Social Studies Smackdown: Texas Faces Moment Of Truth On Standards

Today, the Texas State Board of Education will debate and discuss what to do about the future of the state's social studies curriculum, before taking the first of two votes on the issue tomorrow.

The Board's discussion will likely incorporate the advice members heard in testimony yesterday from citizens who signed up to speak, all conveying thoughts on what would be best for the students of Texas.

As I blogged on Monday, the Religious Right wants to use the social studies curriculum to push "Christian nation" propaganda. David Barton and the Rev. Peter Marshall, two well-known Religious Right activists, were selected by the board to sit on the six-member social studies curriculum review panel. They have suggested the board incorporate their version of American history in Texas classrooms.

Yesterday, some Barton-Marshall supporters turned up to reinforce the positions of these two self-proclaimed "historians."

Jack Kamrath of the far-right American Heritage Education Foundation told the board that American history education fails to teach the Judeo-Christian foundations of our country and its government. He expressed concern about the teaching of multiculturalism and pluralism in history.

"The name of our country is the United States of America, not the Diverse States of America," he said.

Fortunately, Kamrath's opinion was in the minority. Many of yesterday's testifiers were in favor of a sound, non-politicized history curriculum.

Steven Green, director of the Willamette University Center for Religion, Law and Democracy, warned that Barton and Marshall represent "bad history." He said the founders never intended to create a "Christian nation" based on biblical principles, as Barton and Marshall would like Texas schools to teach.

"The bottom line is the founders who created our nation intended to create a secular republic," Green said.

The vice president of Americans United's Austin Chapter, Sarah Weis, was also there to convey AU's thoughts on the curriculum. She also warned against Barton and Marshall's agenda.

"If students were taught, for instance, what the Rev. Marshall suggests, that our nation was founded on a particular religious creed or the claims that David Barton makes about divine intervention, our history classes could venture into the territory of Sunday school classes," she said.

In addition, Weis asked the Board to accurately portray the history of religious freedom in social studies classrooms.

"Though our earlier history does include people who wanted to create a Christian nation," she said, "the Constitution and Bill of Rights do not do so. Our students' history lessons must be accurate and acknowledge where religion did play a role, but also set forth a true account of when it did not.

"Our schools," she concluded, "must obey the command that government and schools not prefer one religion over another or promote religion over non-belief. If the role of religious beliefs is exaggerated in the [standards], schools run the risk of crossing that forbidden line."

Other testifiers who did not what to see social studies curriculum being used as a Religious Right political pawn included a public school teacher, a representative from the National Council of Jewish Women and the director of educational services at the Texas State Historical Association, among others.

We hope the Board will really consider what they had to say and vote to protect sound social studies standards for Texas public schools.