Live-Blogging the Social Studies Hearing

9:58 – The Texas State Board of Education swept through the all five earlier items on its agenda this morning and have already begun the hearing on proposed social studies standards for Texas public schools. A live, streaming Web cast of the hearing is available here. Click on the January 13 link.

10:02 – TFN ┬áPresident Kathy Miller is speaking. She sets the record straight: No one opposes teaching students about the influence of religion in American history. But she applauds the curriculum writing teams for not bowing to pressure to portray the United States and our government as favoring one faith over all others. She also calls on the board to give board members the opportunity to consult with experts when considering amendments.

10:05 – SBOE member Barbara Cargill assures Kathy that she consults with experts before she offers amendments. Kathy reminds her that other board members should have the opportunity to consult with experts before they vote on someone’s amendment.

10:07 – SBOE member David Bradley says the Legislature doesn’t call in more experts when lawmakers offer amendments. He says Kathy is challenging the board’s process. Indeed, she is challenging it — because the State Board of Education isn’t the Legislature. It’s a body that’s deciding what kids will learn in their public schools.

10:09 – SBOE chair Gail Lowe defends the board’s process and says board members should do their own homework. This is nonsense. The point is that they aren’t doing their homework.

10:09 – Kathy notes that unlike in the Legislature, the SBOE doesn’t prefile amendments so that board members can study them.

10:10 – Kathy is done. This was an astonishing display of arrogance on the part of board members. The board’s far-right faction in November refused to bring the writing teams and “expert” panel back to advise on the standards as they are revised by the board. And now they’re reiterating, in essence, that they can’t be bothered to listen to experts.

10:20 – Steven Green, director of the Willamette University Center for Religion, Law and Democracy is up now. Prof. Green warns that suggestions from so-called “experts” (David Barton and Peter Marshall, essentially) appointed by board members represent “bad history.” He warns that the Founders never intended to create a “Christian nation” based on Christian biblical principles.

10:22 – SBOE member asks Prof. Green: Was the the United States founded on secular or biblical principles? Green notes that it’s not nearly so simple. The influence of Enlightenment was very important.

10:23 – SBOE member Ken Mercer notes that “all 50 state constitutions” refer to God and religion.

10:24 – Prof. Green: it’s a difficult balance noting the influence of religion without exaggerating its influence on the founding. “The bottom line is the founders who created are nation intended to create a secular republic” that protected religious freedom for everyone by keeping government out of religious issues.

10:26 – Ken Mercer rolls out the old canard: the Bill of Rights protects freedom of religion, not freedom from religion. And he disputes that the Founders intended to establish separation of church and state.

10:31 – Stephen Nickle, Trinity University chaplain from San Antonio, is up. Interesting testimony. He’s calling on the board to include discussions of Sikhism in the standards.

10:43 – The list of testifiers includes more than 130 names. Should be a long day. The press is out in force.

11:00 – The board is in the middle of a break.

11:07 – Now we hear from Lela Pittenger, who is scheduled to speak at a Tea Party rally later today at the Texas Education Agency. Pittenger is calling for the standards to portray the United States as an “exceptional” nation. She announces that she’s running for the U.S. Senate.

11:21 – Josephine Krouse, a former public school teacher, calls on the board to respect the work of the curriculum writing teams and not politicize the standards. She makes a strong call for standards that promote the principle of religious freedom, not the false notion that the nation was founded on Christian biblical principles.

11:23 – Bonny Brogdon (don’t know her background) decries a “liberal agenda” she sees in the draft standards. She’s worried that the standards will teach students to rely on government. She wants American-centric standards and that students aren’t part of a global community: “I am hypersensitive to ‘global anything’ … I object to that type of agenda.”

11:27: Brogdon: “I have trouble teaching students that we have a responsibility to a global society.”

11:28 – SBOE member Mercer: He objects to the concept of “global citizenship” as well and wants children first to learn that they should be good American citizens first. Of course, no one has suggested otherwise, and the concept of “global citizenship” refers to a responsibilities we all share in today’s global society.

11:37 – Joni Cohan of the National Council of jewish Women is up. She explains that the curriculum writing teams have done a good job crafting new standards that acknowledge religious influence in American history without promoting one faith over all others and undermining religious freedom. She calls on the board to respect the “real experts” who are on those teams and have worked on the new standards over the past year. Excellent testimony.

11:42 – More testimony from a speaker complaining about “socialistic propaganda” in public schools. And once again, we get anecdotes but no specifics about just how public schools are supposedly promoting “socialism.” We hear: “Academicians are experimenting with our children.”

