Dedicate yourselves to thankfulness. Colossians 3:15

Monday, April 26, 2010

Texas Gives the Boot to Liberal Social Studies Bias

From Education Reporter April 2010
"An education without some understanding of the profound role of
religion in our nation's history and its contributions to our nation's success is an incomplete education, and our courts have often said as much." -- Derek Davis, dean of the College of Humanities at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor

After three days of contentious meetings, Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) members gave preliminary approval to revised social studies standards they say are intended to rein in the liberal bias of teachers and academics. "We are adding balance," said Dr. Don McLeroy, leader of the conservative bloc of the board. "History has been skewed. Academia is skewed too far to the left."

The new standards will be written next year and remain in effect for ten years. They will determine what the state's 4.8 million K-12 students are taught in government, world history, U.S. history, and economics classes from kindergarten through high school. They will also be used to develop state tests and write textbooks.

Significant media attention has been devoted to the state's debate over social studies guidelines because decisions made there have national impact. Since Texas is the largest single purchaser of textbooks, publishers tailor them to its guidelines. Typically more than 90% of America's textbooks are based on Lone Star state curriculum, as it is too costly to produce multiple versions.

The lengthy process of determining curriculum guidelines began with teams of teachers writing a first draft, which was then reviewed by six experts appointed by the SBOE. The expert panel then reported their findings and recommendations to the 15 board members. The board also received at least 14,000 emails and considered 17 hours of public testimony prior to the three-day meeting. Parents, teachers, civil rights groups, historians and state legislators were among those who attended the proceedings, and many testified before the board.

The heated discussions there served as a public forum for quieter ideological skirmishes happening throughout the country. The battle line runs between defenders of traditional values, who oppose what they see as politically correct historical revision, and progressives, who prefer secularism and emphasize prominent inclusion of minority figures. McLeroy acknowledged the conflict, saying, "Our country is divided on how we see things, and [it comes] into sharp focus, especially with history and how you present it to your children." (Austin-American Statesman, 3-11-09) Proponents of both sides were visible and vocal during the deliberations.

The conservative caucus of the Texas legislature submitted written testimony and sent representative Ken Paxton to read it at the proceedings. The letter called on the board to resist pressure to wash the standards "clean of any references to Judeo-Christian faiths while promoting references to other religions." The letter cited a prior attempt to remove Christmas and Rosh Hashanah from guidelines and replace them with the five-day Hindu festival Diwali, a measure that was overturned by the board.

The board also rejected the adoption of the secularist-preferred B.C.E. and C.E. (Before the Common Era and Common Era) instead of B.C. and A.D. to specify time periods before and after the birth of Christ. Board member Mavis Knight (D-Dallas) objected on the ground that the "social studies community uses B.C.E. and C.E."

Hostilities escalated over presenting the religious beliefs of the Founding Fathers, and particularly on how the First Amendment should be taught. Knight proposed an amendment to teach students that "the Founding Fathers supported a strong wall of separation between church and state."

Republican member Ken Mercer countered that the Founders "did not want a separation from religion, they just wanted to avoid having a national denomination . . . one religion everyone would have to follow. I think they had a different understanding of religious freedom." Other Republican board members agreed that the First Amendment was written to protect rather than prohibit the practice of religion, and Knight's motion failed. (, 3-15-10)

"Some board members and the non-expert ideologues they appointed to a review panel have made it clear that they want students to learn that the Founding Fathers intended America to be an explicitly Christian nation with laws based on their own narrow interpretations of the Bible," said Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network, an organization whose mission is to "counter the religious right."

Former board chairman McLeroy said the efforts of conservatives were misconstrued and mischaracterized. "I don't see anyone wanting to say this is a Christian nation or anything like that," he said. "The argument is that the principles on which (the nation) has been founded are biblically based."

McLeroy found support for his position in the dean of the College of Humanities at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, Derek Davis. "An education without some understanding of the profound role of religion in our nation's history and its contributions to our nation's success is an incomplete education, and our courts have often said as much," said Davis. (Education Week, 1-13-10)

The subject of minority inclusion and prominence in the guidelines was another ongoing area of controversy. Texas state legislator Eddie Rodriguez (D-Austin), representing the Mexican-American caucus, came before the board to voice concerns about the absence of important Hispanic figures and groups in the history standards. Rodriguez asked the board to include Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the United Farm Workers of America and member of the Democratic Socialists of America in the guidelines; member Pat Hardy (R- Fort Worth) informed him Huerta was already in the standards.

Other Hispanics such as Jose Antonia Navarro were added in response to the push for greater inclusion, but tensions rose when not every request was adopted. Mary Helen Berlanga, Democrat board member, stormed out of the room when members did not add the names of two Hispanic and one black Medal of Honor recipients to a history lesson. Berlanga was also upset that the board deleted a requirement that sociology students "explain how institutional racism is evident in American society." She accused her colleagues of "whitewashing" the curriculum standards, saying, "We can just pretend this is a white America and Hispanics don't exist."
Republican members argued that listing three Medal of Honor winners out of the thousands of those honored "diminishes the accomplishment of other recipients." Terri Leo (R-Spring) said, "I would rather give teachers the academic freedom to possibly pull a winner from that school, that those children can relate to and emulate."

