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Mares: The State of Education: Texas Textbooks

04/15/10 5:55PM By Bill Mares
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(HOST) This week, VPR's commentators on weighing in on the state of education. Bill Mares - who grew up in Texas - has been following the controversy over its school curriculum with a mixture of bemusement... and dismay.

(MARES) Every ten years, like the census, the Texas State Board of Education looks at its school curriculum and decides what to revise.  Since its members are all elected, this can be a highly charged process.  This year the sparks flew across the nation.

Through hundreds of amendments to a teacher-written draft, the 10 to 5 Republican majority made a hard right turn.  In a kind of intellectual spoils system, they have declared war on liberalism, secular humanism, and relativistic thinking.

They have pushed to give creationism equal standing with evolution.  They have played down the role of Thomas Jefferson because he was a Deist and not a Christian.  By calling the Constitution an "enduring" - not a "living" document, they emphasized its absolutes, not its flexibility.  They have replaced the term "capitalism" with "free enterprise."

Why should we care?  Isn't this just more knuckle-headed silliness in Texas?  After all, one of my grade school books was titled The True History of the War Between the States, from the Southern Point of View.

AP Photo/Jack Plunkett
Diana Gomez, left, and Garrett Mize, along with other University of Texas students, rally before a State Board of Education meeting in Austin, Texas, on Wednesday, March 10, 2010.
One reason to care is that Texas is the Wal-Mart of textbooks.  As the largest buyer of textbooks in the country, when they say, "Print," the publishers only say, "How many copies?"  He who controls numbers controls content.  The publishers may bleat that they can tailor the text to the buyer; but in reality they do little of that.  The Great Seal of Texas becomes an intellectual imprimatur for books far beyond the Lone Star State.

Another reason to care is religious.  As a Christian and a former high school history teacher, I don't know whether to laugh or cry.  One of these Texas amendments declares that America was founded as a Christian nation.

Most people would agree that the Founders as a group were members of Christian denominations.  Indeed, the Pilgrims were one Christian sect fleeing persecution from another Christian sect.  To me, such a declaration is bad theology and bad law.  First, its pretense takes the Lord's name in vain.  And second, it comes dangerously close to creating an unconstitutional theocracy.  I'm all for teaching about religion in schools.  As an example, one of the eight mega-questions in my class on Western Civilization was "How has religion been a force for great good and great evil?"  That evil can come from the pathological sense of rectitude that afflicts many "true believers."

I would quote to the Texas School Board the words of Oliver Cromwell to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland: "I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken."

More diplomatic are the words of Tom Ratliff, a Texas conservative who recently defeated the most rabid member of the School Board.  He said: "The Board majority keeps wanting to talk about this being a Christian nation.  My attitude is this country was founded by a group of men who were Christians but who didn't want the government dictating religion."




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