by AndrewMc | 3/17/2010 06:00:00 AM
As many of you have no doubt seen, the Texas State Board of "Education" has re-worked the state standards to bring them more in line with a far-right agenda that seeks to re-write history, subsuming it to the political expediency of programming a generation of school children.

From the New York Times:

After three days of turbulent meetings, the Texas Board of Education on Friday approved a social studies curriculum that will put a conservative stamp on history and economics textbooks, stressing the superiority of American capitalism, questioning the Founding Fathers’ commitment to a purely secular government and presenting Republican political philosophies in a more positive light.

The vote was 10 to 5 along party lines, with all the Republicans on the board voting for it.

A great deal of alarm has been raised over these developments, but I think there may be hope for a positive outcome.

First, some of the issues. It has been clear for a number of years that in Texas education takes a back seat to neo-conservative evangelical political indoctrination. The state Board of Education has for years been re-writing the standards a little bit at a time in an effort to weed out what conservatives on the board see as the pernicious influence of liberalism.

Over time this has resulted in the removal or devaluing of the contributions of such figures as Cesar Chavez and others in the labor movement. Civil Rights has taken a back seat to cheerleading the United States' role in the Cold War. And Joseph McCarthy has reemerged as an American hero.

From the Washington Post:

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.

More interesting, from my own perspective, Thomas Jefferson will be removed as one of the people studied in order to understand the Enlightenment. Now I know we tend to study Jefferson in a rather bland way, as the person who wrote the Declaration of Independence, the Virginia Resolutions, the 3rd president, etc. But he is a key Enlightenment thinker, and the Declaration of Independence is important as a summation of a number of key Enlightenment principles.

Not the least of these is "we hold these truths to be self-evident." It would be hard to find a more concise summation of Enlightenment principles in a widely distributed public document. It almost perfectly captures the spirit of the Enlightenment.

According to the New York Times article, "Jefferson is not well liked among conservatives on the board because he coined the term 'separation between church and state'.” He was also a Deist, which is problematic if you're trying to make the case that the Founders intended to establish a Christian nation. Sure, many of the Founders were Deists, but TJ was certainly one of the more vocal Deists.

So, what to make of all this ignorance? Bloggers have gone 'round and 'round, with much sputtering. And I agree with news and bloggers at HNN weighing in with resounding criticism.

But let me offer a positive spin. It's not news that the current economy has hit states quite hard, and that education budgets in all states are taking a hit. If anything good is to come from the Texas Board of Education's revision to the standards, it's that now may be the time for states to jettison traditional textbooks in favor of online sources, DIY texts, and other electronic materials. Some are much cheaper, some are free, and some electronic materials could certainly be linked to district-level grant initiatives that might bring both technology and educational materials into the classroom.

So, now is the time. Are you outraged by what's going on in Texas? Do you see that this is going to have a broad effect on how school districts in your states purchase textbooks? Then start helping out. Help your district or state assemble an online textbook that speaks to your state standards and/or the national standards and can be had cheaper than a traditional textbook. Don't let Texas dictate what your schools teach.

In many ways, this is a teachable moment. Seize it.

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Blogger Joel Tscherne on 3/17/2010 8:20 AM:

Of course, they also want to emphasize the religious aspects of the founding fathers, as if whatever religion the founders practiced (including slavery and Native American treatment) puts that religion in a positive light.


Blogger AndrewMc on 3/17/2010 8:29 AM:

Yes, it's a cult of worship. Completely blind.

For them, history stopped in 1787, then restarted in January, 1981.


Blogger Ahistoricality on 3/17/2010 10:55 PM:

A few years back I tried to do a survey course without a textbook -- gave the students links to the Encyclopedia Britannica Online, instead, which was more than adequate background material for their other readings. They hated it with a passion. The results might be better now, but I don't know. Sometimes I think I use a textbook because it saves me the trouble of having to explain why I'm not using a textbook, and what will be on the test.

Yeah, it's a little lazy. But good textbooks are still worth the time and energy I put into finding them and still worth the money students pay for them. I wouldn't use one if I thought it wasn't.

That said, at some point I'm going to have to actually sit on a school board, or get someone who I know and trust to do it. I don't see any way around it.