A month ago, I blogged about an attempt by the Christian fundamentalist community in Texas to change the history and social sciences curricula for K-12 textbooks. There's been a fair amount of reporting on the story since then, most recently in the NY Times, and the changes that have been pushed through so far are disturbing.
That I find these changes disturbing shouldn't be taken to mean that I think the current curricula in history and the social sciences are sacrosanct or above criticism. Every area of study should be reviewed and updated periodically, with scholars and educators taking the lead, bringing in new understandings and material and discussing what works and what doesn't in the classroom. But that's not what's happening in Texas. What's happening there is far more agenda-driven.
And the people pushing their agenda aren't shy about the fact that they have one:
“We are adding balance,” said Dr. Don McLeroy, the leader of the conservative faction on the board, after the vote. “History has already been skewed. Academia is skewed too far to the left.”
And presumably they know this because they are experts in these fields, perhaps engaging academic discourse, researching and promoting their views using time-honored scholarly methods, right?
There were no historians, sociologists or economists consulted at the meetings, though some members of the conservative bloc held themselves out as experts on certain topics.
This would be bad even if all they were doing was nibbling around the edges, like their desire to include "'the unintended consequences' of the Great Society legislation, affirmative action and Title IX legislation" (which is lightly coded racism and sexism) or the replacing of the word "capitalism" with the phrase "free-enterprise system." But some of their choices are insane, most notably this one:
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.
It's one thing to add in Aquinas, Calvin and Blackstone and make the curriculum deeper, richer, more complex. But to remove Jefferson? You know--the third President of the US, drafter of the Declaration of Independence, Founding Father. The man's face is blasted out of the side of a mountain, for crying out loud. But he also coined the phrase "wall of separation between church and state," and for that, he has to disappear from this list.
The most disturbing thing about this push is that, as I've written before, what happens in Texas doesn't stay there. No, because Texas is such a large purchaser of textbooks (and because California's economy is a hot mess and unable to act as a counterweight), the textbooks which get approved in Texas become the standards for textbooks in other states. And this should be a concern, because that means agenda-driven fundamentalists with little regard for scholarship or accuracy are writing the textbooks that your children could be learning from, even if you live far, far from the heart of Texas.