By Sandhya Bathija
We knew things weren’t going to turn out well in Texas once we heard Cynthia Dunbar’s invocation on Friday morning.
Before the Texas State Board of Education voted on the controversial social studies curriculum, Dunbar prayed for what she hoped students would learn in public schools.
“I believe no one can read the history of our country without realizing that the Good Book and the spirit of the savior have from the beginning been our guiding geniuses,” she said. “Whether we look to the first charter of Virginia, or the charter of New England…the same objective is present – a Christian land governed by Christian principles.
“I believe the entire Bill of Rights came into being because of the knowledge our forefathers had of the Bible and their belief in it,” she continued. “I like to believe we are living today in the spirit of the Christian religion. I like also to believe that as long as we do so, no great harm can come to our country.”
Dunbar’s prayers were soon answered – the right-wing fundamentalist bloc succeeded in approving, by a 9-5 vote, social studies standards that left in place a provision that questions the legitimacy of church-state separation.
Under the approved standards, students will be required to “examine the reasons the Founding Fathers protected religious freedom in America and guaranteed it free exercise by saying that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, and compare and contrast this to the phrase ‘separation of church and state’.”
This amendment was adopted over another that would have required students to learn that the government cannot favor one religious belief over others, or religion over non-religion.
The adopted measure is an insult to our Founding Fathers’ vision for this country. It encourages textbook publishers to downplay church-state separation and green-lights attacks on that constitutional principle by ideology-driven school districts. And that’s just what the right-wing board members want to see happen.
Dunbar is the author of One Nation Under God, in which she argues the Founders created “an emphatically Christian government” and that the government should be guided by a “Biblical litmus test.” A law graduate of TV preacher Pat Robertson’s Regent University, she considers the public school system to be “subtly deceptive tool of perversion.”
The fact that Dunbar has the power to determine what our children should learn in public school is absurd. This entire Texas debacle could have been avoided if educators decided what our students learn, not politicians.
As my colleague Rob Boston blogged on Friday, 72 percent of Texans opposed the board’s power to set state standards, and believed that should be left up to teachers and academic scholars.
Even some of the board members agree.
“Sometimes I think I must be the dumb one at the table,” said Lawrence Allen before he voted to oppose the new standards. “Other folks here seem to think they know everything…. I don’t think we should sit here and think we have the capability to write standards.”
Allen noted that there is a difference between approving standards, which is the board’s duty, and writing the standards, which members of the right-wing bloc wrongfully took upon themselves to do.
Now we’re left with this situation that is beyond shameful. The board majority not only attacked church-state separation, but altered other important developments in our country’s history, seeking to strip any so-called “liberal bias” from current curriculum.
Children deserve better than this. They deserve to learn history as it really happened, not a warped version proposed by Dunbar or anyone else. Until Texas fixes this misguided, anti-academic but highly political process, the state will continue to be a laughing stock.