How Censors Think

This month’s Texas State Board of Education debate over proposed new social studies curriculum standards provided many opportunities to see censorship at work. One of the most revealing instances of this came when state board member Don McLeroy, R-College Station, proposed adding Margaret Sanger and John Dewey to a list of individuals for high school American history students to study.

McLeroy was proposing a revision to a standard dealing with the Progressive Era. That standard, which already included Upton Sinclair, Susan B. Anthony, Ida B. Wells, and W.E.B. DuBois, asked students to “evaluate the impact of muckrakers and reform leaders . . . on American society.”

The proposed revision was curious considering that McLeroy is a prominent member of the board’s religious-right faction. Sanger is perhaps best known for her advocacy for the right of women to control their own bodies and for access to effective contraception. In fact, Sanger founded what became Planned Parenthood — an arch-demon for the religious right today. And sure enough, board member Terri Leo, R-Spring — another religious-righter — expressed surprise at the recommendation. But in response, McLeroy didn’t even mention Sanger’s work on reproductive health. He simply wanted students to learn about some bad people (as he saw them):

“The Progressive Era was not all sweetness and light. Margaret Sanger and her followers promoted eugenics. John Dewey’s progressive education (ideas) all but eliminated academics in schools, replaced it with vocational education. I think it’s a balance.”

“Balance”? It was clear that McLeroy wanted students to learn only conservative criticisms of Sanger and Dewey. But Leo and other far-right board members worried that new textbooks might teach other things about the two — maybe even positive things. Said Leo:

“[The standard] just says ‘evaluate the impact.’ It could be, they could take a positive impact. To me [Sanger’s work] had a negative impact.”

Board member Cynthia Dunbar, R-Richmond, suggested that since the board couldn’t require that textbooks focus on criticisms of Sanger and Dewey, perhaps it would be best if the curriculum standards included only people who had a generally “positive” impact on American society (however she might define that). The arguments from Leo and Dunbar won out, thus keeping Sanger and Dewey out of the standards.

Regardless of the specific arguments for and against the inclusion of Sanger and Dewey (and like all influential people in history, they had flaws as well as strengths), the debate clearly illustrated how state board members are politicizing education. The board’s far-right members are determined to craft a standards document that clearly reflects a particular political point of view. And they want a black-and-white portrayal of history — either someone  was evil or good, patriotic or not, Christian or anti-Christian. If that requires censoring what students learn about people in history, well, so be it, right?

In short, too many board members want students to look at the world the way they do: with a simplistic and distorted perspective that is a better fit for indoctrination than education. If we care about the future of our children and our state, we can’t allow them to succeed.

33 thoughts on “How Censors Think

  1. History of the world:
    God created the world in 6 days. Sept. 13-19, 6000 B.C.
    Then Moses brought forth the three commandments.
    Thou shall not doubt.
    Thou shall not enjoy thy body.
    Thou shall not trust thy neighbor.

    Then Jesus came down, was killed by the Jews, and rose on the 3rd day.

    Then Communism caused the Great Depression, and Walt Disney restored the country’s good mood.
    Then John Wayne and Ronald Reagan defeated Communism.
    Billy Graham restored the righteousness and moral purity of the country which had been defiled by its contact with foreigners during WWII.
    Then Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry kicked all the lazy people off welfare.
    The End.

  2. I’m gonna start looking at the prospects concerning a progressive “finishing” school for Texas students. It would cover the content that David’s curriculum leaves out, and will undoubtedly include an in-depth study of evolutionary biology, from a scientist’s perspective, rather than a dentist’s.

  3. I just noticed that the WordPress advert for this post also included Dan’s picture. Now I have an image to go with the term “lantern-jaw”. hehehe

  4. Can I get a second for including David as one of the ‘experts’ on the writing panel?

    Hey, if two people agree someone is an expert, then we’re dealing with an expert. — Don McLeroy

  5. Anyone have an opinion about the move to throw out the Taks test and replace it with STAAR? I hear STAAR requires seniors to pass 4 exit exams to graduate from HS. One of those exams is social studies. So the kids don’t get their diploma unless they pass the test for what is being viewed as nothing but indoctrination?

  6. The above comment was to the Bill Martin idiocy Sharon notes.

    The STAAR? I can’t find much about it.
    The politicizing has to go, regardless of methodology.

    We need middle of the roaders making the choices, and the whole system needs to be directed to giving the students skills to find the information, which should be impartially available, and forming rational decisions on their own.