11:46: Stephen Cure, director of educational services at the Texas State Historical Association, praises the work of the curriculum writing teams. (He served on one.) We agree and hope state board members won’t screw up that work as they did with language arts and standards.

11:51 – The Tea Party rally outside the Texas Education Agency is set to begin at noon. We’ll try to provide updates as warranted. But it does appear many of the Tea Partiers have signed up to testify before the state board as well.

11:55 – State board member Mary Helen Berlanga makes an impassioned plea that the contributions of Latinos in Texas and American history be included in the standards. She worries that such contributions will be slighted in the new standards as in the past.

12:05 – Jack Kamrath of the far-right American Heritage Education Foundation is up. The group argues that American history education fails to teach (among other things) the Judeo-Christian foundations of America and our government. Kamrath is concerned also about “multiculturalism” and “pluralism” in the the study of American history: “The name of our country is the United States of America, not the Diverse States of America.”

12:12 – Sue Tilis of the National Council of Jewish Women is up. She calls on the board not to politicize the standards. It’s becoming clear that testifiers are aware of the damage the board did to the language arts and science standards in the last two years.

12:23 – State board member Terri Leo notes that she wants a representative from the far-right American Heritage Education Foundation on the social studies textbook adoption committee in a couple of years.

12:26 – Cheryl Pollman of the National Council of Jewish Women is up, also expressing her support for the work of the curriculum writing teams and encouraging the board not to politicize the standards. She expresses support for the treatment of diverse cultures and people from various ethnic groups in the standards. The NCJW has been a strong voice for sound curriculum standards today.

12:33 – Tea Party update: The TP “rally” in the Texas looks to be mostly a bust. More speakers and reporters than folks in the audience. In fact, rather than a “rally,” it’s mostly a press conference.

12:35 – A representative of Americans United for Separation of Church and State calls on the board to respect religious freedom in social studies classrooms.

12:45 – State board member Rick Agosto continues to speak in support of including mentions of Sikhism in the social studies curriculum standards. He also expresses his support for discussing the importance of teaching students about global citizenship.

13 thoughts on “Live-Blogging the Social Studies Hearing

  1. Thanks for providing the ongoing blow-by-blow description and running commentary. As I’m watching the proceedings online at the TEA site, your blog offers a valuable perspective.

  2. Distortions of history occur in the minds of many Christians whenever they see the word “God” embossed in statue or memorial concrete. For example, those who visit the Jefferson Memorial in Washington will read Jefferson’s words engraved: “I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every from of tyranny over the mind of man.” When they see the word “God” many Christians see this as “proof” of his Christianity without thinking that “God” can have many definitions ranging from nature to supernatural. Yet how many of them realize that this passage aimed at attacking the tyranny of the Christian clergy of Philadelphia, or that Jefferson’s God was not the personal god of Christianity? Those memorial words came from a letter written to Benjamin Rush in 1800 in response to Rush’s warning about the Philadelphia clergy attacking Jefferson (Jefferson was seen as an infidel by his enemies during his election for President). The complete statement reads as follows:

    “The returning good sense of our country threatens abortion to their hopes, & they [the clergy] believe that any portion of power confided to me, will be exerted in opposition to their schemes. And they believe rightly; for I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man. But this is all they have to fear from me: & enough too in their opinion, & this is the cause of their printing lying pamphlets against me. . .”

    The majority of our Forefathers were Deist. This country was NOT FOUNDED ON CHRISTIANITY. George Washington states it clearly in the treaty of Trippoli. Please do not dumb down our kids any further.

  3. This is rather horrifying, and something needs to be done to change the direction in which the current State Board of Education members are trying to drag education in Texas. This is why I’m running for State Board of Education, District 5, against Ken Mercer. Don’t trust the future of our children to the narrow-minded revisionists like Ken Mercer.

  4. Hi Rebecca.

    I’m in District 5.

    Because creationists have been known to conceal their true beliefs and opinions when campaigning, could you answer a couple of questions for me? I feel certain I know how you’ll answer these, but please humor me.

    Do you accept the theory of evolution and support its teaching in public schools?

    Do you accept the fact that the earth is billions of years old?

    Do you support the separation of church and state?

    I ask these questions because I couldn’t find the answers on your web site. If your answer is “yes” to all of the above, you might consider posting something to that effect on your site.


