God and country

By David Waters As a culture war battleground, revision of the social studies curriculum standards in Texas isn’t likely to … Continued

By David Waters

As a culture war battleground, revision of the social studies curriculum standards in Texas isn’t likely to stir the same level of rancor as abortion or gay marriage. Will students really care if the textbooks they skim to pass multiple-choice tests refer to “free enterprise” rather than “capitalism” or “constitutional republic” rather than “democratic republic”?

It’s doubtful. But the revisions tentatively approved by the state education board’s 10 Republican members do raise interesting questions. What role should politics play in what our schools are teaching (or not teaching) about American history? More importantly, how should teachers handle the growing tensions between religious conservatives and secular progressives?

Over the past year, religious conservatives clearly dominated the board’s discussions and suggested revisions, which were given preliminary approval earlier this month. (A final vote is scheduled for May.) The most obvious example of that influence was the board’s 10-5 party-line rejection of a standard requiring students to learn that the nation’s Founders “protected religious freedom by barring government from promoting or disfavoring any particular religion over all others.”

Before that amendment was rejected, board member Cynthia Dunbar, a graduate of Pat Robertson’s Regent University Law School, argued that the Founding Fathers didn’t intend to separate church and state, but rather did intend to promote religion. The board approved her revisions, which included cutting Thomas Jefferson (author of the Declaration of Independence and promoter of the phrase “wall of separation between church and state”), and replacing him with religious figures such as St.Thomas Aquinas and John Calvin.

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

Among other interesting revisions, the board:

– Mandated the observance of ‘Celebrate Freedom Week.’

– Added Diwali (Hindu, Sikh and Jain) and Hajj (Muslim) to a list of teachable religious holidays.

– Added instruction on the significance of the Social Gospel, Social Darwinism, and 20th Century missionaries,

– Added a unit on “the conservative resurgence” of the 1980s and 1990s, including instruction about the Moral Majority, Newt Gingrich’s Contract with America, the Heritage Foundation and the NRA.

In a sharp response to the board’s revisions, the Interfaith Alliance sent a letter this week to top publishing companies urging them to reject the Texas standards, which could be included in textbooks across the country.

“The Texas (board) members certainly are entitled to believe whatever they want about our country and its history,” Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, president of Interfaith Alliance and an On Faith panelist, said in a statement.

“The problem arises when their religious beliefs begin to essentially rewrite history for our children. Separation of church and state was a core tenet of our nation’s founding. Whether you like him or not, Thomas Jefferson was a leading thinker during the Enlightenment. It’s almost unfathomable to think that Texas schoolchildren won’t learn these basic facts now.”

Dr. Don McElroy, the board’s conservative leader, doesn’t quite see it that way, of course. In a radio interview this week. McElroy said the board is merely trying to balance what it sees as a secular and liberal bias in curriculum.

“I’m not saying that they were trying to make this a biblical nation or anything like that, but the principles on which (America) was founded were biblical,” McElroy said. “The secularists say there is no truth, there is no God, and that we have just evolved. That’s not what’s in the declaration, in the founding document of our country.”

One man’s balance is another man’s revisionist history. So who’s right, Gaddy or McElroy? Is the Texas State Board of Education rewriting American history, or merely correcting it? And will middle and high school students notice?

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  • lynnlm

    Think about it. Religion has actually convinced people that there’s an invisible man living in the sky who watches everything you do, every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a special list of ten things he does not want you to do. And if you do any of these ten things, he has a special place, full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish, where he will send you to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry forever and ever ’til the end of time! But He loves you. He loves you, and He needs money! He always needs money! He’s all-powerful, all-perfect, all-knowing, and all-wise, somehow just can’t handle money! Religion takes in billions of dollars, they pay no taxes, and they always need a little more. Now, you talk about a good bull**** story. Holy ****!”

  • politicalwindbag

    The U.S. vs. Don McElroy and the Texas Board of Education. Anybody up for a little justice? If these christian terrorist wants to overthrow the U.S. by rewriting history I say we go ahead and include the objective arguments for and against what they are talking about. That means we include why Thomas Jefferson is hated by these totalitarian christians. When these so called christians address John Calvin and st. Augustine they also have to address the counter arguments made by Thomas Hobbes, David Hume, Baruch Spinoza, John Locke, Thomas Paine and Baron de Holbach. It’s time America put these flat earth, earth centric nutjobs in their place in the history books. They are a group using deception and strong arm tactics to force their narrow revisionist history on the U.S. I’m pretty sure which side the textbook manufacturers will stand on in a lawsuit between the Texas Board of Education vs. the U.S.

  • ragostas

    You do a disservice to conclude by saying “One man’s balance is another man’s revisionist history,” as if there is no correct history on these issues. Religious evangelicals, with the aid of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, led the fight for religious freedom in America, recognizing long before Jefferson’s phraseology became popular that separation of church and state was absolutely necessary to prevent the corruption of the church by the state. Jefferson was certainly, and rightly, concerned about the corruption of the state by religious ideologues, but we should not omit the corruption to religion which this of entanglement with the state creates. More to the point, the Texas Board is simply wrong about the history: religion had an important role in the founding of this nation; one of its most important contributions was demanding a separation of church and state. This is discussed at length in my forthcoming “Wellspring of Liberty.”

