“Let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.” –George Washington
Some statements are in the realm of the obvious. Here’s one for you. “Schools remain the most important venue for teaching our kids who we are.” Yes, one would think so, and that is why every parent should be concerned about what goes on in the classroom. The statement comes from a third-grade text in Texas where a battle is brewing with history revisionists who are seeking to stamp out America’s Chistian history. Here’s an insightful article from the Wall Street Journal by Stephanie Simon.
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.
Three other reviewers, all selected by politically moderate or liberal members of the board, recommended less-sweeping changes to the existing curriculum. But one suggested including more diverse role models, especially Latinos, in teaching materials. “We have tended to exclude or marginalize the role of Hispanic and Native American participants in the state’s history,” said Jesús F. de la Teja, chairman of the history department at Texas State University.
Social studies teachers from Texas are meeting this summer to write new standards. They can accept, reject or modify the six reviewers’ suggestions, all of which were made individually. The teachers’ recommendations are sent to the 15-member board of education, a conservative-dominated body that has authority to revise standards.
The three reviewers appointed by the moderate and liberal board members are all professors of history or education at Texas universities, including Mr. de la Teja, a former state historian. The reviewers appointed by conservatives include two who run conservative Christian organizations: David Barton, founder of WallBuilders, a group that promotes America’s Christian heritage; and Rev. Marshall, who preaches that Watergate, the Vietnam War and Hurricane Katrina were God’s judgments on the nation’s sexual immorality. The third is Daniel Dreisbach, a professor of public affairs at American University.
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.
“America is a special place and we need to be sure we communicate that to our children,” said Don McLeroy, a leading conservative on the board. “The foundational principles of our country are very biblical…. That needs to come out in the textbooks.”
But the emphasis on Christianity as a driving force is disputed by some historians, who focus on the economic motivation of many colonists and the fractured views of religion among the Founding Fathers. “There appears to me too much politics in some of this,” said Lybeth Hodges, a professor of history at Texas Woman’s University and another of the curriculum reviewers.
Some outside observers argue that curriculum analysts should be trained academics. “It’s important to have trained historians establishing the framework,” said David Vigilante, associate director of the National Center for History in the Schools at the University of California, Los Angeles.
The conservative Christian reviewers, in turn, are skeptical of the professional historians’ emphasis on multiculturalism, views stated most forcefully by Mr. de la Teja but echoed by Ms. Hodges. Reaching for examples of achievement by different racial and ethnic groups is divisive, Mr. Barton said, and distorts history.
The standards that the school board eventually settles on won’t dictate day-to-day lesson plans; that is up to individual teachers. But they will offer clear guidelines for educators — and also for publishers.
Nearly every state has its own curriculum standards, and there are scores of social studies texts to choose from at most grade levels, so what happens in Texas won’t necessarily affect other states. But the Texas market is huge, so most big publishers aggressively seek approval from the board, in some cases adopting the majority’s editing suggestions nearly verbatim.
While the battle in Texas is just heating up, the tug-of-war over how to present history dates back nearly 150 years, said Jonathan Zimmerman, a New York University professor of education. A single paragraph in a third-grade text might seem insignificant. But it is a powerful symbol, he said, “because schools remain the most important venue for teaching our kids who we are.” (The Culture Wars’ New Front by Stephanie Simon)
“You do well to wish to learn our arts and our ways of life and above all, the religion of Jesus Christ. These will make you a greater and happier people than you are.” –George Washington