  5. Quotes by our Forefathers on religion.

    Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between church and State.
    -Thomas Jefferson, letter to Danbury Baptist Association, CT., Jan. 1, 1802

    Christianity neither is, nor ever was a part of the common law.
    -Thomas Jefferson, letter to Dr. Thomas Cooper, February 10, 1814

    An alliance or coalition between Government and religion cannot be too carefully guarded against……Every new and successful example therefore of a PERFECT SEPARATION between ecclesiastical and civil matters is of importance……..religion and government will exist in greater purity, without (rather) than with the aid of government. [James Madison in a letter to Livingston, 1822,

    “Thank God, under our Constitution there was no connection between Church and State, and that in my action as President of the United States I recognized no distinction of creeds in my appointments office.” James K. Polk

    “I hold that in this country there must be complete severance of Church and State; that public moneys shall not be used for the purpose of advancing any particular creed; and therefore that the public schools shall be non-sectarian and no public moneys appropriated for sectarian schools.” Theodore Roosevelt, Address, New York, October 12, 1915

    Now we can rewrite history if you wish, however be for warned when you change history to suit your own purposes you not only dishonor our forefathers, you dishonor this nation yourself and rob the youth the opportunity of learning from the past. Perhaps that is why they say History repeats itself.

  6. Oh, a reminder for those trying to keep score:

    The “mainstream academic” appointments were:
    de la Teja, appointed by Nunez (D) and Berlanga (D)
    Kracht, appointed by Hardy (R) and Craig (R)
    Hodges, appointed by Knight (D) and Allen (D).

    The “not-so-mainstream” were
    Barton, appointed by Lowe(R) and Mercer(R)
    Marshall, appointed by Cargill(R) and Dunbar(R)
    Dreisbach, appointed by Leo(R) and Bradley(R)

    No experts were appointed by McLeroy (R), Miller (R), and Agosto(D) as a result of lack of agreement. McLeroy reportedly wanted Quist, who would probably qualify as “not-so-mainstream”, but couldn’t find a second. Those seeking to classify Agosto might look to here, and note he was part of the block that went along with the English Standards circus; no rumors on who he wanted as an expert.

    By my read, that breaks the factions as Democrats Nu├▒ez-Berlanga-Allen-Knight (solidly sane) and Agosto (perhaps less solid than the best of the GOP) and Republicans Craig (solidly sane), Miller-Hardy (usually within shouting distance of sane), Lowe-Mercer-Leo-Bradley-Cargill (functionally whacko), and Dunbar-McLeroy (clearly ULTRAwhacko). Note that others may disagree as to this taxonomy, and certainly many will reject this nomenclature.

    Note ESPECIALLY that the above is NOT the official position of TFN.

  7. As a Christian myself, I wish some of these far right radicals would quit “pussyfooting around” playing public relations games and come out and say what they really mean:

    “The founding fathers’ ideas about separation of church and state were tried for nearly two centuries, but we did not like the results. We believe that the United States of America should now have an official state church. That official state church MUST BE a Bible-believing Christian Neo-Fundamentalist church. All of you Episcopalians, United Methodists, Catholics, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Northern Baptists, Mainstream Baptists, Greek Orthodox adherents, etc. can go straight to Hell—which is where all of you are going anyway.”

    The question is whether we, as American citizens and dissenting Christians of these other churches, are going to allow them to do it. My answer is an emphatic “No.” Over my dead body.

  8. Well,

    I have just stumbled on this website and really appreciate this “blow by blow” update. I have only heard of some of the horror stories of what has been done to the Texas curriculum second hand. It is hard to listen to the testimonials and know anything about the board itself but I must say that it is incouraging to listen to (so far) so many intelligent people trying to preserve educational integrity AND to listen to how utterly ignorant the Right can make themselves sound if just given the chance.

  9. Welcome Duane. Stick around for a while beyond just today. We have some great discussions here at TFN Insider. Tell your friends.

  10. The amber waves of grain in Kansas were brought there by a small enclave of immigrants from Russia in the 19th century. They brought with them a rare Russian red wheat that was more well adapted to environmental extremes than the wheats that grew in Pennsylvania and Ohio. Just 20 years later, the United States was the breadbasket of the world. Which just goes to demonstrate how dangerous ethnic minorities are to our country.

  11. In the long effort of fascists to close down public education, isn’t this just the latest? The cloak of Christianity is only the usual effort to seem to have some sort of good for the conservatives as expected. 99% of Texans are products of our public education system. This is true democracy abd a valuable contribution to our state’s history. We owe allegiance to our state’s and families’ best judgment. Where is our proud defense of this heritage?