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Tilting at Windmills

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March 13, 2010


After three days of turbulent meetings, the Texas Board of Education on Friday approved a social studies curriculum that will put a conservative stamp on history and economics textbooks, stressing the superiority of American capitalism, questioning the Founding Fathers' commitment to a purely secular government and presenting Republican political philosophies in a more positive light.

The vote was 10 to 5 along party lines, with all the Republicans on the board voting for it. [...]

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.

Keep in mind, the right-wing activists on the board are just relying on their own wishes -- no historians, sociologists, or economists have been consulted. The ideologues simply decide what kind of "truths" they like best, and then shape the state's curriculum accordingly.

The results are predictably ridiculous:

* Domestic politics: Students will now have to 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."

* Civil Rights era: The curriculum will mandate that students study the violent philosophy of the Black Panthers, and emphasize that many Republican lawmakers voted for civil rights laws.

* McCarthyism: History lessons must tell students that Joe McCarthy's suspicions were later "confirmed."

* Economics: The new curriculum add Milton Friedman and Friedrich von Hayek to lesson plans, and replaces the word "capitalism" with "free-enterprise system."

* Founding Fathers: Among 18th century figures whose work inspired revolutions, Thomas Jefferson has been cut, replaced with St. Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin, and William Blackstone. Jefferson is generally hated by right-wing activists for his support of church-state separation.

Dan Quinn of the Texas Freedom Network described all of this as "a debacle for public education."

And as our own Mariah Blake explained in the Monthly's print edition, "[W]hen it comes to textbooks, what happens in Texas rarely stays in Texas. The reasons for this are economic: Texas is the nation's second-largest textbook market and one of the few biggies where the state picks what books schools can buy rather than leaving it up to the whims of local districts, which means publishers that get their books approved can count on millions of dollars in sales. As a result, the Lone Star State has outsized influence over the reading material used in classrooms nationwide, since publishers craft their standard textbooks based on the specs of the biggest buyers."

A final vote on the curriculum standards will be taken in May, but given the right-wing domination of the board, the outcome appears to be a foregone conclusion.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (54)

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Is this the proper time for Texas to secede from the nation? Yes !

Posted by: Bill on March 13, 2010 at 8:09 AM | PERMALINK

What's all the fuss about? REAL Texans don't read books. . .

On a more serious note, maybe this will stir the rest of the country ("the Rational 49") to embrace virtual books, print-on-demand, or Kindle/ipad technology in the classroom.

After all, the big cry about primary and secondary schools is LOCAL control!

Posted by: DAY on March 13, 2010 at 8:11 AM | PERMALINK

In Social Studies:
Phyllis Schlafly is in.
Thomas Jefferson is out.

OK, now on to English!
Changes will have to be made. It's a part of the George W. Bush rehabilitation tour. In order to make him seem smart, they'll have to change all of the rules so that "Is our children learning?" will be the new standard for correct usage.

Ah wundr wat wil hapen 2 gramer n spelink?

Posted by: c u n d gulag on March 13, 2010 at 8:11 AM | PERMALINK

...since publishers craft their standard textbooks based on the specs of the biggest buyers.

I am not sure what that is supposed to mean. "Craft"?

The oozing of Texas ignorance throughout the country has to do with corporate profits...just like about all the death and destruction goin' on around here...

Posted by: neill on March 13, 2010 at 8:16 AM | PERMALINK

Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Tex) said said back in February said that the Republican party should be more like the Taliban.

"Insurgency, we understand perhaps a little bit more because of the Taliban," Sessions said. "And that is that they went about systematically understanding how to disrupt and change a person's entire processes."

Congratulations, Pete. How soon will you folks in Texas start stoning "immoral" women?

Posted by: SteveT on March 13, 2010 at 8:20 AM | PERMALINK

What I don't understand is, aren't there a couple of other big states that aren't so crazy? NY and CA and IL? How come they have zero power, and TX has absolute power?

