Wednesday, July 15, 2009

History books next target of culture warriors

If you thought the Texas Board of Education’s battle over science curriculums in public schools wasn’t entertaining enough, take a look at this story in the Wall Street Journal the other day.

The fight over school curriculum in Texas, recently focused on biology, has entered a new arena, with a brewing debate over how much faith belongs in American history classrooms.
The Texas Board of Education, which recently approved new science standards that made room for creationist critiques of evolution, is revising the state’s social studies curriculum. In early recommendations from outside experts appointed by the board, a divide has opened over how central religious theology should be to the teaching of history.

Sounds like fun, doesn’t it? But wait! It gets better. Lots better! The board has brought in several “experts” to review and critique history textbooks being considered by the board for adoption by Texas schools.

Three reviewers, appointed by social conservatives, have recommended revamping the K-12 curriculum to emphasize the roles of the Bible, the Christian faith and the civic virtue of religion in the study of American history. Two of them want to remove or de-emphasize references to several historical figures who have become liberal icons, such as César Chávez and Thurgood Marshall.

Say what?!?! Remove Cesar Chavez and Thurgood Marshall??? What does that have to do with the Bible and Christian faith??

“We’re in an all-out moral and spiritual civil war for the soul of America, and the record of American history is right at the heart of it,” said Rev. Peter Marshall, a Christian minister and one of the reviewers appointed by the conservative camp.

This coming from a minister who “preaches that Watergate, the Vietnam War and Hurricane Katrina were God’s judgments on the nation’s sexual immorality.” In other words, the man is certifiably insane.
But this is who the majority conservatives on the State Board of Education picked to review history textbooks, along with David Barton, founder of WallBuilders, a group that promotes America’s Christian heritage.
So who do the Democrats and the few “moderate” Republicans on the board pick? Why people with actual expertise in history and social studies. What a concept!
People like Jesús F. de la Teja, chairman of the history department at Texas State University, and Lybeth Hodges, a professor of history at Texas Woman’s University. Not surprisingly, they would like to see more diversity in the history textbooks.
“We have tended to exclude or marginalize the role of Hispanic and Native American participants in the state’s history,” de la Teja said.

But the conservatives on the board are dead set against that. “Reaching for examples of achievement by different racial and ethnic groups is divisive, Mr. Barton said, and distorts history.”
They and their handpicked reviewers believe that children must learn that America’s founding principles are “biblical.”

For instance, they say the separation of powers set forth in the Constitution stems from a scriptural understanding of man’s fall and inherent sinfulness, or “radical depravity,” which means he can be governed only by an intricate system of checks and balances.
The curriculum, they say, should clearly present Christianity as an overall force for good -- and a key reason for American exceptionalism, the notion that the country stands above and apart.
“America is a special place and we need to be sure we communicate that to our children,” said Don McLeroy, a leading conservative on the board. “The foundational principles of our country are very biblical.... That needs to come out in the textbooks.”

So, the conservatives aren’t so much interested in actual “history” being presented in the history books as they are about making sure that their political and theocratic agenda comes across lound and strong. They don’t see the history textbooks as teaching instruments so much as propaganda instruments through which to spread their political and evangelical message to the unwashed masses.

It is high time that the Texas Board of Education was put out to pasture so that the job of guiding curriculums for our school children can be left to academic professionals and not political hacks and partisan zealots.