In Texas, social conservatives put their spin on history

When I began covering school boards as a young reporter, I had no children and thought that board members spent a lot of time arguing minutia. Now, as a parent, I have a better understanding of why the details matter in education, as the infusion of politics and personal agendas in the Texas curriculum standards demonstrates.

A year ago, the Texas board battled over whether to present evolution as a foundational part of biology. Ultimately, the board members defeated the creationists among them who wanted evolution downplayed in Texas science classes, but it looks like the social conservatives gained ground now in social studies. The Texas board has been meeting this week on the standards and voted today for changes that reflect a strong slant to the right.

According to The New York Times:

In economics, the revisions add Milton Friedman and Friedrich von Hayek, two champions of free-market economic theory, among the usual list of economists to be studied, like Adam Smith, Karl Marx and John Maynard Keynes. They also replaced the word “capitalism” throughout their texts with the “free-enterprise system.”

“Let’s face it, capitalism does have a negative connotation,” said one conservative member, Terri Leo. “You know, ‘capitalist pig!’ ”

In the field of sociology, another conservative member, Barbara Cargill, won passage of an amendment requiring the teaching of “the importance of personal responsibility for life choices” in a section on teenage suicide, dating violence, sexuality, drug use and eating disorders.

“The topic of sociology tends to blame society for everything,” Ms. Cargill said.

Even the course on world history did not escape the board’s scalpel.

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 between church and state.”)

“The Enlightenment was not the only philosophy on which these revolutions were based,” Ms. Dunbar said.

Here is an AP account of the Texas board session today:

By APRIL CASTRO

AUSTIN, Texas — A far-right faction of the Texas State Board of Education succeeded Friday in injecting conservative ideals into social studies, history and economics lessons that will be taught to millions of students for the next decade.

Teachers in Texas will be required to cover the Judeo-Christian influences of the nation’s Founding Fathers, but not highlight the philosophical rationale for the separation of church and state. Curriculum standards also will describe the U.S. government as a “constitutional republic,” rather than “democratic,” and students will be required to study the decline in value of the U.S. dollar, including the abandonment of the gold standard.

“We have been about conservatism versus liberalism,” said Democrat Mavis Knight of Dallas, explaining her vote against the standards. “We have manipulated strands to insert what we want it to be in the document, regardless as to whether or not it’s appropriate.”

Following three days of impassioned and acrimonious debate, the board gave preliminary approval to the new standards with a 10-5 party line vote. A final vote is expected in May, after a public comment period that could produce additional amendments and arguments.

Decisions by the board — made up of lawyers, a dentist and a weekly newspaper publisher among others — can affect textbook content nationwide because Texas is one of publishers’ biggest clients.

Ultraconservatives wielded their power over hundreds of subjects this week, introducing and rejecting amendments on everything from the civil rights movement to global politics. Hostilities flared and prompted a walkout Thursday by one of the board’s most prominent Democrats, Mary Helen Berlanga of Corpus Christi, who accused her colleagues of “whitewashing” curriculum standards.

By late Thursday night, three other Democrats seemed to sense their futility and left, leaving Republicans to easily push through amendments heralding “American exceptionalism” and the U.S. free enterprise system, suggesting it thrives best absent excessive government intervention.

“Some board members themselves acknowledged this morning that the process for revising curriculum standards in Texas is seriously broken, with politics and personal agendas dominating just about every decision,” said Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network, which advocates for religious freedom.

Republican Terri Leo, a member of the powerful Christian conservative voting bloc, called the standards “world class” and “exceptional.”

Board members argued about the classification of historic periods (still B.C. and A.D., rather than B.C.E. and C.E.); whether students should be required to explain the origins of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and its impact on global politics (they will); and whether former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir should be required learning (she will).

In addition to learning the Bill of Rights, the board specified a reference to the Second Amendment right to bear arms in a section about citizenship in a U.S. government class.

Conservatives beat back multiple attempts to include hip-hop as an example of a significant cultural movement.

