Thursday, July 16, 2009

Conservative Education ‘Experts’ Want Less Lincoln And More Jesus In Texas Textbooks


The Dallas Morning News reported last week that conservative “experts” advising the state of Texas on school curriculum are arguing that the state’s social studies and history textbooks are giving “too much attention” to some of U.S. history’s most prominent civil rights leaders. David Barton, one of the so-called “experts,” claimed Hispanic labor leader César Chávez “lacks the stature, impact and overall contributions of so many others.” A colleague on the panel agreed, also singling out Thurgood Marshall for exclusion:

To have César Chávez listed next to Ben Franklin” – as in the current standards – “is ludicrous,” wrote evangelical minister Peter Marshall, one of six experts advising the state as it develops new curriculum standards for social studies classes and textbooks. [...]

Marshall also questioned whether Thurgood Marshall, who argued the landmark case that resulted in school desegregation and was the first black U.S. Supreme Court justice, should be presented to Texas students as an important historical figure. He wrote that the late justice is “not a strong enough example” of such a figure.

According to a draft of the proposed new textbook standards, “biographies of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Stephen F. Austin have been removed from the early grades.” At the same time, Peter Marshall wants more teaching of Christianity’s role “in America’s past“:

Marshall…also recommends that school children get a better understanding of the motivational role the Bible and the Christian faith played in the settling of the original colonies. [...]

“In light of the overwhelming historical evidence of the influence of the Christian faith in the founding of America, it is simply not up to acceptable academic standards that throughout the social studies (curriculum standards) I could only find one reference to the role of religion in America’s past,” Marshall said in his review.

Actual education professionals in Texas appeared dismayed at Marshall and Barton’s assessment. “It is what we expected from unqualified political activists put on this so-called panel of experts,” said Dan Quinn of the nonprofit Texas Freedom Network. “This is yet another step toward politicizing our children’s education.” Jesus Francisco de la Teja, chairman of the history department at Texas State University said, “Whether you approve or disapprove of what [Chavez] did, there is no doubt about his contribution to bettering the lives of an untold number of Americans of limited economic means and education.”

Barton, a former vice chairman of the Texas Republican Party also insisted on emphasizing “republican” values in Texas’ curriculum:

[Barton] said that because the U.S. is a republic rather than a democracy, the proper adjective for identifying U.S. values and processes should be “republican” rather than “democratic.” That means social studies books should discuss “republican” values in the U.S., his report said.

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports that the social studies review panels will meet later this month and post their “initial recommendations” online with “final adoption” set for next March. But “[t]he debate here has far-reaching consequences,” the New York Times noted last January when Texas debated how evolution should be taught in schools, because “Texas is one of the nation’s biggest buyers of textbooks, and publishers are reluctant to produce different versions of the same material.”

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