|June 21, 2010||Posted by Issa under Counter/Culture|
Note: I wrote this piece for another site several months ago, so the details of the curriculum changes in Texas may have changed as they moved forward in the process.
How Christian Were The Founders? asks a New York Times magazine article about education standards in Texas. It’s the year for examining the social studies curriculum, and some Christians in the deciding body want to include more conservative and Christian ideas into the guidelines.
15 people make up the Texas State Board of Education. They discuss and vote on changes to the states curriculum guidelines. Each year they tackle a subject, and this year, social studies is up. These guidelines affect what K-12 students learn for the next ten years. Due to Texas’s large education budget, textbook publishers tend to follow Texas guidelines. What this board decides affects students across the entire US.
Don McLeroy is perhaps the most vocal and forceful member of the 7 Christian conservatives on the board who tend to vote together. He proposed page after page of amendments to the document that educators had drawn up. For example, he wanted to add words about Ronald Reagan’s “leadership in restoring national confidence” and wanted students to “describe the causes and key organizations and individuals of 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.” Most of his amendments passed. One amendment before the board required students to evaluate the contributions of significant Americans. Newt Gingrich was upgraded. Ted Kennedy didn’t make the cut.
The guidelines include asking eighth-grade history students to “analyze the importance of the Mayflower Compact, the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut, and the Virginia House of Burgesses to the growth of representative government.” Why were these three texts chosen? The Mayflower Compact characterizes the Pilgrims’ journey as ““for the Glory of God and advancement of the Christian Faith”. The Fundamental Orders of Connecticut state that Connecticut was founded “to maintain and preserve the liberty and purity of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus.” These texts are included specifically to help teach children that the United States was founded as a Christian nation.
In the NYT article, a former employee in the social-studies division at Prentice Hall tells this story: A member of the Texas board told him that one of their books, “Magruder’s American Goverment” would not be approved for the curriculum because it repeatedly referred to the US Constitution as a “living document”, which implied a flexibility the board didn’t like. Even though this famous American history textbook had been around since the 50s and was well updated, the board insisted that the wording be changed to “enduring” instead of “living”. In this book, which controls 60-65% of the market, Prentice Hall changed the wording.
Even when the board doesn’t adopt proposed changes, board members can exert pressure in other ways. McLeroy admits to doing so during the language arts evaluation last year. He and members of his Christian bloc on the board wanted books that included classic myths and fables instead of modern stories with messages they didn’t like. When they didn’t get what they wanted, McLeroy went directly to the publishers. He said, “I met with all the publishers. We went out for Mexican food. I told them this is what we want. We want stories with morals, not P.C. stories.” McLeroy showed the author of the NYT piece an email from Pearson, a major publisher, letting him know that they complied.
The NYT article goes on to examine the truth of the claim that education about the USA’s founding should include more references to biblical ideas. I’m less interested right now in what exactly is the best representation of the truth than in illustrating that what we think of as truth is sometimes just picked by the people in charge.
Mother Culture speaks through seemingly “neutral” voices, such as textbooks. We are shaped by the information we received, and the information we receive is shaped by people who have been shaped by the information they have received and their opinions about it.
Do you learn that Reagan was a great leader “in restoring national confidence” or the leader in bringing the world to the brink of nuclear war? Do you focus on Christianity as the driving force in the formation of the US or on the value of protecting people from other people’s religion? Do you learn about Newt Gingrich or do you learn about Ted Kennedy?
Think of the stories in language arts. The stories we read as children often factor into how we shape our budding morality, but it’s not a given which stories we have access to. In a very real way, people have chosen these stories for us, for reasons that aren’t often clear to the child hearing the story.
When arguing that Mother Culture is everywhere, people tend to think mainly of the media, but it’s more insidious than that. “History is just history,” I’ve heard it said. “There’s no message there.” Guess again. Children’s stories are just children’s stories. Ah, but which children’s stories do we share and which ones do we leave out? The choices on these matters can have real-world effects. As Cynthia Dunbar, another member of the Christian group on the Texas board says, “The philosophy of the classroom in one generation will be the philosophy of the government in the next.”
What’s going on with the Texas Board of Education right now highlights that what is true and what is fact and what is influential can simply be what is decided.