Texas school board removes Jefferson from curriculum

Congress makes it to the daily news but highly influential school boards often fly under the radar. When right wing board members gain a majority, they have been known to force their radical ideas on their unsuspecting communities. Who can forget the introduction of fundamentalist Christian inspired “creationism” into science curriculums?  The most recent example is the Texas School Board’s attempt to insert right wing ideology into its social studies curriculum. A final vote, preceded by another public hearing and another chance to offer amendments, is scheduled for May. Unfortunately, at this time, the makeup of the board almost insures the passage of the right wing amendments and additions to the curriculum. This is an outrage for Texans who may be stuck with this curriculum for a decade. And, because Texas is a big client of text book publishers, the decisions made by its school board could influence curriculum for the whole country.

According the the New York Times:

Since January, Republicans on the board have passed more than 100 amendments to the 120-page curriculum standards affecting history, sociology and economics courses from elementary to high school. The standards were proposed by a panel of teachers.

“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.”

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.

Think Progress has some of the changes passed by the board;

  • The Board removed Thomas Jefferson from the Texas curriculum, “replacing him with religious right icon John Calvin.”
  • The Board refused to require that “students learn that the Constitution prevents the U.S. government from promoting one religion over all others.”
  • The Board struck the word “democratic” from the description of the U.S. government, instead terming it a “constitutional republic.”

About the removal of Thomas Jefferson, According to the New York Times:

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. (Jefferson is not well liked among conservatives on the board because he coined the term “separation between church and state.”)

Perhaps the fact that Jefferson was a Deist did not fit with Dunbar’s fantasy that the country was founded on Christian biblical principles? Other issues: the board refused a teacher’s request to add more Hispanic historical figures and role models to the textbooks. As of July 1, 2008 there were 46.9 million Hispanics in the United States, and a full 25% of children younger than 5 were Hispanic. The state of  Texas has a huge and growing Hispanic population. Yet, the message this school board seems to want to send its children is that the United States is a white Christian nation, for white Christian people. In addition, the Board is watering down instruction on the Civil Rights movement while elevating the study of conservative “heros.” For example, history students have to “Describe the causes and key organizations and individuals of the conservative resurgence of the 1980s and 1990s, including Phyllis Schafly, the Contract with America, the Heritage Foundation, the Moral Majority, and the National Rifle Association.”

TPMMuckraker has complete coverage of this debacle dating back to September of last year. Additional information can be found at Texas Freedom Network.