Posted by: gussie on March 13, 2010 at 8:23 AM | PERMALINK

DAY said:
On a more serious note, maybe this will stir the rest of the country ("the Rational 49")

I'd put the number of "rational" states at 41 --

Kentucky - nope
Mississippi & Alabama - huh uh
South Carolina - fly them "Stars and Bars"
Arizona - John McCain is too liberal?
Oklahoma - goes where Texas does
Alaska - maybe it's the cold
and Utah - "The Majority Leader of the Utah House took a nude hot-tub with a 15-year old employee, then paid her $150,000 and had her pledge to keep quiet, he admitted yesterday."

Posted by: SteveT on March 13, 2010 at 8:30 AM | PERMALINK

Is this sentence some kind of a test to see if we're paying attention/are stupid?

"* Founding Fathers: Among 18th century figures whose work inspired revolutions, Thomas Jefferson has been cut, replaced with St. Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin, and William Blackstone."

Posted by: Adam on March 13, 2010 at 8:36 AM | PERMALINK

St. Thomas Aquinas was a founding father? Wasn't he the guy who brought the US Constitution down from Mt Sinai?

Posted by: JoeW on March 13, 2010 at 8:43 AM | PERMALINK

It's almost as if their hatred of Lenin has come full circle.

Posted by: walt on March 13, 2010 at 8:43 AM | PERMALINK

I wonder how much this is going to matter in the end. If schools are already budget strapped, they may not buy textbooks at all, and will instead use online and AV materials (Ken Burns anyone?). There are already plenty of really good history books out there for kids, not to mention DVDs, historical novels, etc. No need to buy right-wing schlock from Texas. My guess is, if that's all that's available from book companies, textbook sales will drop as non-Texas school districts find alternative sources. Local control of schools works both ways. It's also much easier and cheaper to produce books than it used to be. Textbook publishers can diversify their content if they want to. It's not that hard.

Diana w

Posted by: Dianaw on March 13, 2010 at 8:55 AM | PERMALINK

These guys remind me way too much of the Soviet Communists who constantly rewrote textbooks to match current political theory. If they don't talk about Jefferson, who will they say was responsible for the Bill of Rights? I know, "There is no bill of rights! But you've got to acknowledge the Second amendment. Maybe they'll say that comes from somewhere in the Bible.
(Full disclosure: I am a product of the Texas public schools. That was in the sixties when we were forced to learn the history of organized labor.)

Posted by: art hackett on March 13, 2010 at 8:56 AM | PERMALINK

as a 7th generation texan, i offer my profoundest apologies to the rest of the country for my state government's idiocy. as a teacher and a left-liberal democrat, being from and in this state is not the easiest experience.

Posted by: navarro on March 13, 2010 at 8:57 AM | PERMALINK

Oh goody, the books will tell of the Republicans who helped pass Civil Rights legislation. At last. At last. However, will they add a Paul Harvey moment and tell "and, now, the rest of the story" the tale of virtually all of those Republicans being ousted by the Party following their courageous votes. I will be waiting to read of how Senator Thomas Kuechel, who voted for the two acts, was kicked out in the next primary in California, thereby, losing the seat to the new guy on the left, one Cranston. Ah, yes, history at its finest.

Posted by: berttheclock on March 13, 2010 at 8:58 AM | PERMALINK

Hmm.... I wonder if somebody could successfully sue the Texas Board of Education and any government that adopted these standards on establishment of religion grounds: I'd like to see a defense of replacing Jefferson with Aquinas and Calvin that doesn't center on religion.

Anybody got an informed thought?

Posted by: theAmericanist on March 13, 2010 at 9:08 AM | PERMALINK

And I'm assuming this is Steve B's error (but who knows?): "Among 18th century figures ..."

Aquinas died in 1274, John Calvin in 1564.

Posted by: theAmericanist on March 13, 2010 at 9:12 AM | PERMALINK

There is a possible solution to this: pressure other state school boards (or their equivalent) to publicly state their commitment to not buy these textbooks. If profit is the publishers' only language then that's the one you have to speak. As a commenter mentioned above, if the educational purchasing departments of states like New York, California, Illinois, etc. were to announce their refusal to purchase any textbooks that have been doctored for propaganda purposes then Texas might lose some of its insane stranglehold.