    As a society, we’re starting to get somewhere with opening up the dialogue about what kids need from the cradle on in order to learn to read, do math, etc.
    We’re starting to realize the damage that tv does to a person’s attention span, for instance.
    Parents are starting to realize their importance in creating a proper learning environment and helping their kids develop SELF-discipline. The capacity of teachers to cram knowledge into resistant brains is limited.
    We’ve learned that testing is counterproductive if teachers simply “teach to the test” and graduate students who can’t read or write or think logically (this is a product of math education, it’s not just about doing things that a calculator can do faster).
    In a global economic environment, history and geography are increasingly important.
    Civic responsibility.
    Communication skills.
    Health. Everyone needs to learn how to be responsible for their own health.
    These are things EVERY student and citizen needs. There’s no clear distinction anymore between the “college bound” and the
    “blue collar” vocation bound.
    Even after high school, citizens need to maintain and continue their independent education throughout their lifetimes.
    The world is changing rapidly we have to keep up with the changes.
    Instead of making progress with THIS kind of dialogue, we’re being forced to cope with this criminal IDIOCY of the right-wingers. These knucklehead will destroy our country if we let them.

  7. Slightly OT — except for its relationship to censorship — but Texas may have to run fast to stay ahead in the “Idiotrod” — h/t CSI:NY. Recently Menifee County, CA decided — after parental protests — to pull a whole class of books off the shelf, until they could be reviewed because of their use of ‘inappropriate words.’

    The type of books?


    I wish I was kidding

  8. To evaluate whether an impact is positive/good or negative/bad, you have to have agreement as to the definition (and orientation) of the axis, and thus agreement as to the bridge across the is-ought divide. This, anthropologically speaking, is a political question. Handling the question of what the historical events’ impact is on the present is a simpler matter.

    Unfortunately, the extreme Religious Right are so far gone that it’s sometimes questionable what their definition of “is” is.

  9. Prup:
    And I thought it was the drinking water in Texas.

    Words to be banned:

    anatomically correct (Leads to all sorts of imaginative speculation, which is unhealthy for 12-14 yr. olds.)

  10. Right wing politics 2020
    The movement, which has split into 3 halves, hosted debates to see who would win over the Tea party.
    It was the idiocrats vs the retardlicans (pls. excuse un- pc-ness), vs Jesus’ rubber hammers.
    The JRH won the debate when the retardlican candidate said “Niagara falls”
    JRH: “Slowly I turned,
    step by step…inch by inch…”
    nyuh, nyuh,nyuh…
    whoop,whoop,whoop, whooop….
    “Why, I oughta…”

  11. Actually Cytocop. I thought that would have the whole Niagara Falls routine in it, but it didn’t. Are you familiar with the real lives of the Horwitz brothers from NYC and their buddy Larry Fine from Boston. Fascinating stuff. I have a copy of a photograph from Moe’s private family album, and it was autographed by his son Paul, who is also in the shot. Here try this:

  12. Interesting that Sean Penn will be playing Larry in the movie — he dropped out but rjoined the cast. Funny they didn’t screen test McLeroy and Barton — type casting!

  13. Sorry. My bad. Andrew Louis Feinberg (Larry Fine) was from Philadelphia. Glad I caught that. I always get those two cities mixed up with regard to Larry.

  14. Cheryl,
    Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think there’s any conflict between belief and science, necessarily
    . I’m concerned about the politics of imposing one’s beliefs on others ,especially in spite of the overwhelming scientific evidence. Or historical evidence.
    Science is a tool we humans have to in order to learn about our world.
    For someone who believes in God, then it’s a blessing and a responsibility God has bestowed upon us.

  15. Good afternoon, Ms. Adams.

    As a non-believer, believe me when I say I’m the greatest human to ever stride this dirtball! NO! I didn’t mean that one; Believe me when I say I’m grateful for Christians/theists like you, who take this battle against evolution seriously. Many of my fellow heathens could do well to remember that many of the people standing with us against ideologues are Christians themselves.


  16. Let’s make this very clear.
    We educate our kids for many reasons.
    We promote public education because an informed, literate citizenry is necessary for democracy.
    If knowledge, literacy is strictly in the hands of the clergy, then the clergy has POWER over the illiterate citizens.
    If a select group of privileged persons are allowed to educate their children, and the rest are not, then this group constitutes a defacto aristocracy.
    Avoiding the rise of a state-sanctioned clergy and an aristocratic class were issues of great importance for the Founders.
    That’s a fact of history.

