"And of all plagues with which mankind are cursed, ecclesiastical tyranny's the worst." - Daniel Defoe, Jure divino: a satyr
I liked the title of Newsweek's article on the Texas curriculum controversy so much that I used here as well. A brief backgrounder: every 10 years, the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) reviews the state's public school curriculum on all sorts of subjects. In many states, the commissioner of education or a state education agency assists, but not in the Lone Star State. A panel of "expert" reviewers is appointed for each subject, which makes recommendations on the curriculum, and then the SBOE votes on whether to make changes and if so, which changes. (A note on these experts - there were no historians, sociologists or economists consulted at the meetings, though some members of the conservative bloc held themselves out as experts on certain topics.)
The problem? The far-right SBOE isn't afraid of revising history, and because Texas is such a big piece of the school textbook printing pie, people are afraid SBOE's revisions will contaminate the rest of the country.
A near majority of the duly elected 15 members of the State Board of Education (SBOE) is locked in a hyperconservative embrace, aligned as a bloc to promote a social-issues-centric view of the world. Other contemporary controversies involving the SBOE have centered on neutering the sex-education component of the science curriculum, taking anything even vaguely PG-rated out of health textbooks (say, a line drawing of a woman's bare breast in a section on self-exam), and questioning the appropriateness of teaching the "theory" of evolution without also teaching creationism. But if those fights were largely relegated to the undercard, the social-studies controversy is a top-draw heavyweight brawl, with the jeering eyes of the nation upon us.Scientific Blogging has a number of pieces on the science curriculum issue, like here, here, and here. The social-studies controversy was a new one for me, though. It first surfaced in January and was voted on in March, but a final vote on the curriculum after considering public comments isn't until May. I'll let article author Evan Smith fill you in:
This time around, the vote is in May, but trouble's been brewing since January, when it became clear that the list of historical figures deemed worthy of inclusion in civics textbooks was up for discussion: at various points, Thurgood Marshall and Cesar Chavez were among those on the chopping block, while the inventor of the yo-yo (I'm not making this up) was cheerfully inserted and the laundering of Joseph McCarthy's reputation was contemplated. Aesop's fables were found wanting, as was a discussion of the separation of church and state. There was also a problem of race and ethnicity—or lack thereof. Board members not allied with the conservative bloc complained that the non-Anglo history of the state was getting increasingly short shrift—despite the demographic makeup of the Alamo battlefield, or the fact that Texas will soon be majority Hispanic.One of the most vocal participants, Smith says, Bill Ames, a conservative gadfly appointed by former board chair and creationism proponent Don McLeroy, attempted to rally everyone round the flag of American exceptionalism—which he described as the belief that America is "not only unique but superior," and that its citizens are "divinely ordained to lead the world to betterment."
Does this sound familiar to anyone? The world's history is littered with this kind of ethnocentric philosophy and intellectual genocide, which of course always turns out well. Oh, wait...
Smith notes that the end results may be tempered due to the outrage over the mind-boggling proposals by the SBOE. For example, he says, in the spring primary, both Don McLeroy and another reliably conservative member of the board were defeated by moderate Republicans who want to depoliticize the SBOE, and a third moderate was elected to replace yet another member of the ruling bloc.
The SBOE is holding a public hearing on the changes (voted in March 12), scheduled for May 19. A committee of the board is scheduled to vote on any additional changes on May 20. Comments can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Some of the changes you can comment on, according to Accent and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
- America will not be a "democracy" anymore, but a "constitutional republic"
- The term "capitalism" will be replaced by "free-enterprise system"
- Downgrading the role Thomas Jefferson played in our nation's founding, apparently because his secular views conflicted with the more Christian-oriented views of a majority of the Texas board (which is funny/ironic because McLeroy is the one who said "Our country was founded on the idea of creation, on biblical principals, Judeo-Christian principles and the principle of truth.")
- Softening how textbooks treat former Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy who berated and impugned those with whom he disagreed during the 1950s "Red Scare"
- Excluding reference to "hip-hop" music as a favorable example of modern American culture
- Incorporating specific reference to "American exceptionalism"
- Including mention of recent, conservative-based political activities and personalities, such as 1994’s "Contract With America," conservative icon Phyllis Schlafly, Jerry Falwell's "Moral Majority," and the National Rifle Association
Here is blow-by-blow coverage of the March 12 proceedings; click through for all four parts. One of my favorite quotes was by a real estate agent, who said he "rejects the notion by the left of a constitutional separation of church and state."