Numerous attempts to add the names or references to important Hispanics throughout history also were denied, inducing one amendment that would specify that Tejanos died at the Alamo alongside Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie. Another amendment deleted a requirement that sociology students “explain how institutional racism is evident in American society.”

Democrats did score a victory by deleting a portion of an amendment by Republican Don McLeroy suggesting that the civil rights movement led to “unrealistic expectations for equal outcomes.”

Fort Worth Republican Pat Hardy, a longtime teacher, voted for the new standards, but said she wished the board could work with a more cooperative spirit.

“What we’ve done is we’ve taken a document that by nature is too long to begin with and then we’ve lengthened it some more,” Hardy said, shortly after the vote. “Those long lists of names that we’ve put in there … it’s just too long.

“I just think we failed to keep that in mind, it’s hard for teachers to get through it all.”

79 comments Add your comment

Teaching in FL is worse

March 12th, 2010
9:19 pm

Wow. Maureen, it seems like there was a blog you posted last week about teachers injecting too much of their personal views into their daily dealings with students.

I don’t claim to be the best student of history, but my studies of wars and agressive acts in the world seem to start this way:

-a rise in flag-waving nationalism
-violence and agression against immigrants
-control of media to brainwash the masses

A nameless news network rails against the mainstream media, calls itself a lone voice of reason, but never mentions that it has the top share in the market.

All the signs are appearing……

Teaching in FL is worse

March 12th, 2010
9:23 pm

Oh, and by the way, Texas was the wonderful state that was at the forefront of the testing movement…..

Wow

March 12th, 2010
9:31 pm

Wasn’t one of these religious nuts voted out during the Republican primary last week? Is this one last middle finger to an angry electorate before the new board is sworn in?

d

March 12th, 2010
9:38 pm

God help us all if this moves to Georgia.

Texas Dawg

March 12th, 2010
9:58 pm

I disagee with the fact that anyone would not teach our young people about the separation of “church and state” …..I do agree this county was founded in “Christian beliefs”, but we must have the separation of church and state or we will be no better than these counstries where radical reglion is the goverment!….will wind up like Saudi Arbia….the relion is the goverment…Man throught history has used relgion as a tool of power and destruction….there must be a balance between the two! ANYONE that wants to teach Hip Hop……JUST PLAN STUPID….Why for the love of all things would anyone delete the facts…historical fact that hispanics died at the Alamo…. is again the dumbest thing to delete….why would anyone want to keep that fact from or children…being a christian is about the truth….

Texas Dawg

March 12th, 2010
9:59 pm

Sorry bout the spellig!!!!!

Current parent, former teacher

March 12th, 2010
10:41 pm

Texas has the 4th highest teen pregnancy rate in the U.S. and has been receiving the highest amount of Abstinence-only funding. Sort of goes along with their science curriculum.

BTW, Georgia’s teen pregnancy is the 8th highest in the country. Good grief!

d

March 12th, 2010
10:46 pm

Massachusetts was founded on Christian beliefs — and we all saw what happened in Salem in the 1690s.

I’d argue by 1776, Christianity wasn’t the founders main thoughts, just take the preamble to the Declaration of Independence: “When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them….” It’s “Nature’s God” that is mentioned, not the Christian God.

Next step

March 12th, 2010
10:49 pm

Wouldn’t be surprised if the next step is to edit all Texas school dictionaries to replace the word abomination with obamanation, and edit all history books to say that Davey Crockett died fighting illegal immigration.

d

March 12th, 2010
10:52 pm

I’m also pretty sure that when Thomas Jefferson first said separation of Church and State he was referring to the government staying out of church business more so than the other way around.

Cast the first stone

March 12th, 2010
11:01 pm

Now just which one of those “Christian nation” zealots will be the first to show us where the word Christ is mentioned in the Declaration of Independence or the U.S. Constitution?

Public School Parent

March 12th, 2010
11:37 pm

Just remember folks that Ms. Cox (who is running for re-election) wanted to add creationism to the Georgia science curriculum.

Political Educator

March 12th, 2010
11:47 pm

The scarey part about this restructuring of standards movement in Texas is that it will affect textbook publishers on a national scale.