    Here’s the definition of secular, courtesy Merriam-Webster:
    1 a : of or relating to the worldly or temporal b : not overtly or specifically religious c : not ecclesiastical or clerical
    2 : not bound by monastic vows or rules; specifically : of, relating to, or forming clergy not belonging to a religious order or congregation
    3 a : occurring once in an age or a century b : existing or continuing through ages or centuries c : of or relating to a long term of indefinite duration

    Notice that it doesn’t say anti-religious, atheistic, agnostic, etc. (Make a mental note that Bill O’Reilly et al twist the definition of “secular” to mean “atheistic”. For purposes of misleading people).

    Christianity has thrived under a “secular” governmental system, and a “secular” public social policy. Secularity has protected “religion” from ” a religion”. No one sect is privileged over any other.

    The battle we’re engaged in is a strictly POLITICAL battle. The belief or non-belief of any individual engaged in this struggle is beside the point. The question is whether these few individuals will be allowed to impose their beliefs on the rest of us.
    Science and history are tools of human society. They are not moral systems, nor are they immoral. They are amoral.

    The knowledge that fire is hot and ice is cold is “scientific” knowledge. We can argue what “hot” really means, “ow,ow ow,” an introduction of more “energy” into an atom or molecule which produces a more agitated level of movement in the electrons, and the production of infrared radiation, etc”
    However, the basic idea of “hot” is that the information is sufficient to convince us of the “truth” of the statement, “Fire is hot.”
    Most of us believe that the earth revolves around the sun. We’ve been so convinced that we don’t even question it for a moment.
    However, at one time, anyone who suggested this was branded a heretic by the clergy. It was believed that the Bible dictated otherwise.
    Religious faith survived this change in our thinking.
    Now the theory of biological evolution, geological evolution, social evolution, are fully confirmed by all who examine the evidence honestly. The theories of DNA replication and mutation , molecular biology, astrophysics, geology, chemistry, etc. fit into an incomplete but seamless whole of scientific knowledge that is provable in experiment and modeled precisely with mathematics. One science is used to test hypotheses of another science. The atom bomb works. We can create mutations in species with genetic manipulation. Etc.
    We know that there is a great deal we do not know.
    If these facts challenge your faith, then your faith is weak.
    What kind of God would require someone to force themselves to believe the sun rotated around the earth in the face of incontrovertable evidence?
    History is knowledge of the past. Our understanding of past events become clearer every year with the discovery of a trove of lost correspondence or scriptures, or a buried temple or tomb. There are disagreements, controversies, yes. But there is the trajectory of discovery, of openness, of understanding.
    On the other hand, there is the effort of the backward and the ignorant and the power-hungry to drag everyone else back down into the muck of inchoate, atavistic ignorance.
    Screw them.

  17. Sorry, not trying to lecture anyone really, except the knuckleheads in question. (SBOE and their counterparts nationwide.)
    This is an issue I’ve been thinking about on several fronts lately. Even have to deal with it in the family.
    I just started writing to get the full idea across, that’s what it took.

    I don’t think any of the “religious” discussions we’ve been having in this country have much at all to do with religion.
    They’re strictly “political”.

    I don’t want anyone to think I’m for or against any particular religious outlook in this.
    (I am pissed off about the misuse of the word secular and what that means, (politically).

    The operative term here is freedom. We’re all involved in protecting our “freedom”.
    Sorry for being too strident. My sense of humor was turned off for a little while.

  18. I have “beliefs.”
    As far as I’m concerned, even atheists have “beliefs.”

    A major tenant of my “spiritual guidance system” is the concept of uncertainty. There’s an uncertainty clause in just about every religious discipline, as well as in science and history.
    Even Jesus Christ counsels for uncertainty in Mark 13.
    Jesus’ final words:
    Mark 15:34, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

    After his resurrection Thomas DOUBTED, until Jesus PROVED his true identity to him.

    These fundamentalist Christians that have seized upon the abortion issue to promote an “us vs them” political definition of Christianity, (and make no mistake that the anti-abortionists are not the primary drivers of this movement), are the same ones who promoted segregation as the will of God, as prescribed in the Bible, until they were defeated in the 60’s.
    They routinely ignore the bulk of Christ’s teaching to focus on that with which they can leverage political power.

  19. Gotcha, David. And don’t get me wrong; I agree with you that the term “secular” has been kidnapped by rightwing ideologues, just as they have done to “liberal”. Demonizing and marginalizing the opposition is standard authoritarian tactics.

