Saturday, March 13, 2010

Jefferson Out, Schlafly In

The Texas School Board textbook committee has banished Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence and the third President of the United States, has been swept onto the ashheap of history and replaced by a housewife from Alton, Illinois as a prominent figure in American history.

Battles over what to put in science and history books have taken place for years in the 20 states where state boards must adopt textbooks, most notably in California and Texas. But rarely in recent history has a group of conservative board members left such a mark on a social studies curriculum.

Efforts by Hispanic board members to include more Latino figures as role models for the state’s large Hispanic population were consistently defeated, prompting one member, Mary Helen Berlanga, to storm out of a meeting late Thursday night, saying, “They can just pretend this is a white America and Hispanics don’t exist.”

“They are going overboard, they are not experts, they are not historians,” she said. “They are rewriting history, not only of Texas but of the United States and the world.”

The curriculum standards will now be published in a state register, opening them up for 30 days of public comment. A final vote will be taken in May, but given the Republican dominance of the board, it is unlikely that many changes will be made.


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.”

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.”


Even the course on world history did not escape the board’s scalpel.

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.

Separation of church and state: Out. Contract with America: In. The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.: Out. Jerry Falwell: In.

What is stunningly ironic is that this committee, in their attempt to fight the perceived liberal bias of history and remove any taint of “political correctness,” is doing exactly what they accuse the academics of having done: re-writing history with an undeniable slant to serve their political point of view. It also demonstrates a deep level of insecurity in their own beliefs. Any true historian or scientist would have no problem whatsoever with allowing students to read about all of history, warts and all, and, in the words of Jefferson, “let Facts be submitted to a candid world.”

Tristero sums it up nicely:

The intent is two-fold:

1. To render a public school education all but worthless by teaching blatant lies and distortions, thereby advancing the long-desired rightwing meme is, in fact, worthless and should be eliminated.

2. As long as there must be a public education system, indoctrinate children to in [sic] the lie that rightwing/christianist authoritorianism is a core American value and not, in fact, the very antithesis of the Americanism the Founders intended.

The one saving grace is that in my career as a teacher, I know that when it comes down to what goes on in the classroom, any teacher worth his or her dedication to learning will not only use the approved texts but go far beyond it and point out that what the Texas Board of Education lays out as their standards is only a starting point in the classroom. And when it comes down to using the book itself, they will find that it makes a really good doorstop.