Posted by: R. Porrofatto on March 13, 2010 at 9:17 AM | PERMALINK

Shouldn't be long before the Texas Board of Education declares two plus two to equal five.

Posted by: hells littlest angel on March 13, 2010 at 9:22 AM | PERMALINK

As to William Blackstone, could you be more specific? Do they mean Sir William, the English jurist, or, either the two Williams who were clergymen? The first being in the very early days of colonialism, where he was a leading Protestant in the Rhode Island area. The second being the Moody like zealot for Zionism and evangelical hell fire and brimstone preaching in the 18th Century? Somehow, I don't believe those particular Texans are interested in the jurist William.

Posted by: berttheclock on March 13, 2010 at 9:23 AM | PERMALINK

Correction to the above. The third William lived in the 19th Century.

Posted by: berttheclock on March 13, 2010 at 9:24 AM | PERMALINK

As a progressive that has been sentenced to live in TX for the last 25 years, I have to wonder how textbook pages will be made to glow, accompanied by angels singing at the mention of Saint Ronald Reagan. Are any other presidents even worth being mentioned?

Posted by: maggie on March 13, 2010 at 9:30 AM | PERMALINK

Query: what is the difference between the Texas Board of Education and the madrasses in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia? Don't they each decide what is "true" and then teach only the truth- never to question the established dogma?

Posted by: Goose on March 13, 2010 at 9:31 AM | PERMALINK

Am I being really naive, or is there a chance that the textbook publishing industry will say, hey we have standards and ethics that won't allow us to print falsehoods, such as that Joe McCarthy was vindicated?

Posted by: hells littlest angel on March 13, 2010 at 9:34 AM | PERMALINK

Why don't the civilized states get together and lean on publishers. The good states certainly buy more books than the bad ones.

Posted by: Michael7843853 on March 13, 2010 at 9:38 AM | PERMALINK

Hey everyone, breathe a little, we have voted a couple of these clowns out in the primary last week and another one, maybe two will go in the runoff & general elections. The tide is turning.

Posted by: derwing on March 13, 2010 at 9:39 AM | PERMALINK

This "Texas undue influence" thing just doesn't pass the smell test. There's a monopoly? Only one textbook? Plus, whatever distortions there are provide great opportunities for teachers to introduce topics such as critical thinking, fact checking, never believe everything you read, propaganda techniques of vocal minorities in power, bigotry etc, the list goes on and on.

Posted by: jward23 on March 13, 2010 at 9:51 AM | PERMALINK

fortunately, nobody pays attention in history classes anyways so this is a losing battle.. the kids who like history will find out the 'truth' on their own... others will forget it figuring school is so much bs anyways. those who remember it and don't go beyond it are lost anyways.

the real tragedy is the gutting of school budgets and social services.

Posted by: kurt on March 13, 2010 at 10:01 AM | PERMALINK

This is frightening. My brother in law, a Texan is already so ill-informed. And my nephew is going to be subjected to this curriculum?

OMG, what is wrong with this state?

Posted by: lila on March 13, 2010 at 10:26 AM | PERMALINK

It is time for the Progressive/Liberal alliance to seize homeschooling for its own, taking it into the mainstream of education and developing reality-based curriculum that the Texas Tyrants cannot touch. Just think of the Utopian benefits:

Teaching evolutionary theories as factually superior to Flintstone-esque "[trash-b]intelligent design."

Teaching Jeffersonian philosophy as superior to the rote outlandishness of "Fib-lical teachings."

Equating all things Republican with the Confederate Flag (and those "bars" that are starting to look a lot like the "bent cross" used by an earlier generation of pro-corporatist thugs who thought jackboots were a "positive sociopolitical fashion statement."

Instilling in our nation's children that the words "Fox News" are synonymous to the word "Lie"---and that the neoRepublican's "heroes" would all be labeled, tried, and roasted alive on a luau spit as "politically-decadent war profiteers and criminals" anywhere else in the known Universe that's beyond the neoRepublican's grasp.

