When Politicians Set Curriculum Standards

Texans are getting a clear view of what happens when politicians, instead of teachers and scholars, make the decisions about what our children learn in their public school classrooms.

The knee-jerk contempt that some members of the Texas State Board of Education have for true religious freedom, the expansion of rights and for general reform in America has been evident throughout much of the debate over proposed new social studies curriculum standards. That contempt was clear again yesterday in board member Don McLeroy’s newly proposed amendments to the standards.

As we noted Friday, McLeroy takes aim at constitutional protections for separation of church and state in his new amendments. But he also seems to want students to learn that the Progressive Era was a negative influence on the country.

One of his amendments changes a standard that has students “evaluate the impact of muckrakers and reform leaders” on American society in the early 20th century. McLeroy instead wants students to “contrast the tone” of those muckrakers and reformers with the “optimism of immigrants” like “Jean Pierre Godet as told in Thomas Kinkade’s The Spirit of America.

Here is McLeroy’s reasoning:

The words of Godet and immigrants like him were, “I love America for giving so many of us the right to dream a new dream.” Such words were as lost on the muckrakers as they are on many modern historians obsessed by oppression.

Well, Don, perhaps muckrakers focused on the need for change in America at that time because many people were oppressed. Let’s look at the reformers listed in the standard McLeroy wants to revise:

  • Upton Sinclair: His 1906 book, The Jungle, exposed the shockingly inhumane and unsanitary working conditions in the U.S. meatpacking industry at the time. Public outrage helped lead Congress to pass the Pure Food and Drug Act and the Meat Inspection Act.
  • Susan B. Anthony: She was one of the most prominent leaders of the women’s movement for equal rights. She died 14 years before the 19th Amendment gave women across America the right to vote.
  • Ida B. Wells: This African-American journalist documented the horror of lynching and terror campaigns by the Ku Klux Klan and others against black communities in America. She also promoted equal rights for women.
  • W.E.B. DuBois: Among America’s most famous African-American civil rights leaders, DuBois fought the systematic disfranchisement of blacks in the South that began in the late 1800s. He later co-founded and served as head of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Remember that it was McLeroy who last September suggested that women and minorities owe thanks to men and “the majority” for gaining equal and civil rights in America. Such an absurd suggestion ignores the decades of struggle and sacrifice (often at the risk of their own freedom and lives) that women and minorities dedicated to winning those rights. It also ignores the reality that some of those rights were not won until our nation’s courts forced “the majority” to protect them.

Then in March, McLeroy proclaimed that “the Progressive Era was not all sweetness and light.”┬áIndeed, few things are absolute: pure good or pure evil. But McLeroy’s disregard for those who have worked to make America better — whether during the Progressive Era or the Civil Rights Era of the 1950s and 1960s — has continued to flash brightly throughout this long debate over the social studies standards.

All of which makes this point ever clearer: teachers and scholars, not politicians promoting their own personal biases and agendas, should be responsible for writing curriculum standards and textbook requirements for public schools.

5 thoughts on “When Politicians Set Curriculum Standards

  1. As the Texas Freedom Network should know, there is no one who objects more to the continued use, in this debate, of the words “church and state” than I. Those words are not in the Constitution and their continued use is a distortion and revision of what the Constitution actually says: “no religious test,” Art. 6, and “no law respecting an establishment of religion,” First Amendment. Anyone who can see the word “church” anywhere in the Constitution, or anything but the words “religious” and “religion,” in the Constitution’s religion commandments, needs a new pair of glasses. Neither the Founding Fathers nor the First Congress used the word “church” in Article 6 or the First Amendment.

    Do the words “religious” and “religion” include church? Of course! But, use of the limiting words “church and state” are not the words used in the Constitution. It is the whole subject of “religion” at any level of government which is prohibited from establishment by test, law, or Congress in the USA. What part of no “religious” test and no law respecting an establishment of “religion” is confusing to TFN?

    Why, then, does TFN continue to insist upon using words not in the Constitution? If TFN wants the TBOE to understand what the Constitution says, then use its words. Understanding and use of the words actually in the Constitution is the best refutation of our opponents, in fact, use of the Constitution’s actual words is the right thing to do in any constitutional debate, as George Lakoff teaches in his book Don’t Think of an Elephant.

    As one of my professors at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary used to say, “God gave us brains to use, not to sit on.” So, in a debate about the Constitution, use the Constitution’s own words, not words which are not in the Constitution. Use James Madison’s words, “separation between Religion and Government in the Constitution of the United States,” W&MQ 3:555.

