By Rob Boston
Texas’ controversial social studies standards face a final vote this week, and it appears that far-right members of the state Board of Education aren’t done trashing them yet.
Don McLeroy, the dentist from Bryan who has become infamous throughout this process, has some more changes he would like to make. Among them is this gem: “Contrast the Founders’ intent relative to the wording of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause and Free Exercise Clause, with the popular term ‘Separation of church and state.’”
One of the most frustrating things about McLeroy and his gang of extremists is that they pretend to be interested in sparking a legitimate discussion in the classroom when what they really want is to spread their “Christian nation” propaganda. They don’t actually want students to think – they want to tell them what to think.
Consider the proposed revision above (which, by the way, would be imposed on eighth graders). At first glance, it might not sound so bad. But when you read deeper, it’s clear what the McLeroy crew is up to: trying to undermine the constitutional legitimacy of the separation of church and state.
Students are expected to “contrast” the founders’ “intent” of the First Amendment with the “popular” term “separation of church and state.” The clear implication is that separating church and state couldn’t have been the founders’ intent.
A more accurate standard would be: “Study how the First Amendment’s Establishment and Free Exercise clauses separate church and state” – but language like that reflects actual history, which is the last thing the board’s Religious Right faction wants.
In fact, the standards have become laced with far-right propaganda. In addition to attacking the church-state wall, McLeroy wants the standards to assail Social Security and Medicare. He also recommends that Texas students learn to “evaluate efforts by global organizations to undermine U. S. sovereignty.”
This is not education; it is right-wing indoctrination.
Americans United will have local representatives at the hearing on Wednesday. Led by AU Austin Chapter activists Sarah Weis and Brian Spears, the reps will make the point that the standards as currently drafted are simply unacceptable.
In an Action Alert sent to members in Texas, AU notes that the board “has insisted that students learn about Moses the Lawgiver and the supposed biblical underpinnings of American government, while failing to adequately recognize the religious freedom protections that have strengthened our nation since its founding. Some members of the [board] view the U.S. as a distinctly Christian nation, and will accept nothing less than the perpetuation of this false claim in Texas classrooms.”
AU’s alert asserts, “This process has gotten out of hand – and has failed to produce [standards] that are fair, balanced, and responsible in their treatment of religious issues.”
How did Texas get to this point?
The board’s Religious Right faction was determined all along to stack the standards with a revisionist view of history. To that end, the board appointed David Barton, a notorious “Christian nation” propagandist, as an adviser. The board also selected Peter Marshall, a Massachusetts fundamentalist minister, to the same task.
Texas has plenty of public and private universities staffed by academics of distinction who could have advised the board. The selection of Barton and Marshall was an early sign that something was terribly wrong. Since neither man is a historian, it’s not surprising that their recommendations are so shot full of bias. (The board also appointed Daniel Dreisbach, a professor at American University, as an adviser. While Dreisbach has legitimate credentials, he is known for peddling the view that the Jeffersonian idea of a church-state wall was not the intent of the founders.)
Is it too late for Texas?
Voters in the Lone Star State indicated their displeasure with the board earlier this year when they defeated McLeroy in a primary election. There have also been rumbling that some members of the legislature are not pleased with the board’s antics. But clearly the state is headed for a rough patch, and what’s most unfortunate is that children will most likely bear the brunt of that.
The Texas follies should serve as a lesson to all of us. The Religious Right is alive and well, plotting and scheming as always. Public education remains in the crosshairs. We need to be alert, lest the Texas mess be exported to other states.