By William Fisher
The nation’s most powerful civil liberties organization, the American Civil Liberties Union, has launched a letter-writing campaign designed to persuade book publishers not to use the “ideologically-slanted standards for social studies textbooks” approved by the Texas State Board of Education as a model for use in other states.
In a letter to its members, the ACLU said, “It's up to us to convince textbook publishers that Texas's curriculum shouldn't be adopted for use in other states. We'll need to act fast to keep this extremism in check.”
Because of the large number of textbooks used by Texas’s 4.9 million children, the Lone Star State has an outsized influence on textbook publishers. The State Board of Education, elected by Texas voters, last week approved what most consider an ultra-conservative curriculum for social studies textbooks, overruling recommendations by teachers and scholars.
At the same time, the head of the Texas chapter of the ACLU is questioning whether members of the Texas State Board of Education “acted outside the rules” in approving the curriculum.
Terri Burke, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Texas, told IPS that she intends to “call for a thorough investigation” of reports that members of the Board continued to make changes in resolutions after they were voted on.
She said she has heard such reports from a variety of independent sources.
Ms. Burke added, “If we can’t produce proof that this happened, we still intend to work with members of the legislature and other activist organizations to change the rules of the game so that the people we elect to do this job have the professional qualifications needed to do it properly.”
For the next ten years, Texas school children will be taught that the authors of the U.S. Constitution believed America was “a Christian nation” where no separation of church and state was contemplated.
They will also learn to question whether the United Nations presents a threat to U.S. sovereignty.
Other changes include:
President of the Confederacy Jefferson Davis's inaugural address will be studied alongside Abraham Lincoln's.
The U.S. government will be referred to as a "constitutional republic," rather than "democratic."
Students will be required to study the decline in the value of the U.S. dollar, including the abandonment of the gold standard.
Thomas Jefferson will be deleted as an example of an influential political philosopher in a world history class. He will be replaced by St. Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin and William Blackstone.
Jefferson, who first used the phrase “separation between church and state”
is not admired by conservatives.
Noting that the words “separation of church and state” were not included in the Constitution, the Board will now require students to compare and contrast the judicial language with the First Amendment's wording.
Students also will be required to study the decline in the U.S. dollar's value, including the abandonment of the gold standard.
Students will now learn about “the conservative resurgence of the 1980s and 1990s, including Phyllis Schlafly, the Contract With America, the Heritage Foundation, the Moral Majority and the National Rifle Association.”
The teaching of the civil rights movement will ensure that students study the violent philosophy of the Black Panthers in addition to the nonviolent approach of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Students will study “the unintended consequences” of the Great Society legislation, affirmative action and Title IX legislation.
They will now learn that Germans and Italians as well as Japanese were interned in the United States during World War II, to counter the idea that the internment of Japanese was motivated by racism.
The history of McCarthyism will now include “how the later release of the Venona papers confirmed suspicions of communist infiltration in U.S. government.” The Venona papers were transcripts of some 3,000 communications between the Soviet Union and its agents in the United States.
In economics, the revisions add Milton Friedman and Friedrich von Hayek, two champions of free-market economic theory, among the usual list of economists to be studied, like Adam Smith, Karl Marx and John Maynard Keynes.
The word “capitalism” has been replaced with the “free-enterprise system.”
“The importance of personal responsibility for life choices” will now be included in a section on teenage suicide, dating violence, sexuality, drug use and eating disorders.
The Board’s actions have drawn widespread criticism from education scholars.
When one critic noted the state has few standards for service on the State Board of Education, including no educational requirements for the Commissioner of Education, Board Member David Bradley of Beaumont asked: “So, should the head of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission be a drunk?” My response would have been, “No, but the top educator in our state should be educated.”
Education Secretary Arne Duncan said school officials "should keep politics out" of curriculum debates.
"We do a disservice to children when we shield them from the truth, just because some people think it is painful or doesn't fit with their particular views," Duncan said in a statement. "Parents should be very wary of politicians designing curriculum," he said.
The ACLU of Texas urged the state Legislature to place more control over the board.
"At the end of three long days, the State Board of Education has amended, re-amended and approved curriculum standards that are more ideological than ever, despite pleas to not politicize what is taught to Texas school children," said the ACLU’s Terri Burke.
Rep. Mike Villareal, a San Antonio Democrat, said the Board “ignored historians and teachers, allowing ideological activists to push the culture war further into our classrooms," said. "They fail to understand that we don't want liberal textbooks or conservative textbooks. We want excellent textbooks, written by historians instead of activists."
Bush-era Education Secretary and former Houston school superintendent Rod Paige told the board, “What students are taught should not be the handmaiden of political ideology.”
And Benjamin Todd Jealous, the national president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), said that children need to learn the “whole truth, not half truths.” He said the standards threaten students’ ability to compete on advanced placement tests and SATs.