The list of valid reasons could, in theory, be endless....

Posted by: S. Waybright on March 13, 2010 at 10:35 AM | PERMALINK

The Texas GOP gas been trying to turn Texas into Mississippi for the last 30 years, and they are succeeding.

Posted by: jimbo on March 13, 2010 at 10:39 AM | PERMALINK

Guess they'll learn about the history of nucular energy.

Posted by: ComradeAnon on March 13, 2010 at 10:44 AM | PERMALINK

Yep, and George Bush will be considered one of the Founding Fathers ..........

Posted by: stormskies on March 13, 2010 at 10:56 AM | PERMALINK


Posted by: snart on March 13, 2010 at 11:16 AM | PERMALINK

A lot they got wrong (McCarthyism), a few they got right (Republicans voting for civil rights in the 60s).

Maybe as parents we should be responsible for teaching our children to have a balanced view of history instead of relying on schools. Anybody think of that?

Posted by: babbler on March 13, 2010 at 11:26 AM | PERMALINK

Odd that the Board apparently doesn't hire any academic advisers to aid them in their decisions.
The majority could have hired Thomas Woods and Paul Gottfied to draw up the curriculum. They would have achieved much the same result without making themselves look ridiculous.

Posted by: icr on March 13, 2010 at 11:31 AM | PERMALINK

I expect that a closer look at the foreign affairs section will reveal that we have always been at war with Eastasia.

I must admit that I don't spend a lot of time keeping up with radical right revisionism, but the idea that McCarthy's accusations had been 'confirmed' comes as news to me. I mean, I knew Glenn Beck has tried to turn him into a crusader for government efficiency, not an anti-commie witch hunter, but that's just ignoring his accusations, not claiming he was right.

Schlafly in, Jefferson out. I wish the future ignoramuses of Texas luck trying to cope with the 21st Century as the rest of us know it.

Posted by: biggerbox on March 13, 2010 at 11:40 AM | PERMALINK

I think we should seperate the books used by schoolchildren into the following two categories:
1. Textbooks.
2. Tex-books.
The first will be used by states who want smart, well-balanced children (and who actually pay for the stupid states, who take aid in the form of federal welfare).
Of course, those stupid states, MS, AR, OK, AL, and of course, TX, will adopt the "Tex-books."
My apologies to any liberals and progressive who live in those states. Keep on fightin'!!!

Posted by: c u n d gulag on March 13, 2010 at 12:09 PM | PERMALINK

in the meantime, [via npr's 'All Things Considered' March 10]: A group of governors and school superintendents released a proposed set of academic standards Wednesday that lays out what students should be learning in math and English every year from kindergarten through high school.

The proposal, backed by President Obama, was unveiled by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers.

It emerged with surprisingly broad agreement after years of bitter debate between the federal government and the states over who should set academic standards.

The guidelines are part of a push to iron out the jumble of state standards and raise expectations for American schools. Forty-eight states and the District of Columbia joined in the effort to develop national standards, leaving Alaska and Texas as the lone holdouts.


Posted by: dj spellchecka on March 13, 2010 at 12:54 PM | PERMALINK

I find a bit of humor in the irony That there is not a published text book in this country that is accurate.We like to quote the founding fathers,the bill of rights and the constitution to point out how clever and even handed we are.
The real truth is we behave as if we were feral dogs committing genocide, slavery,war, the list goes on. Ask the native peoples or the black race how these rights pertained to them!
This is my story,I am going to tell it like I wish.

Posted by: EC Sedgwick on March 13, 2010 at 12:57 PM | PERMALINK

I've never been a big fan of charter schools and homeschooling, but those options are looking a lot better if Texas is the future of public school curriculums. And if all of the other 48 states decide to use other more reality-based textbooks en masse, even a market the size of Texas might find itself outnumbered. That would be great!