Cast the first stone

March 13th, 2010
12:33 am

Maybe the Christian zealots can market Cox with the slogan Changes Over Time That Only We Believe In

Free Market Educator

March 13th, 2010
1:41 am

All I can say is that parents who send their children to government school deserve government school text books. If you want freedom of speech, freedom from ignorance, and freedom of curriculum then home school.

Why have evolutionist scientists spent 2.6 billion British pounds on the Hadron Collider to find a “God particle”? It seems that they just can’t rid themselves of religious lingo.

None of them can explain where the “stuff” came from that supposedly blew up with a “Big Bang”.
I thought black holes were collapsed stars with such huge gravitational forces that even light cannot escape their snare. If this is true, how could all the stuff in the universe have been scattered with a big bang? What would be the gravitational pull of all matter in the universe crunched into a “cosmic egg?” Did gravity just suddenly reverse itself? LOL!

Also, where did the information in the DNA come from? Information requires intelligence. DFGECF dfk fjkdl;. Did that make sense? Was it information? I used letters and punctuation. Can you read what I am writing now? Why? I used letters and punctuation. What was the difference? You and I have a pre-agreed upon code called “English”. A certain sequence of letters, spaces and punctuation represents information recognized by both the sender and the receiver. Are the letters by themselves information? No! Well, who put the information in the DNA? The “God-particle?” Wow, I guess the evolutionists really do have it all figured out. They even claim that they can recreate the conditions that occurred less than a billionth of a second after the Big Bang some 13.7 billion years ago. Amazing accuracy from creatures that can’t balance their own checkbook and are now 12.5 TRILLION DOLLARS IN DEBT!

Teaching in FL is worse

March 13th, 2010
7:29 am

Free Market ed- what would happen if everyone home schooled?

Ken

March 13th, 2010
7:39 am

Who cares about Texas? I’m living a nightmare because of the “Dream Team” of Cox, Perdue and Willbanks.

Westminster Mom

March 13th, 2010
7:39 am

FME, your post was barely intelligible. Scientific American has a lot of great stuff on theories like the big bang and black holes. Magnets usually attract but put two sides with the same sides together and they repel. What’s your point?

You don’t have to agree but at least try to be informed before blabbering nonsense. I use private schools myself but reading your last post made me cringe.

Ken

March 13th, 2010
7:40 am

What company is marketing this Class Keys program in Georgia? Perhaps they’ve got Perdue in their back pocket?

Lee

March 13th, 2010
8:02 am

Oh good grief, history books have been revised and edited to suit the agenda and philosophies of certain groups for years. The latest of which is the “politically correct” editions our children have to wade through.

Take any event. Get a history text book published in the early 1900’s and compare to it’s modern counterpart. Most will have huge differences.

That is why you’ve got to do the research on your own. Read as much as you can. Read those books in which the author has a viewpoint that is different from your own as well as those with which you agree.

norman bates

March 13th, 2010
8:10 am

Having worked in the textbook business, they saying among publishers, “How goes Texas curriculum standards, so goes Georgia curriculum standards”. So get ready Georgia, next year is Social Studies textbook adoption in Georgia.

catlady

March 13th, 2010
8:39 am

Sounds a lot like Georgia, doesn’t it? We certainly have a lot of that here in Georgia.

Ken, I have asked for that information also. There will be a great deal of money spent printing, training, implementing, analyzing, revising, republishing, updating, etc, this program.

catlady

March 13th, 2010
8:42 am

FME: maybe the naming of the God particle was tongue in cheek?

RIGHT ON, BROTHER....

March 13th, 2010
8:58 am

In Texas they teach about ”The Alamo” and about home on the range and cattle farming, things Texans need to know. In Atlanta, they shove black history and other nonsense down their throats.

Need more Ga. history about ”Civil War” in the curriculums.

Teacher&mom

March 13th, 2010
9:07 am

What many politicians, board members, and pundits fail to realize is that once the classroom door is closed, the teacher takes over the curriculum. The history department at my school consists of a group of very intelligent, well-read individuals. They know their history and they know how to teach history. The textbooks are rarely opened. The shenanigans of the Texas BOE would upset them but they would quietly continue to educate their students.

