The War on Common Sense

A Texas-based group affiliated with James Dobson’s far-right Focus on the Family is charging that an alleged “war on Christmas” has now moved to the debate over public school social studies curriculum standards in Texas. But the “evidence” the group provides is so absurd that they must think Texans are just plain stupid and gullible.

In an e-mail to activists, the group cynically charges that the first draft of the proposed new curriculum standards removes Christmas from a list of holidays students might learn about and replaces it with Diwali, a major festival in Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism and Jainism:

“At stake is how Texas children are taught about the religious heritage of our country, the basic principles of civics, and the entire study of important and worthy individuals who have contributed in different ways to American society. For instance, the new proposed version removes Christmas from the current curriculum and replaces it with Diwali, in a section on ‘religious holidays and observances to be studied by students.'”

A spokesperson for the group shrieks in a blog post:

“It’s outrageous that the war on Christmas continues in our state and in our nation. This effort to mislead students about current society is shameful and must be stopped.”

Shame on them.

We know the “war on Christmas” lie has been a fund-raising bonanza for the religious right. But is it too much to ask that folks who claim to be so pious actually obey God’s commandment not to bear false witness? Some facts:

  • The course that includes this standard isn’t about American culture, civics and society. It’s a world geography and cultures class for Grade 6.
  • The standard focuses on “the significance of religious holidays and observances” around the world, not just in the United States. The original standard suggested two Christian holidays as well as Jewish and Islamic religious observances. The new standard keeps Easter as one Christian holiday but replaces Christmas with Diwali because the writing team wanted one example from each of the world’s major religions.

It’s cynical and insulting to suggest that the writing teams removed Christmas from the standards because of any bias against Christianity or to be somehow “politically correct.” (In fact, it’s likely that the vast majority of writing team members — if not all of them — are Christians.) The course is about world geography and cultures, and the team was making the standard stronger and more representative of world cultures.

But don’t bother talking sense to far-right groups trying to raise money by whipping their activists into a steaming froth. They’re too busy promoting a phony “war on Christmas.” The real war, however, is the one the religious right has launched on common sense in our children’s classrooms.

12 thoughts on “The War on Common Sense

  1. As the resident anthropologist here at TFN Insider, I agree. This is just plain deceptive and stupid. Maybe they should all get that digital brain “Gage.”

  2. The alleged “war on Christmas” is a red herring. To say the least. Christmas is celebrated freely and widely in the U.S. Go anywhere in the U.S. at anytime after Halloween (maybe even after Labor Day) and you’ll see Christmas references everywhere. You’ll be bombarded with Christmas. Not that I’m complaining. I love the lights, the music. I just hate full parking lots (hee hee). Christmas penetrates our senses of sight, hearing, smell: Christmas decorations, Christmas music, and Christmas scents. It’s found in restaurants, stores, churches (of course! and why not?) and even out-of-doors. I don’t know of any retailer (Christian or non-Christian) who wouldn’t want Christmas shown on their premises.

    Chronic complainers – the “poor us, we are SO persecuted by the evil secular society” *sniff* crowd love to play the persecution card. They trot it out every chance they get. It’s an integral part of their game theory.

    In their defense, I think there is a “war” against store clerks and wait staff saying “Merry Christmas” to their customers. I am not offended by a wish of a Merry Anything. There are far worse things someone could say to me. But to say there is a war on Christmas is absurd and demands evidence.

    Which brings me to a related topic: These folks are long on complaints, painfully short on evidence. By the time I was in high school we students no longer had the luxury of writing a paper and just throwing out opinion. Whenever we wrote an opinion, we were required to cite supporting evidence. If such was absent, you could bet your life the teacher would write on your paper: “NEEDS SUPPORTING EVIDENCE.” Or: “WHERE IS YOUR EVIDENCE?”

    I’m fascinated that adults are not required to meet the same standards required of high school kids. I suppose these particular adults feel they’re too good to have to stoop to providing evidence.

    And if they’re complaining about Christmas not being celebrated in public schools, they can get in line. Hanukkah isn’t celebrated in public schools either.

  3. If the course did teach about Christmas, how well would the true origin (usurpation of the pagan Winter Solstice celebration) go over?

  4. Yes. Whenever I hear about a War on Christmas, I get this vision of a huge military complex inside a mountain with huge screens, control panels manned (or womaned) by people in uniforms, and conversation such as, “General Brooks!!! We just had a Jesus witnessing by the Christmas tree sales yard at 43rd and Commerce in Cleveland. Should we send out a flying drone to bomb it?”