Posted by: Curmudgeon on March 13, 2010 at 1:13 PM | PERMALINK

And remember, that the far right represented by those on the Texas Board of Education are precisely those who want to privitize public education in the first place, so destroying public education's credibilioty by voting in a politically-driven pseudo-history fits their agenda perfectly. What the Texas school board has done is virtually indistinguishable from what the old Stalinists did when they lit a match to Russian history in order to give it a better fit with the new communist ideology.

Posted by: Ted Frier on March 13, 2010 at 1:51 PM | PERMALINK

babbler, they may have it correct as to the Republicans helping to pass the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts, but, I bet you there is no mention that most of those who voted as such never made it to the '68 RepuG Convention as they had been defeated in various primaries following those votes. These were not the Republican politcos who were cheered by the take over zealots when both Goldwater and Schaffley spoke of extremism for "freedom" being ever so wonderful. Most who voted for those acts were in either the Knight camp in CA or the Rockerfeller camp in the East. They were never tolerated by the hard right after that vote. Remember, also, following those votes, many racist So Demos switched parties and took over the Republican Party and changed into the present RepuGnant one.

Posted by: berttheclock on March 13, 2010 at 1:57 PM | PERMALINK

* Founding Fathers: Among 18th century figures whose work inspired revolutions, Thomas Jefferson has been cut, replaced with St. Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin, and William Blackstone. Jefferson is generally hated by right-wing activists for his support of church-state separation.

St. Thomas Aquinas: 1225-1274
John Calvin: 1509-1564
William Blackstone: Which one? Only Sir William, the English jurist who wrote Commentaries on the Laws of England, was an 18th-century figure. I doubt the Texas school board fanatics are fans of his.

None of these people, including the other two Blackstones, are even remotely "Founding Fathers."

Posted by: Lis on March 13, 2010 at 2:12 PM | PERMALINK

It'd be worth quantifying how many southern Democrats actually switched parties to become Republicans in the 60s and 70s -- among elected officials, the # was actually pretty low -- at least at the Federal level.

Thurmond changed in 1964; Jesse Helms switched his party affiliation in 1970, and was elected to the Senate as a Republican in 1972. Trent Lott is probably the epitome of the switch -- he had worked for Democrat William Colmer until 1972, when he ran as a Republican and won the seat for himself.

But the main Southern Democrats all remained Democrats: Russell, Stennis, Fulbright, etc.. Looking over the list of Senators and Representatives who signed the Southern Manifesto, I can't find but one (Thurmond) who actually switched parties -- does anybody know of others?

Lott's example suggests that this was a generational thing, as much as it was any other kind of change. No?

Posted by: theAmericanist on March 13, 2010 at 2:17 PM | PERMALINK

Oh, I so miss the great Molly Ivins.

She would have eviscerated that board in about six sentences.

And it looks like Gov. "Good-hire" Perry is gonna' be elected again, too.

And when I was young, we thought all the crazies were in California.

Posted by: efgoldman on March 13, 2010 at 2:27 PM | PERMALINK

@ theAmericanist

Partly generational. Nixon's "Southern Strategy" in '68 accelerated the trend that had been started by Johnson leading the charge for civil rights. Of course we'll always wonder if Nixon would have won without Wallace in the race. At the same time there was a natural generational change taking place, so the heirs of the segregationist old-bull dems kind of naturally gravitated to the Nixon/Mitchell/Goldwater GOP as it became clearer that the Dems were turning into a more northern, coastal, urban party.

Obama is the natural evolutionary culmination of that transition. So, unfortunately, are the likes of DeMint and Coburn.

Posted by: efgoldman on March 13, 2010 at 2:41 PM | PERMALINK

Most of what Texas is doing is just silly. But removing Jefferson? How the hell do you talk about American history without Jefferson? It's bad enough we've wiped George Mason from history, but removing Jefferson is going way to far. It's like teaching Christianity without Jesus.

Posted by: fostert on March 13, 2010 at 3:52 PM | PERMALINK

This will keep more Texans out of the selective colleges and universities so our dominant-class youth won't be pestered about how they're going to go to hell if they don't take jesus chriast in their hearts.