The same principle applies to the science department. You can mandate standards about evolution vs creation but most, if not all, science teachers will still teach evolution.

There is always a great deal of discussion on this blog about teaching. This is a prime example of what happens when non-educators are given the reins. It is also a great example of why it is important to give teachers autonomy in their classrooms. Based on the history teachers I have worked with in the past, what is taught in the classroom will be fair, balanced, and well-informed.

Mary Grabar

March 13th, 2010
9:09 am

This is a good thing for textbooks, but you can bet that the mostly dumb teachers will still be injecting “social justice.”

Current parent, former teacher

March 13th, 2010
9:11 am

@Norman Bates, since you’ve worked in the textbook business, do you have any idea if online textbooks, downloadable versions, etc. are going to become the norm? In the case of online/downloadable versions, is it possible to have these textbooks be more current? ie, can they be edited each year to stay current? I have a relative who has been a textbook editor for years and she told me that textbook authors are often teachers who are hired while the textbook is being written, so perhaps the process of “current editing” wouldn’t be as fluid as I would hope.

Cobb Parent

March 13th, 2010
9:16 am

Enter your comments here

Cobb Parent

March 13th, 2010
9:21 am

This reminds me of the Cobb evolution sticker fiasco in Cobb a few years ago. It was a ridiculous waste of money and a huge time distraction because of the legal lawsuits. Students by and large ignored the stickers and their content and the board members were kicked out the next election. My hunch is the same thing will happen in Texas.

Larry

March 13th, 2010
9:22 am

This situation has indeed been around for a long time.

Nearly a half century ago, my sixth grade teacher walked into the room obviously spent.

The previous day we were discussing the Mexican War and some of my classmates felt compelled to go home and cry to Mommy and Daddy. My teacher had spent the evening getting ripped out by irate parents who were infuriated that anyone could suggest our great nation would be involved in something as seedy as war for territorial gain. Since this was at the height of the Cold War, I’m sure my teacher’s historical accuracy also made him a Communist attempting to influence America’s youth.

These parents weren’t part of any organization or political movement, just plain old salt of the earth jerk weeds who had no moral problem with lying to their own children. It’s easy to imagine what my classmates learned at home. Speaking of which…

Irony fans, be sure to read the above post extolling the virtues of home schooling. It says the way to achieve “freedom from ignorance” is to home school. The poster’s very next statement attributes the construction of a particle accelerator to the field of biology instead of physics.

Freedom from ignorance remains an elusive target.

Political Educator

March 13th, 2010
9:46 am

Many teachers choose not to rely on textbooks. Older students should spend more time with research. In regards to the social science, research will enable students to view the shaping of our diverse nation from the perspectives of our diverse student population. As an instructor, I do not “shove” African American history or any other type of history down the throats of my students. I do, however, encourage all of my students to explore African American, Hispanic/Latino, Jewish, Asian, Native American and Jewish cultures and significant impacts these cultures have made to create the democratic and diverse nation that we are fortunate enough to live in. By exploring these cultures, students can learn from history and be better prepared to make informed decisions regardig their daily lives. Cultural, ethnic, and language diversity provide the nation and the schools with rich opportunities to incorporate diverse perspectives, issues, and characteristics into the nation and the schools in order to strengthen both.

norman bates

March 13th, 2010
10:23 am

Current Parent, former teacher
Online textbooks, downloadable versions will be the norm. Some textbooks are edited to stay current. It depends on what publisher your school system adopted. Remember, textbook publishers are in it to make money.

JacketFan

March 13th, 2010
10:32 am

I always like to point to Article 11 of the Treaty of Tripoli ….

“Art. 11. As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion …”

I love how conservatives conveniently forget that the founding fathers weren’t very religious. It was the Age of Reason – these were men of science and philosophy. They understood the dangers of a state influenced by zealots.

