Texas Textbooks and School Social Studies Curricula

The Texas Board of Education has approved social studies curriculum changes put forth by conservative critics. The conservative push on the curriculum came partially as a result of efforts by a Hispanic groups to include more material on Hispanic figures and history in textbooks, as well as a perceived liberal bias in modern textbooks.

The New York Times covers the story:

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.

“I reject the notion by the left of a constitutional separation of church and state,” said David Bradley, a conservative from Beaumont who works in real estate. “I have $1,000 for the charity of your choice if you can find it in the Constitution.”

The phrase “separation of church and state” does not appear in the Constitution. There is, however, that little bit about prohibiting a religious test for office, and that pesky 1st Amendment provision against an establishment of religion. While it is true that the Constitution originally did not apply in the states, and that several states did have established religions for some time, it is very clear that the Constitution was intended to be a secular document, and to establish a secular government. I challenge Mr. Bradley to find the word “God” or Christian” in the Constitution.

They also included a plank to ensure 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.”

I don’t see anything wrong with this. The conservative resurgence was a very significant social and political event, especially in its relationship to the election of President Reagan. I guarantee that the liberal politics and social movements of the 60’s and 70’s are covered in detail, so why not the conservative policies of the 80’s?

Dr. McLeroy, a dentist by training, pushed through a change to the teaching of the civil rights movement to ensure that students study the violent philosophy of the Black Panthers in addition to the nonviolent approach of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He also made sure that textbooks would mention the votes in Congress on civil rights legislation, which Republicans supported.

“Republicans need a little credit for that,” he said. “I think it’s going to surprise some students.”

A very significant addition. Racism is almost exclusively depicted as a white phenomenon, to the point where some scholars insist that only whites can be racist. Including the violence of the Black Panthers is certainly legitimate. For that matter, mentioning the resistance to the civil rights movement by the Democratic Party would be a fantastic addition. The narrative is quite set that Republicans are racist, despite the fact that Democrats instituted Jim Crow laws, founded and operated the Ku Klux Klan, and rejected civil rights for blacks, while the Republicans fought to pass civil rights legislation. It is a major lapse in the education system that people do not know these historical facts.

Mr. Bradley won approval for an amendment saying students should study “the unintended consequences” of the Great Society legislation, affirmative action and Title IX legislation. He also won approval for an amendment stressing that Germans and Italians as well as Japanese were interned in the United States during World War II, to counter the idea that the internment of Japanese was motivated by racism.

Also sounds good. Research has definitively shown that the Great Society and the New Deal were harmful to the economy, and that welfare legislation and policies have had negative effects for the groups they seek to assist. The point on internment is especially valid — just the other day I saw a pundit on a national news network argue that internment was racist because Germans and Italians weren’t interred. Well, they were — and that’s an important bit of history.

Other changes seem aimed at tamping down criticism of the right. Conservatives passed one amendment, for instance, requiring that the history of McCarthyism include “how the later release of the Venona papers confirmed suspicions of communist infiltration in U.S. government.” The Venona papers were transcripts of some 3,000 communications between the Soviet Union and its agents in the United States.

Imagine how much the political narrative of our country would change if students were taught that McCarthy was right, he wasn’t targeting random people out of paranoia, and that we have proof of this. The Left would be so sad if they could no longer use the term “McCarthyism” to slander the right.

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.”

What? Include free-market economists in American social studies curricula? Astonishing!

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.

This is positively stupid. Remove Thomas Jefferson from an American history book to make room for Thomas Aquinas? Are you kidding me? No, the Enlightenment was not the only philosophy on which these revolutions were based, but it was the most significant one. Anyone who claims to be a strict Constitutionalist has no business arguing that America was founded on strictly Christian principles and intended to be a Christian nation. See my point above: the words “God” and “Christian” do not appear in the Constitution, and as carefully worded and fully debated as the document was, that cannot be an oversight.

Apparently the new curriculum also mentions creationism. I honestly don’t have a problem with creationism mention in a social studies or history book, as it is a very significant historical and social movement. I don’t think it should be in a science book, because it clearly isn’t science, but it is certainly socially important enough to be included in a discussion of American history.