Posted by: yellow rose of baluchistan on March 13, 2010 at 5:52 PM | PERMALINK

"It's like teaching Christianity without Jesus." fostert @ 3:52 PM.

You haven't noticed?

Posted by: Doug on March 13, 2010 at 6:33 PM | PERMALINK

How are they (ok, "we," I live in Texas too) going to deal with John Calvin's Frenchness?

Posted by: batavicus on March 13, 2010 at 7:30 PM | PERMALINK

On Jefferson: I still think somebody should SUE the Texas board on establishment grounds. I'd like somebody to explain why this wouldn't be such a decisive victory as to literally shame the state for letting this crap fester: HOW could anybody justify dropping Thomas Jefferson while you put in Aquinas and John Calvin, without a religious justification? You make the case about leaving Jefferson out, and only refer to Aquinas and Calvin as evidence that there was room to put him in -- only other choices were made. Seems killer to me -- especially in Texas (where even knowing who Aquinas was makes you suspect).

As for "the heirs of the segregationist old-bull dems kind of naturally gravitated to the Nixon/Mitchell/Goldwater GOP as it became clearer that the Dems were turning into a more northern, coastal, urban party...", that's only part of the story.

There's a tendency to oversimplify a reality until it gets distorted into myth: the white supremacist South elected Democrats (like Tallulah Bankhead's dad), and for the most part, those Democrats didn't change parties. Like most folks who believe in a discredited ideology, they weren't convinced, but died out.

I mention Speaker Bankhead, because he was originally elected from a district in Alabama that had just 10,000 votes in it, at a time when districts in Michigan had 300,000 votes in 'em. THAT's what changed in the South.

The true heirs of the Southern conservatives not only survived, but prospered when they combined with Dole on the original Voting Rights Extension, which mandated that if a majority-minority district could be drawn, it HAD to be drawn: that decimated the white moderate (and Democratic) Representatives elected in the South.

And was a truly weird echo of the way, as far back as Reconstruction, African-American voters in the South were crowded into the fewest districts possible.

Posted by: theAmericanist on March 13, 2010 at 9:12 PM | PERMALINK

"...many Republican lawmakers voted for civil rights laws."

Uh, yeah--the kind of Rockefeller RINOs that are currently being booted out of the party everywhere but Maine. Meanwhile, the Dixiecrats who voted against civil rights put away their white sheets and became the GOP Congressional leadership.

I guess these lying fucks never heard of Kevin Phillips.

As for "free enterprise system," how accurate a term is that for the kind of real-world economy dominated by crony capitalists and corporate welfare deadbeats? I'd LOVE a genuine free market, instead of the kind of corporate state run by people like Abramoff and Delay, the RIAA/MPAA/Microsoft, Pfizer and Merck, ADM and Cargill, Boeing and Raytheon, etc. But I assume the latter is exactly what the good ol' boys in Texas mean by our "free enterprise system."

Posted by: Kevin Carson on March 14, 2010 at 2:11 AM | PERMALINK

"the Dixiecrats who voted against civil rights put away their white sheets and became the GOP Congressional leadership...."

I just pointed out this isn't true. Of more than 100 Senators and Representatives who signed the Southern Manifesto, I only see ONE who switched parties -- Strom Thurmond.

Trent Lott was staff for a senior Democrat, sure: but he wasn't in Congress to vote against the Civil Rights Act or the Voting Rights Act, and (as noted above) he voted FOR Dole's Voting Rights extension.

Posted by: theAmericanist on March 14, 2010 at 2:26 PM | PERMALINK

@art hackett: "If they don't talk about Jefferson, who will they say was responsible for the Bill of Rights?"

James Madison.

Plus, I guess field trips to DC to visit the BoR are totally out of the question for future students?

Mr. Jefferson, by the way, is remembered thusly:
Author of the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom
Author of the Declaration of Independence
Father of the University of Virginia

Posted by: ajw_93 on March 15, 2010 at 10:02 AM | PERMALINK



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