JacketFan

March 13th, 2010
10:37 am

@d – erm, no, I’m pretty sure Jefferson was more concerned with the church interfering in the business of the state – that, after all, was a major precedent. Religious persecution in Europe took place because the Catholic Church told the Kings to persecute, not the other way around.

Political Educator

March 13th, 2010
10:44 am

I would advocate elimination of textbooks. Supplements are more cost effective and current. They can be used as supplements. Hands on interactive learning with a solid research base is more effective and engaging.

Political Educator

March 13th, 2010
10:45 am

Correction – they can be used as “resources”. Sorry typing and trying to warch the breakfast! lol

booklover

March 13th, 2010
10:50 am

These opinion-based textbook edits are very disturbing. Seems like Texas is trying to one-up Mississippi in the race to appeal to the lowest common denominator.

On the other hand, most textbooks have been primarily garbage for a long time now. I teach out of a literature textbook that my miderwestern high school used back in ‘93 when I was a freshman (that school has long since adopted more up-to-date texts). My current district just hasn’t gotten around to adopting literature textbooks *that actually reflect the current Georgia Performance Standards.* So I supplement the text with readings that reflect the standards.

Given the current state of the budget, we keep hearing in my district that all textbook adoptions are on hold. Anyone else being told the same thing?

T.A

March 13th, 2010
11:30 am

Looking at what happened with this vote in Texas, I feel no history textbook, written by conservatives or liberals, gives the truly accurate account. As a college student, I prefer to do my own research on what happened in history. Looking at primary sources are the best way to get an accurate account. Anything translated, interpreted, or anything intermediate action along those lines results in the watered-down account of what really happened.

I believe my generation is smart enough to think for themselves, regardless of what content is in the textbook. If something interests them, they will do their own research and come to their own conclusion. That is what I have done and I have different viewpoints on many things than most people do. With the advent of the Internet and everything that is available, textbooks themselves are becoming obsolete anyway. I’d say let the students do their own research and draw their own conclusions. That’ll teach them research skills and having an their own opinion than piggy-backing off another’s opinion to avoid thinking themselves.

Larry

March 13th, 2010
11:47 am

ooh, ooh, ooh (waving hand)

Teacher, the colonies were already part of a Christian Nation. England had an official church and it was a Christian church. The colonists wouldn’t have revolted against a Christian nation to create a Christian nation, now would they?

It’s okay if you don’t want to tell us what really happened. I’ll just go over to the AJC’s Get Schooled blog and explain my teacher is clueless as to why the United States exists and get them to explain it to me.

(hands folded, innocent look, hint of evil smile)

Saddened

March 13th, 2010
11:54 am

I think “1984″ has arrived to Texas with its mind control.

The Right is Wrong

March 13th, 2010
11:58 am

So many right wing dolts today. It’s not possible to pick just one right-wing fool for special attention, but Free Market Educator does seem to combine all the mindlessness of the right-wing with the certainty that only arises from ignorance.

danicool

March 13th, 2010
12:20 pm

As a social studies teacher, an A.P. U.S. History teacher and U.S. History teacher specifically, it is troubling that one’s values rather than actual historical facts will once again invade the next decade’s worth of textbooks. The role of a teacher is not to indoctrinate their students to become members of one or the other poltical party, but rather, present them with information, have them make cause and effect linkage, and improve them as writers and analysts. These events and the ease with which the textbooks will be changed is worrisome because of how it was done.

Atlanta Mom

March 13th, 2010
12:46 pm

Since when is a school the sole source of knowledge? I’m graduating my third child this year, and much educating goes on at the dinner table in our house. They have learned that what you read–be it in newspapers or textbooks, can not be taken at face value. And gee, lots of time there is more than one viewpoint. And that intelligent people can disagree. It’s a parent’s job to raise thinking children.

David S

March 13th, 2010
1:07 pm

And having one group take control of a huge school system and dictate what everyone is forced to learn is somehow better than every parent choosing a school based on their own person needs and their child’s needs?

This problem can only be stopped by ending government involvement in education. Majority rule will always result in oppression of the minority (except when the market is allowed to operate freely in response to customer demand and voluntary exchange of monies for services).

