Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Texas, redux

Back in March I wrote a blog post about the Texas Board of Education and the attempts of its majority faction of Christian conservatives to introduce significant changes to the state's social studies curriculum, and thus its textbooks. My earlier post focused on their elision of Thomas Jefferson from the revised curriculum, which I argued was part of a larger strategy to downplay the influence of Enlightenment philosophy on the United States' founding documents.

Well, the board will shortly vote on their proposed amendments. The new curriculum will, among other things:

  • Introduce a new focus on the "significant contributions" of pro-slavery Confederate leaders.
  • Teach that "the right to bear arms" is crucial to democracy.
  • Drop Sir Isaac Newton, and focus instead on how military development facilitates scientific advances.
  • Suggest that Joseph McCarthy's red-hunts were justified.
  • Rename "slave trade" as "Atlantic triangular trade."
  • Assert that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is driven more or less exclusively by Islamic fundamentalism.
  • Teach that economic prosperity requires "minimal government intrusion and taxation."
  • Describe the Civil Rights Movement as creating "unrealistic expectations of equal outcomes."
  • Claim that Martin Luther King and the Black Panther movement were simply two sides of the same coin.

Read the article about this in The Guardian—it gives a good overview of the preoccupations of the board's conservative faction, many of whom have argued in the past for introducing creationism into the state's science curriculum. As the article notes, while they were unsuccessful in modifying science classes, they have done much better with history and social science.

I'm not going to contest the bulleted highlights above—most frequent readers of this blog will know my general thoughts on them, and anyone who thinks all those changes are totally valid? Well, I imagine our perspectives are incommensurable.

No, I'm more concerned about the repercussions outside of Texas. If the state wants to regress its already blinkered schools to a pre-Copernican mindset, that's Texas' problem. The thing is, because of the economics of textbook publishing, the largest states tend to dictate what textbooks the rest of the country uses. Already, the Guardian article observes, "By some estimates, all but a handful of American states rely on text books written to meet the Texas curriculum."

That's right: because a handful of god-fearin' creationists who believe that the separation of the church and state is a liberal conspiracy got themselves elected to a state education board, kids in Delaware and Oregon will be taught that taxation precludes economic health, and that without a citizenry armed to the teeth, there is no democracy. (Somebody alert Sweden and tell them they got it exactly wrong.)

If nothing else, this saga is as good an argument as any I've heard for getting involved in local politics.

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