"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Friday, July 17, 2009

Texas Conservatives Want to Deny César Chávez, Thurgood Marshall a Place in History

Texas is yet again the scene of controversy in education. This time, conservatives are attempting to rewrite history in their Christian-centric universe where white is right and César Chávez and Thurgood Marshall aren't worth studying (is the objection to Chávez and Marshall some post-Obama/Sotomayor backlash?). From the Wall Street Journal:

The fight over school curriculum in Texas, recently focused on biology, has entered a new arena, with a brewing debate over how much faith belongs in American history classrooms.

The Texas Board of Education, which recently approved new science standards that made room for creationist critiques of evolution, is revising the state's social studies curriculum. In early recommendations from outside experts appointed by the board, a divide has opened over how central religious theology should be to the teaching of history.

Three reviewers, appointed by social conservatives, have recommended revamping the K-12 curriculum to emphasize the roles of the Bible, the Christian faith and the civic virtue of religion in the study of American history. Two of them want to remove or de-emphasize references to several historical figures who have become liberal icons, such as César Chávez and Thurgood Marshall.

"We're in an all-out moral and spiritual civil war for the soul of America, and the record of American history is right at the heart of it," said Rev. Peter Marshall, a Christian minister and one of the reviewers appointed by the conservative camp.


The conservative reviewers say they believe that children must learn that America's founding principles are biblical. For instance, they say the separation of powers set forth in the Constitution stems from a scriptural understanding of man's fall and inherent sinfulness, or "radical depravity," which means he can be governed only by an intricate system of checks and balances.

The curriculum, they say, should clearly present Christianity as an overall force for good -- and a key reason for American exceptionalism, the notion that the country stands above and apart.

And some of the suggestions of the panel:

1. Delete César Chávez from a list of figures who modeled active participation in the democratic process:

Two reviewers objected to citing Mr. Chávez, who led a strike and boycott to improve working conditions for immigrant farmhands, as an example of citizenship for fifth-graders. "He's hardly the kind of role model that ought to be held up to our children as someone worthy of emulation," Rev. Marshall wrote.

2. Include more study of religious revival movements:

Evangelist Billy Graham should be included on a list of transformational leaders of the 20th century and students in fifth and eight grades should study the colonial-era religious revival known as the Great Awakening as a force "in shaping a national identity," suggests reviewer Daniel Dreisbach, a professor of public affairs at American University.

3. Replace references to America's "democratic" values with "republican" values:

Reviewer David Barton suggests swapping out "republican" for "democratic" in teaching materials. As he explains: "We don't pledge allegiance to the flag and the democracy for which it stands."

4. Tone down emphasis on the Cold War:

Reviewer Lybeth Hodges, a history professor at Texas Woman's University, suggests revising the standards that set current events in the Cold War framework of democracy versus communism. She calls for adding study of Arab nations and Islam.

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