally found in the U.S. Constitution, but the notion most certainly is. From Article Six: “no religious test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” From the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

If the actual words from the Constitution aren’t sufficiently persuasive, perhaps you would be swayed by a primary source of evidence to support the founders’ intent, a letter written by the original author of the document, James Madison, to Baptist Churches in North Carolina, June 3, 1811:  “Having always regarded the practical distinction between Religion and Civil Government as essential to the purity of both, and as guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States, I could not have otherwise discharged my duty on the occasion which presented itself.”

Please write your $1,000 check out to the Texas Freedom Network, Mr. Bradley.

“We are adding balance,” said Dr. Don McLeroy, the leader of the conservative faction on the board, after the vote. “History has already been skewed. Academia is skewed too far to the left.”

Efforts by Hispanic board members to include more Latino figures as role models for the state’s large Hispanic population were consistently defeated, prompting one member, Mary Helen Berlanga, to storm out of a meeting late Thursday night, saying, “They can just pretend this is a white America and Hispanics don’t exist.”

“They are going overboard, they are not experts, they are not historians,” she said. “They are rewriting history, not only of Texas but of the United States and the world.”

The conservative members maintain that they are trying to correct what they see as a liberal bias among the teachers who proposed the curriculum. To that end, they made dozens of minor changes aimed at calling into question, among other things, concepts like the separation of church and state and the secular nature of the American Revolution.

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. After the vote, Ms. Knight said, “The social conservatives have perverted accurate history to fulfill their own agenda.”

Cynthia Dunbar, a lawyer from Richmond who is a strict constitutionalist and thinks the nation was founded on Christian beliefs, managed to cut Thomas Jefferson from a list of figures whose writings inspired revolutions in the late 18th century and 19th century, replacing him with St. Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin and William Blackstone. (Jefferson is not well liked among conservatives on the board because he coined the term “separation of church and state.”)

Parents and other citizens of Texas who sincerely care about truth and the quality of education our kids receive, be concerned — be very concerned. When political and/or religious funda- mentalists, whether ultra-conservative or ultra-liberal, dictate what can be taught in our schools, our First Amendment freedoms are substantially diminished.

A document containing the extensive revisions adopted for social studies will be posted on the Texas Education Agency website and entered in the Texas register by mid-April. Once posted, the official 30-day public comment period will begin. At that time, comments with suggested changes to the document can be sent to rules@tea.state.tx.us. In the mean time, don’t hesitate to let Ms. Gail Lowe at sboesupport@tea.state.tx.us know what you think. For more information, visit the Texas Freedom Network at http://www.tfn.org/site/PageServer.

“Ignorance is preferable to error, and he is less remote from the truth who believes nothing than he who believes what is wrong — Thomas Jefferson (Notes on Virginia, 1782).”

Please feel free to post a comment, whether pro or con.

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Published in: on March 16, 2010 at 12:34 pm  Leave a Comment  

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