Further examples of the changes the SBOE ultimately approved include restoring references to Independence Day, Thomas Edison, Christopher Columbus, Mother Teresa, Albert Einstein, Neil Armstrong and Daniel Boone that had been deleted. The board added the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms to a lesson on the Bill of Rights, an element conspicuously absent from some curricula.

Teachers and textbooks will be required to accurately describe the U.S. form of government as a constitutional republic rather than as a democracy. Depictions of Joseph McCarthy must include an explanation of "how the later release of the Venona papers confirmed suspicions of Communist infiltration in the U.S. government." The Venona papers are verified transcripts of communications between the Soviet Union and its agents in the U.S.

A section in the U.S. government standards will cover the concept of American exceptionalism and detail how the nation's values are unique from other nations. Alexis de Tocqueville's five values critical to America's success as a republic will also be delineated. In economics, the board added free-market economists Milton Friedman and Friedrich von Hayek to the usual list of John Maynard Keynes, Adam Smith and Karl Marx.

The board, whose members are elected, voted ten to five along party lines to approve the revised standards, with the Republicans prevailing over the Democrats. Conservatives held only one seat 15 years ago, but have built up to seven of the ten GOP seats on the 15-member board now. A final vote on the Texas standards is expected in May, after another public comment period. (Education Week, 3-1-10; New York Times, 3-13-10)

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

U.S. History textbook battle bigger than Texas

Published Tuesday, April 13, in Cumberland Times-News.

I agree with Cynthia Dunbar on this: America’s classrooms are no place to preach religion, but students should learn its importance in our nation’s founding and foundation.

Ms. Dunbar seemed to be one stirring national interest in the Texas State Board of Education textbook revision controversy (and the board had invited phone calls and emails from interested citizens), so I called her to learn her views.

She told me that school textbooks today redact references to God from Declaration of Independence or U.S. Constitution excerpts. Students should learn accurate history, we agreed, the truth about our founders’ inspirations and the ideals they impart to us.

After three days of contentious debate on 300 amendments, the board voted 10-5 on March 12 to pass a set of curriculum standards for grades K-12 that preserve a patriotic (rather than revisionist) approach to American history.

American Center for Law and Justice attorney Jay Sekulow speaks of revisionists: “Our Founders acknowledged their reliance upon Divine Providence, that we are endowed by our Creator with inalienable rights; and this idea that now you remove that, it as if it is does not exist…. It really goes to the depths of what these groups are trying to get at, and that is to expunge any reference to America's religious heritage" (FOX News, March 8).

The TSBOE vote followed the party line, so Democrats (three Hispanics, two blacks) are shouting “racism” and accusing Republicans of imposing religious and conservative views. The Mexican American Legislative Caucus, composed of 44 Texas House members, has scheduled an April 28 hearing on the TSBOE’s process; and Democratic state Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa says he will work to abolish the board when the legislature convenes next January.

Gov. Rick Perry tells the Associated Press (March 26 Austin Star-Telegram) the process works. Perry declined federal funding earlier this year and rejected a national curriculum developed by governors and education leaders in preference for the elected board's updates.

The board must review public comment now, and then take a final vote in May. If it passes, the new curriculum starts in the 2011-12 school year and stays in place for a decade. Because Texas is a major textbook purchaser, these changes set standards to be included in textbooks marketed nationwide.

Gilbert T. Sewall, American Textbook Council director, tells FOX, no doubt, “identity politics have contributed to the decline of textbook quality over the last 20 years."

Sewall says groups from nutritionists to gender activists have demanded their way into textbooks. He says Christians comprise the most visible groups who want to “use American history textbooks (positively) to recapture the soul of the nation."

A national Rasmussen survey (March 9) concludes 55 percent of Americans believe school textbooks present information in a politically correct manner, rather than accurately (18 percent are undecided). Forty-three percent say U.S. history textbooks are not accurate (26 percent are undecided). Dissatisfaction is higher among parents of schoolchildren.

Chair Gail Lowe tells KUT News Austin the TSBOE has spent more than a year discussing and developing the social studies curriculum review standards: “We have sought input from teachers, parents, professors, history experts, business and industry leaders,” and more recently, all interested Americans.

Board member Terri Leo calls the standards a "world-class document."

ABC News reports (March 10): “State governors and education officials proposed new national standards for K-12 education today, a step President Obama believes is key to improving the quality of the nation's schools.”

Jay Sekulow says, “Well, if you grab the minds of the young people, you grab the minds of the next generation."

Write, or call (512)463-9734.

Nancy E. Thoerig
Mount Savage