Lost In Austin: Texas School Board Majority Takes Hard-Right Turn Down Wrong Road

Forget about what leading historians think, these board members think they know best.

What happens in Texas, unfortunately, may not stay in Texas.

That’s the concern for many religious leaders, historians and civil liberties activists who are appalled at the Texas State Board of Education’s actions last week. The board is currently revising the state’s social studies curriculum and has decided to base the new standards on their personal ideological beliefs instead of real history.

Professional educators proposed curriculum standards to the board, but instead of listening to these experts, a Religious Right bloc and its allies on the 15-member board succeeded in adding more than 100 amendments that many historians believe are biased and inaccurate. And now, because many textbooks are based on Texas’ curriculum, this revised history may be taught throughout the country.

“The books that are altered to fit the standards become the best-selling books, and therefore within the next two years they’ll end up in other classrooms,” said Fritz Fischer, chairman of the National Council for History Education. “It’s not a partisan issues, it’s a good history issue.”

But it is clear that “good history” is not what these Texas education board members really care about. Instead, they’d rather push Religious Right propaganda.

For example, during a hearing over the curriculum standards last week, Cynthia Dunbar, a Religious Right member on the board, said that the Founding Fathers didn’t intend to separate church and state. Dunbar, a graduate of TV preacher Pat Robertson’s Regent University Law School, lectured the board that the Founders intended to promote religion.

After hearing her spiel, religious conservatives on the board refused to approve a standard that would have required students to “examine the reasons the Founding Fathers protected religious freedom in America by barring government from promoting or disfavoring any particular religion over others.”

Now, thanks to Dunbar and friends, students probably won’t learn what the First Amendment is all about nor why it is important to protect the beliefs (and non-belief) of all Americans.

It’s a thought that is not only offensive to civil liberties groups, including Americans United, but also to historians and fair-minded religious leaders.

“[I]t’s unfortunate that such a basic understanding of the First Amendment was victim to the hyper-politicization on the State Board of Education,” said Stephen Reeves, legislative counsel for the Baptist General Convention of Texas’ Christian Life Commission. “But it just reinforces the need for churches – Baptists and others – to educate their students about how the First Amendment protects religion in this country.” (The Baptist General Convention of Texas is not affiliated with the fundamentalist-dominated Southern Baptist Convention.)

Religious liberty was not the only casualty of the ultra-conservative board’s decision. Here are some of the board’s other historical rewrites:

  • Thomas Jefferson was removed from a section on how Enlightenment philosophy influenced the founders; instead, students will be taught about theologians Thomas Aquinas and John Calvin.
  • Students will now be required to learn about conservative heroes and icons such as Phyllis Schlafly, the Heritage Foundation and the Moral Majority. But they refuse to allow a similar standard requiring students to learn about “liberal” individuals and organizations.
  • Study about the civil rights movement was rewritten to minimize efforts by ethnic minorities and women. Instead, students will learn that minorities owe thanks to men and “the majority” for receiving equal rights.
  • When Texas students learn about Abraham Lincoln’s inaugural address, they will also learn about the ideas in Jefferson Davis’s address as president of the Confederacy during the Civil War.
  • Students are barred from learning about the influence of hip hop on music because the board considers it too closely related to “gangsta rap.”

Seems like one really bad joke, doesn’t it? But it’s not, and sadly, the list goes on.

It’s so awful that Paul S. Boyer, an emeritus professor at University of Wisconsin-Madison and author of several U.S. history textbooks, including ones used in Texas, told the Washington Post he would be uncomfortable endorsing his own book if he had to make these changes.

But forget about what leading historians think, these board members think they know best. They are expected to officially adopt these standards May 21.