  • YEAL9

    Added information:The Interfaith Alliance Foundation:The mission of this tax-exempt non-profit is “to promote the positive and healing role of religion in public life through education, research and civil discourse.”Considering that the president of the Interfaith Alliance Foundation, Dr. Welton Gaddy, pays himself a salary of $208,598/yr from his “non-profit’s” contributions, one wonders what is being promoted?Ref: guidestar.org”The Texas Education Agency is responsible for the oversight of public primary and secondary education in the state of Texas, involving both the over 1,000 individual school districts in the state as well as charter schools. However, it does not have any jurisdiction over private or parochial schools (whether or not accredited) nor over home schools.”TEA is overseen by a 15-member State Board of Education, ELECTED from single-member districts for four years.[8] TEA is managed by a Commissioner of Education (as of 2007, Robert Scott) who is appointed by the Governor of Texas.[9] The board devises policies and sets academic standards for Texas public schools as well as oversees the $17.5 billion Permanent School Fund and selects textbooks for Texas’ 4.7 million schoolchildren.”ref: Wikipedia

  • cassie123

    I agree with incredulous in that history is what is written down…there are editions out there that favor a more liberal or progressive point of view just as there are editions that lean more to the right. Who is writing the history books determines what we consider history. That is just the way it is going to be. Removing all bias is impossible but it is good to try to eliminate as much as we can. Either way, a parent should be also teaching their child at home. I think kids learn just as much from their teachers at school as they do from their parents – if not more (whether that is a good thing or not is left for each situation – Parents get involved!). Parents should be more involved in their child’s life. If there is something that you disagree with that your child is learning at school, take that opportunity to explain why you disagree with it. Then that child can not only hear what the parent thinks but gain critical thinking skills. Ultimately, I see the Texas school book revisions as an important debate, but not the acopolypse.

  • Dominicus1

    While the Founders didn’t favor any particular religion (“Congress shall make no law…”), they seem to have based the basic principles of this country on the idea of inalienable, “God-given” rights. They seemed to think that these principles would be understood by all, regardless of specific creed, because they were natural laws, comprehensible by natural reason (as opposed to God-given faith). The difficulty is that the very existence of these natural laws is in question now, along with the existence of absolute truth. A relativist or materialist stance does seem to be at odds with the philosophy of the founders, as it does away with the idea of inalienable rights, or any rights at all.

  • Baxter24

    It takes a bunch of rank amateurs with inflated egos, blinders and a hard-nosed ideological slant to have the audacity to rewrite history, but theat’s okay. The Texas Board of Education is up to the task. http://www.eightfits.blogspot.com

  • spidermean2

    Soon even the idiotic Darwin’s Evolution book will be viewed as the BIGGEST JOKE of all time.Welton Gaddy and his interfaith Alliance are a buch of fools.There is no science yet that can explain how a single celled organism can possibly evolve into human. Do these idiots really think that a bacteria after a very long period of time can be formed into a human brain? Not unless the human brains they have is full of bacteria.

  • FarnazMansouri

    This is getting tiresome. Texas is not the only state in the Union. Let’s move on.Gay rights issues in African American churches has yet to be addressed at OnFaith.

  • acebojangles

    To incredulous:I’m not an expert on textbooks, but I think much of the expansion in texts is a money grab by publishing companies. They release new editions as often as possible, so they have to include something new. The relevancy of the new information to the topic is irrelevant.

  • cornbread_r2

    A relativist or materialist stance does seem to be at odds with the philosophy of the founders, as it does away with the idea of inalienable rights, or any rights at all. Posted by: Dominicus1 I’m not following your logic here. Why can’t humans just claim to have rights all on their own? Isn’t it possible for a group of materialists to decide among themselves that they all have the right to free speech? Why can’t they just claim that some of these are inalienable (i.e. cannot be taken away)? Why does a god have to involved? And how would a god be involved anyway? Has a god written down our rights somewhere? Was he whispering into Ben Franklin’s ear? Why didn’t the founding fathers’ god-based philosophy of rights include women and slaves?

  • FarnazMansouri

    Perhaps, since Texas is becoming a rather tired subject, we might discuss Rev. Wright’s stance on “Them Jews” and Rev. Jakes’ understanding of homosexuality as “brokenness.”After all, the gentlemen are blogging even as I write, and we have been through Texas ad nauseum.Not the only state in the Union, David Waters, not the only issue within the purview of religion and public affairs.

  • buckminsterj

    Although I was fairly studious and had superb teachers, I only vaguely recall what I actually learned in high school history (and I’m not that far removed from the experience). No big deal – that students are taught to think critically is far, far more important than the curriculum itself. It’s common knowledge that all history is in some way revisionist – this is not to excuse the Texas Board’s intentional mauling of the standards – but if students are made to recognize that such maulings are not uncommon, they will be less susceptible to indoctrination of any kind. After all, the Cynthia Dunbars and Don McElroys among us are the result not of biased curricula, but resistance to critical inquiry.

  • DouginMoz

    Biased, revisionist history has been written with a liberal and multi-cultural slant for some decades now. I am not saying that that is necessarily wrong, but they dis so by omitting America’s Christian heritage.I don’t think that Jefferson and his “wall of separation between church and state” should be eliminted either. But I do think that it needs to be presented in its original purpose and not how it is being reinterpreted now.Poor Jefferson! Remember it was only a decade or so ago that the likes of Washington and Jefferson were being almost ostracized by liberal for the National History Exam in favor of more questions about Harriet Tubman, a gallant woman indeed, but not quite on the same par as founding fathers.Who knew that America would be the land seen by George Orwell in “1984,(the book, not the year)where history was constantly being rewritten to satisfy the politics of the day?

  • lddoyle2002

    Gee, silly me. I thought our country was founded and financed by businesses in Europe for commercial reasons. And that the only people they could convince to come over here and colonize were the religious groups that were being persecuted for their beliefs at the time in Europe. Gosh, I didn’t realize we were really supposed to be a theocracy instead of a democracy.