    Atheists may indeed have beliefs, and, if you really want to drill down that deep, everyone also has to have “faith” in things that are not explicitly shown to them, such as faith in the interpretation of data from group of experts. ( Level of faith fluctuating in response to variable amounts of facts already known concerning actors, data, etc.) I would say that atheists have beliefs just as all humans have beliefs. The only thread connecting unbelievers is unbelief itself. Heck, my own Mother-in-law didn’t know I was an atheist for almost 20 years. She assumed that my non-participation in church attendance and functions was laziness. (She said she had to take stock of all the past we’d shared, and then decided that her peers were wrong; Morals are not the sole domain of religion. Yeah, she’s pretty cool for a now piece-meal fundie Christian, and she makes country gravy and biscuits that makes me drool just thinking about them.)

    Just as there are many levels of faith/belief, there also seem to be different acceptance/tolerance levels amongst us heathens. While I do understand, and formerly advocated various anti-religion stances, I feel it very important to remind my fellow unbelievers that the people standing on the front lines in the battles to preserve the wall of separation and our secular system of government are Christians. Other than pointing out blatantly divisive, hateful, bigoted, misogynistic blowhards and the ideologues who promote them, I don’t really care to alienate an entire group of people over differences of opinion on a subject that has no other effect on my life.

    This is the same exact reason why I detest homophobes who not only can’t keep it to themselves, but are determined to force everyone to conform to their version of morality, and then have the nerve to describe their crusade as a fight for “freedom of religious beliefs”. Despicable. Look at the horrendous results of their decades-long indoctrination programs they’ve vomited onto so many African and S. American countries. I truly see things getting a whole worse before they get any better, and with the tumult of this economic tsunami that continues in most of the third world, these parasites and theocratic monsters will take advantage of the neediest, as they have in the past. ( This lecture dedicated to hypocrites everywhere. I sure wish you knew who you were/are. hehehe)

    Back to the topic, Dan is right that the far right ideologues on the SBOE have to be reined in; If they are allowed to alter textbooks to only promote their rightwing agenda, all the children will be cheated out of learning a true presentation of history. I took one of those political-leaning chart thingies once, and I landed smack-dab on top of Gandhi, but I would be just as appalled by a liberal-leaning textbook. I want my kids, and by extension all children, to learn about historical facts, and as much information as can be had to explain how events occurred, and why, as appropriate. I don’t see a need to elide “unpleasant” facts, nor do I demand that every fault and error be clarioned.

    Correct me if I’m wrong on this, please, but didn’t the Texas legislature have to step in to prevent some of the more drastic changes to take affect during the science textbook battles? Regardless, they really need to quit being such spineless jellyfish and bring some sense into this culture war. It’s not like they aren’t aware of the problem.

  20. I agree with everything you wrote.
    The SBOE has to be set right again, that’s for sure. However, they’re really pawns in the over-arching right-wing scheme that Perry et. al. are responsible for.
    Texas politics needs a change. For everyone’s sake. Even conservatives know it’s a mistake to handicap our children with a worthless education. That’s bad for the Texas economy in the long run.

    That’s why even the Denton Record-Chronicle weighed in against the Knuckleheaded Knowledge-Knockers.

  21. Interesting discussion. The original question has to do with censorship: is it ever necessary to withold legitimate information
    from a given audience if there is an age/content consideration? Look how broad the fan of opinion takes us, yet every post shares a repeating theme: censorship has to be justified by evidence of its damage (if at all) and that someones’ standardsof propriety will be impossed on the group. The consensus seems to be thata those so advocating are all kinds of ignorant. If this quiestion was posed in a religious- based website it’s not hard to guess what the opinions would be. Based on evidence, are there relgious grounds to justify this type of censorship or to object to “sex education”? Is this a morsl isssue and if so, is religion necessary to bulid morality?

  22. This was about high school stuff. They ought to know about sex so we can get the exploding teen pregnancy and std rate down.
    Obviously, age-appropriate considerations are different.
    Even if you withold information based on age and maturity, you shouldn’t be creating a bunch of hooey to replace it.

    That wasn’t about this.
    Religion isn’t necessary for morality, in fact it can be argued that it interferes with the individual conscience more often than it informs.
    Over and over and over and over it can be seen that these people seek to control others’ lives, behaviour, morality, but seem to be unable to live up to the standards they set for others.
    This is a repeated theme with these folks. Their faith and morality are weak, so they seek to strengthen it by controlling others.
    They’re just trying to gin up a right-wing form of thought control. They want this country to be a Christian equivalent of North Korea.