Branching off of the Texas textbook issue, Sandy Rios at Townhall discusses the importance of eduction in the social and cultural development of children, arguing that what they are taught and how it is slanted greatly affects the social and political climate. This is certainly true, and from that perspective, some of the curriculum changes are very important.

Tom Blummer at NewsBusters highlights the treatment that the curriculum change is getting in the media. Blummer references an AP report that is quite obvious in its bias:

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.

“Far-Right,” eh? I suppose that there is some evidence that these changes represent an extreme, far-right position? Let’s see if people pushing for a more liberal curriculum are “far-left” or if they’re just reasonable moderates.

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.

I’d hate to be the one to have to mention this, but the United States is, in fact, a constitutional republic. It is not a democracy — otherwise we wouldn’t have a representational system. The very fact mentioning this in the curriculum is seen as somehow wrong indicates the liberal bias in the piece. The Founding Fathers intentionally avoided establishing a democracy, and arguments against democracy should probably be included in discussions of the founding of our country.

And why is discussing the problems related to leaving the gold standard bad? The very objection to discussing the problems resulting from it also indicate a liberal bias — it makes the Federal Reserve look bad.

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.

“Ultraconservatives.” Do they have special powers that make them more menacing than regular conservatives? Do they wear capes? Note that there’s no mention that the woman that stormed out did so because her proposal of removing American historical figures from the curriculum and replacing them with Hispanic and Mexican figures was rejected. Now that’s great reporting.

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.

The horror. Teaching American exceptionalism and the free market system? How could they? Why, if we mention that a free market economy works best without government intervention, these students may grow up suspicious of government intervention in the economy!

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.

Oh, those right-wing extremists! Wanting students to learn that the Second Amendment actual says what it says!

Another amendment deleted a requirement that sociology students “explain how institutional racism is evident in American society.”

Oh no! We can’t indoctrinate students with this nonsense about institutional racism? How will we convince people that aren’t racist that they’re racist anyways?

Boy, that sure is some unbiased journalism there, isn’t it?

Gregory of Yardale at Moonbattery also comments:

How dare someone put something accurate in a history text! Oh, the outrage! And isn’t it funny how the Waste of Times sneers that the board member is “a dentist by training.” The Waste of Times wasn’t upset when Rajendra Kumar Pachauri — a railroad engineer by training — was put in charge of the UN’s Climate Change panel.

I bet your typical Texas Dentist has more common sense than a Harvard-educated Chicago community organizer, any day.

<snip>

It is a telling difference between left and right that they get upset when we want history taught with a patriotic perspective. We get upset when they want deviant sex practices taught to middle-schoolers.

In short, most of the changes seem appropriate. There is a left-wing bias in the way education standards and curricula are established, and this will help combat some of it. Some of the ideas proposed do seem to go a bit too far, I’ll admit, but given the liberal influence that dominates the education system, I doubt it will result in a theocracy emerging in the next ten years.

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  1. #1 by geoausch on Sat 13 Mar 2010 - 16:52

    The most troubling facet of the Texas State Board of Education’s decision to adopt the curriculum involved their assertion that the United States is not a democracy, but a constitutional republic. I agree with this statement, but the Republicans on the SBOE used “simple democracy” tactics (i.e. the tyranny of the majority) to ram this curriculum through in the face of widespread opposition from both Republicans and Democrats.

    They said one thing, but acted another way. In fact, they acted in a very similar fashion to Congressional Democrats who continue to try and force health care reform even though they don’t have the support.

    • #2 by The Republican Heretic on Sat 13 Mar 2010 - 17:19

      From what I understand, the curriculum was approved by a substantial majority, on the order of 2/3. I am unaware of widespread opposition to the change, at least within the State of Texas, which is the only place that matters. A local school board is not a constitutional republic.

      I also see no similarities to the curriculum change and forcing Obamacare through. Every indication is that the curriculum change was passed by a clear majority and had the general support of the people of Texas. The majority of the people in America do not want Obamacare, and the Democrats are relying on procedural tricks and potentially unconstitutional maneuvering in order to get it passed. I’m trying really hard, but I’m not seeing how a clear majority vote compares to passing a resolution that says you passed something you didn’t, or using a budget reconciliation procedure to force closure on a non-budgetary item.

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