More Confusion from Don McLeroy

by Dan Quinn

On Thursday Don McLeroy once again had difficulty explaining why the Texas State Board of Education has made so many bone-headed decisions in overhauling social studies curriculum standards for public schools.

McLeroy, a College Station Republican who lost his bid for re-election to the board in the GOP primary earlier this month, spoke to listeners of On Point, a program produced by Boston NPR station WBUR. (Hat tip to TFN Insider reader James F for the heads-up about the show.)

McLeroy had a particularly hard time justifying why in the world the board removed Thomas Jefferson from a world history standard about Enlightenment thinkers. In fact, he suggested adding Jefferson back in to the world history standards. But along the way he inadvertently admitted spending so much time wrecking the rest of the standards document that he really didn’t realize taking Jefferson out in the first place was foolish.

“Actually, when you’re in the process of making lots of amendments, you’re busy, you’re all day long. When you have time to reflect, maybe you’ll change your vote. I think all politicians do that.”

Indeed. But isn’t this yet another example of why it’s unwise for the board’s politicians to be micromanaging the work of teachers and scholars who spent nearly a year developing the social studies standards?

McLeroy also tried to justify his vote, along with the board’s other nine Republicans, to reject a proposed government course standard requiring students to “examine the reasons the Founding Fathers protected religious freedom in America by barring government from promoting or disfavoring any particular religion over all others.” He responded this way to a question about whether he was trying to “pull back” from teaching students about separation of church and state:

“Absolutely not. This idea of the separation of church and state is clearly stated in the First Amendment where it says there will be no state establishment of religion. That is very important. That is what was meant by that. This wall of separation metaphor has actually gotten a little bit too strong where people are saying well if you’re religious you can’t be involved.”

The wall of separation metaphor has gotten too strong? What in the world does that mean? Well, McLeroy argued that the Founders really did intend to promote religion, but not to establish one religion as official. Yet mainstream scholars have pointed our repeatedly that the Founders saw this kind of mixing of government and religion as particularly dangerous to freedom.

Perhaps it’s encouraging that a member of the board’s far-right faction has finally admitted that the Constitution guarantees separation of church and state. Board member David Bradley, R-Beaumont Buna, certainly doesn’t agree, telling reporters at the last board meeting:

“I reject the notion by the left of a constitutional separation of church and state. I have $1,000 for the charity of your choice if you can find it in the Constitution.”

So maybe McLeroy needs to work this out with Bradley and his other far-right colleagues. In any case, the proposed standard simply focused on why the Founders protected religious freedom by barring government from promoting one religious over all others. Perhaps McLeroy was too busy to read that one through as well.

Listen to the whole program here. The program also included comments from Nathan Bernier, who has covered the state board for Austin’s KUT radio; Paul Boyer, a professor emeritus of history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison; and Kristen Amundson, communication manager for the education think tank Education Sector.