    If anyone at TFN can show me the words “church and state” in the Constitution, I will give them a free copy of my book The Religion Commandments in the Constitution: A Primer. Don McLeroy has challenged TFN to do so and I challenge TFN to do so. The point is simple: there can be no challenge to the Constitution’s actual words. The words “religious” and “religion” cover every objection McLeroy raises regarding “establishment of religion” by public schools or by any agency of government at any level. In fact, as a former member of the staff of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, I will provide a free lecture anytime on the subject.

    So, please, get over the Thomas Jefferson misquote of what the Constitution says. Start using the actual words of the Constitution and the “religious right” revision of what the Constitution commands will be defeated without question. The words of the Constitution’s religion commandments mean exactly what they say. Surely, TFN is better educated on this issue than Don McLeroy and David Barton and Rush Limbaugh?

    Gene Garman, M.Div.

  2. Hi Gene. You can send copies to Ben and me.

    But seriously. I would like to address a piece of Gail Lowe’s thinking. On several previous occasions, she has stated that the Texas SBOE consists of elected officials rather than educators. Therefore, the nonsense the current radical right members of the SBOE advocates is simply a case where elected officials are supplying the majority of Texans with what they requested. In her mind, I guess it is really that simple. The people ask, and Gail gives them what they ask for. Isn’t that the way the American system of government works?

    Well, NO GAIL. IT’ IS NOT. The thing you are talking about is true Greek democracy where the leaders are compelled to do whatever the mob wants in a given moment. The founders established the United States as a constitutional republic, which is different. There was a recognition (especially by people like Alexander Hamilton) that a majority of the people might not fully understand an issue and would put forth a majority request for something that would be really wrong and harmful to the country. It is the job of elected representatives in a republic to research issues in detail (more than the average citizen would have time to do) and make wise choices on that basis for the people they represent. Sometimes that wise decision will agree with what the majority wants. Sometimes it will not. However, I suspect what I just said went right over Gail’s head and the heads of the people who think like her. Therefore, I will put it in simpler terms for you.

    Pretend you are a parent and your daughter Sara has 50 teenage friends over to the house for her birthday party. At the beginning of the party, a majority of the kids (about 37) decide that they want to ask you (the parent) a very special question. “Will you go down to the liquor store and buy us a case of vodka to spike the party punch?” This is what the majority wants. This is what the majority expects. Following the political thinking of people like Gail Lowe, the right democratic thing to do is pull out the car keys and head down to the liquor store. After all, this is what the majority of the people at the party want. Dad is obligated to buy the vodka. He has no other reasonable choice. This is the democratic thing to do. Power to the people. Well NO. IT IS NOT the right thing to do. The parent, as a representative in charge of the welfare and lives of the teenagers at the party, has to recognize that a case of vodka for teenagers is not right—and say NO. It goes against what that majority wants, but it is really in their best interest to do without the vodka that night. This is the decision dad made. It was a wise one and the right one.

    A version of this is happening on the Texas SBOE right now with science and social studies. A majority of the Texans (teenagers) who elected Don McLeroy, Gail Lowe, and Cynthia Dunbar may want false science or social studies (a case of vodka) taught in their public schools. The attitude of the radical right Texas SBOE members is, “Okay. A majority of you teenagers want vodka for the party, we’ll get it for you. Glad to do it. That’s our job” Well, no. IT IS NOT YOUR JOB TO DO THAT. It’s not right to buy a case of vodka-phoney science and social studies notions for Texas teenagers. It is no more right than buying that case of vodka to spike the party punch. In a constitutional republic, elected officials sometimes have to function as a parent and do what is right for the people rather than give them the case of vodka that they really want. Instead, effectively, the radical right members on the Texas SBOE are passing out the vodka to the kids simply because that is what the kids voted. It may look simple and benign right now, but several of the kids who drove their parent’s car to the party will not be arriving home safely tonight. At the moment, K-12 education and school children in Texas are in just as much danger as those kids who will try to drive home drunk later tonight. I hope the reasonable people in Texas will realize this and do something about it. The best thing to do is get rid of the people who want to pass out the vodka.

  3. Who the hell is Jean Pierre Godet?
    A fictional character in a book by the painter Thomas Kincade??? That’s who we are supposed to “contrast” the “tone” of Sinclair, DuBois, Wells and Anthony with???
    This guy is nuts!