The Daily Gazette
The Locally Owned Voice Of The Capital Region

Texas conservatives changing textbooks

Don’t mess with Texas’ textbooks.

Sorry, I couldn’t resist. But there’s some crazy stuff going on in Texas right now as the state Board of Education prepares to order new textbooks. The group has passed over 100 amendments modifying the curriculum standards for history, sociology and economics courses.

Most of the amendments passed take a hard-right approach. The school board is currently controlled by a 10 to 5 Republican majority.

Dr. Don McLeroy, the conservative bloc’s leader said, “We are adding balance. History has already been skewed. Academia is skewed too far to the left.”

His argument has merit. One of my favorite teachers once told me Henry Kissinger was a war criminal (whether or not you agree with him, it wasn’t an appropriate comment to make to a group of high school students).

But they took their attempt to “add balance” to the extreme in some instances.

For one, the group voted to eliminate Thomas Jefferson from a list of writers who inspired the American and French revolutions. He was replaced by Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin and William Blackstone.

I’m a history major. I would never deny the importance of Aquinas or Calvin, but did either of them have as much impact on the American Revolution as Jefferson?

The board voted down an amendment that would have mandated students to study why “the founding fathers protected religious freedom in America by barring the government from promoting or disfavoring any particular religion above all others.”

The notion that the founders didn’t intend this is absurd. It’s in the First Amendment. In fact, it’s the first thing explicitly stated in the First Amendment. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

The board also decided that teachers must stress the importance of personal responsibility when discussing teenage suicide, dating violence, sexuality, drug use and eating disorders.
I’m sure it will be beneficial for rape survivors to sit in a class and be lectured on how the assault was their fault.

Extremism in any direction is dangerous. But this is a particularly potent brand of extremism. By controlling the textbooks (and the Texas market is big enough to potentially affect all the textbooks on the West Coast), the school board has forced their view of the world on the next generation.
I understand that choices always have to be made in curriculums. But they need to be made carefully, and without such a strident political agenda. Politics can never be entirely removed, but they can be surpressed.

Teaching a sanitized view of history, be it by the left or the right, harms everyone. Without fully understanding the past, we can’t understand who we are today. And we have no chance of avoiding making the same mistakes over and over again.

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March 17, 2010
5:20 a.m.

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If they've made Thomas Jefferson disappear, one wonders what they've done to poor Thomas Paine, who had even more to do with the American and French Revolutions, but had the temerity to encourage free thought in "The Age of Reason"?

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