What is most interesting about this blog is that there is almost never a posting from Maureen that doesn’t involve some controversy or another that is happening in the government school system. There is almost never anything positive mentioned, and certainly there is almost never anything mentioned involving a private school situation. That is because when it is private, it is an issue between the customers of that business and the owners. Wouldn’t it be nice if all schooling could be handled that way??

David S

March 13th, 2010
1:19 pm

Teaching in FL is worse – I don’t see an answer regarding homeschooling form Free Market Educator (and I am not attempting to answer for them), but what can be said is that every parent would finally be responsible for the education of their child and would no longer be able to blame the government or have to fight the government in order to get the education they felt their children needed.

An elimination of government operation of schools or involvement in education does not have to mean that everyone would be forced to homeschool or would choose such a course. With such a huge customer base now looking for education alternatives, literally hundreds of schools, some very small and even located in neighborhoods and some very large would certainly open in response. They would offer varying curriculum (some that would be significantly right wing and some flat out communist I am sure). The bottom line is that one cannot predict what the outcome would be, but for sure everyone would be free to choose what they wanted, and the market would respond accordingly. Private “accreditation” agencies would no doubt spring up to independentaly rate these schools. Teacher skills and training would likely be promoted to encourage customers as would the other features of the school.

It is funny how blindly everyone accepts the status quo and yet everyone needs to have the alternatives detailed to them in order for them to even take the initial leap of realizing that something other than a government bureaucratically controlled system of education might not be the best way to achieve the goal of quality education.

Freedom works. Always has, always will. Government is always the problem.

d

March 13th, 2010
1:20 pm

@jacketsfan:
To quote Jefferson: “Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church & State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.” This was from a letter to a group of Baptists in Connecticut basically stating that the First Amendment was designed to keep government out of the church first and foremost. I do agree, however, that we should have it both ways — and if the church can’t keep out of state affairs, they’d better start paying taxes. We need that money!

d

March 13th, 2010
1:22 pm

David S, what are you doing to change this. This is the United States of America after all, and our government begins with “We the People….” When we reelect these clowns over and over and over again just because the “R” or “D” after their name, we don’t move forward, and when we have lame ducks like our governor, we end up with fishing ponds and horse parks rather than real reform. We really need an educated populous and well informed voters to look at the individual candidates on a case by case basis.

blackbird13

March 13th, 2010
1:24 pm

Delete Jefferson, but include Friedman? Sort of speaks to the contradictions in these neo-cons (non) thought, doesn’t it?

They want to remove Jefferson’s philosophical ideas because they aren’t “Christian;” however, though it is true that Jefferson refused to answer questions about his personal religious beliefs while he was in public life (imagine a politician being allowed such privacy today) he was a believer in God.
Friedman, on the other hand, was born a Jew but rejected all religion and became an atheist. But he certainly advocated free markets, and that is enough for these conservatives in Texas. Apparently, a stronger free market stance would have meant a pass for Jefferson and his lack of doctrinaire religious beliefs.

David S

March 13th, 2010
1:27 pm

danicool – If you do not believe that politics or bias plays a role in the version of history that you teach to your kids, you are kidding yourself. Wilson was violating neutrality treaties when he sent the Lusitania to Britain loaded with weapons. FDR was told months in advance by Stinson that his blockade of Japan constitued an act of war and he knew that the Japanese would likely retaliate in an attack on Hawaii. Both wanted desperately to get us involved in the world wars. Lincoln supported shipping all slaves back to Africa and started the war because the south wanted to free themselves from the oppresive “Tarrif of Abominations” and other northern state actions that were crippling southern exports and imports. This is just the tip of the iceberg of things that are carefully and willfully excluded from Government-approved textbooks on history.

One of the other posters is correct that school should not be the only source of information about anything, but the bottom line is that the bulk of america has been brainwashed by the approved government textbooks and their actions, votes, and reaction to government edicts has been forever altered by what the government has taught them to believe via the classroom.

hewett

March 13th, 2010
1:37 pm

somebody spin gonna be there why not conservative it been the liberal spin for decades nice to see correction in textbook market