    Of course, the Christian Neo-Fundamentalists are primarily concerned about the current absence of religious Christmas bulletin boards and Christmas music in the public schools. That is the baseline concern. This latter day stuff about stores that scream “Happy Holidays” is pure political theater contrived for political purposes.

    The truth of the matter for all Christians is that Christmas is alive, well, and in no danger—especially when you consider how many churches there are in this country and the tens of millions of people like me who celebrate Christmas. Unfortunately, here at my house, my 8-year-old son recently knocked our ceramic nativity scene off a table and broke baby Jesus and a donkey ear.

    I do have a suggestion as to how the Christian Neo-Fundamentalists might overcome their concerns about the fact that no one is teaching their view of Christmas in the public schools. It is really quite simple. Go caroling door-to-door. People love it, but it is an aspect of traditional Christmas that really is dying out. If you want to rescue Christmas, go do that. You will get to sing to everyone in the house.

  5. TFN, can I get a little more information on the real story behind this change in the standard? The misleading AP article Mark mentions was in our newspaper today, and a letter to the editor seems to be in order.

    1. The headline we saw on the AP story was especially misleading. The complaint about removing Christmas is very cynical. First, this is a world geography and cultures course for Grade 6, not a course focused on the United States. In addition, Easter, a major Christian holiday, is still in the standard. The writing team simply wanted one holiday or religious observance from the major world religions, while the original standard included two Christian, two Jewish and one Islamic holiday or observance. And the list simply includes examples. Teachers are free to include other holidays and observances. But David Barton and the Free Market Foundation are using the change to suggest that Christmas is somehow under attack. It’s a cynical gimmick — a fund-raising tool for Free Market Foundation and a political weapon for Barton to use.

  6. Here’s what I sent to the Snyder paper:

    “In the Weekend edition on the 12th you published a short article from the AP that I feel is misleadingly incomplete. The headline was “Deleting ‘Christmas’ from social studies proposed.” It referred to a proposed first draft of modifications to the standards for social studies classes for Texas middle schools that does, indeed, propose that the word “Christmas” be removed from a list of holidays in a specific standard. The article notes the “outrage” of a representative of the Free Market Foundation over this change.

    However, the article does not make clear that the proposed change is one of a great many proposed changes for a sixth-grade world geography class – not a class about the USA. The standard, in section 113.22, says as its first line, “In Grade 6, students study people, and places, and societies of the contemporary world.” The AP article does not mention that the Jewish holiday Rosh Hashanah is also proposed to be removed, or that Easter and Yom Kippur are being retained. It fails to note the proposed addition of Diwali, a major Hindu/Buddhist holiday. What the draft proposes is to mention, by name, a single major holiday for each of the five largest religions in the world. That seems a pretty reasonable thing to study in a course covering the major cultures of the world.

    The Free Market Foundation appears to be attempting to stir up a fuss where no fuss is warranted. There’s no “effort to mislead students about current society” here: just an effort to provide some education about the rest of the non-Texas parts of the world we live in. I say that is a good thing.”

    They only publish letters on Saturdays – if I get firebombed this weekend I’ll let y’all know.

  7. LRA, it sounds like most of the schools are handling the directionless bible-based classes as well as can be expected. It doesn’t look like they’ll have much choice in the matter, through no fault of their own.

    I seem to remember that the AP had some very slanted versions of campaign coverage during last years elections. I can’t look it up now, but I recall some media entities started noticing quite a lot of complaints about how one-sided the articles from AP feeds seemed, and were looking for alternatives to the feeds. If there’s any truth to that, it would fit into why they were so careless in checking the veracity of FMF’s allegations.

    I plan to look later to find out more, but I’d be fine with being wrong, as I really have enough on my plate without entertaining conspiracy theories. Regardless, how detestable and low for these self-righteous hypocrites, not to mention how pathetic that this will likely gain traction through iterations among the Dobson faithful.

  8. I have also twice seen and heard some blonde female on CNN ask viewers to vote on whether or not “to take Christmas out of schools.” She made no mention of the context, and there was no indication that she was talking about one 6th grade course, or the fact that Easter was left in the curriculum to represent a Christian holiday. I think she was a rabble rouser, and CNN should be ashamed to broadcast such drivel. When I went to the CNN website, I couldn’t find a place to vote.

  9. I think that sometimes, especially using FireFox, you’ll have to reload the page to get to their voting site. I also find that true when clicking email links to the WaPo pages, a lot more than most others.