How Christian Conservatives Are Getting Their Version Of History Into Classrooms
The New York Times Sunday Magazine shows how a strong Christian fundamentalist strain is changing the way history is being written. The extremely influential Texas State Board of Education, in deciding changes to the state’s curriculum, was strong-armed by arch conservatives, as member Don McLeroy (pictured) proposed many amendments to give textbooks a strong fundamentalist Christian bent.
McLeroy moved that Margaret Sanger, the birth-control pioneer, be included because she “and her followers promoted eugenics,” that language be inserted about Ronald Reagan’s “leadership in restoring national confidence” following Jimmy Carter’s presidency and that students be instructed to “describe the causes and key organizations and individuals of 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 injection of partisan politics into education went so far that at one point another Republican board member burst out in seemingly embarrassed exasperation, “Guys, you’re rewriting history now!” Nevertheless, most of McLeroy’s proposed amendments passed by a show of hands.
Finally, the board considered an amendment to require students to evaluate the contributions of significant Americans. The names proposed included Thurgood Marshall, Billy Graham, Newt Gingrich, William F. Buckley Jr., Hillary Rodham Clinton and Edward Kennedy. All passed muster except Kennedy, who was voted down.
There are six Christian conservatives on the Texas school board who vote as a bloc and are quite open about wanting their personal views to influence the curriculum. Their view is that we are Christian nation, not just by the numbers of Christians here but because they believe that’s what our founders intended. And they believe, as board member Cynthia Dunbar states, that influencing the curriculum is the first step toward influencing the government. McLeroy says:
“I consider myself a Christian fundamentalist,” he announced almost as soon as we sat down. He also identifies himself as a young-earth creationist who believes that the earth was created in six days, as the book of Genesis has it, less than 10,000 years ago. He went on to explain how his Christian perspective both governs his work on the state board and guides him in the current effort to adjust American-history textbooks to highlight the role of Christianity. “Textbooks are mostly the product of the liberal establishment, and they’re written with the idea that our religion and our liberty are in conflict,” he said. “But Christianity has had a deep impact on our system. The men who wrote the Constitution were Christians who knew the Bible. Our idea of individual rights comes from the Bible. The Western development of the free-market system owes a lot to biblical principles.”
Dunbar, a teacher an author, in spite of being on the Texas Board of Education with a strong role in shaping the curriculum, is hostile to public education.
…she writes of “the inappropriateness of a state-created, taxpayer-supported school system” and likens sending children to public school to “throwing them into the enemy’s flames, even as the children of Israel threw their children to Moloch.” (Her own children were either home-schooled or educated in private Christian schools.)
McLeroy is a dentist, not an historian. Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network, a watchdog group, has been monitoring the board for 15 years.
[Miller] says, referring to Don McLeroy and another board member: “It is the most crazy-making thing to sit there and watch a dentist and an insurance salesman rewrite curriculum standards in science and history. Last year, Don McLeroy believed he was smarter than the National Academy of Sciences, and he now believes he’s smarter than professors of American history.”
All eyes are often on Texas in terms of how it develops its curriculum. The 1998 guidelines became the basis for textbooks in most states. McLeroy’s efforts to get schools to teach the strengths and weaknesses of evolution last year resulted in McLeroy losing his position as the board’s chairman so embarrassed was the state.
However, textbook publishers want the business; they want to be listed; therefore, they listen to people like McLeroy.
Last fall, McLeroy was frank in talking about how he applies direct pressure to textbook companies. In the language-arts re-evaluation, the members of the Christian bloc wanted books to include classic myths and fables rather than newly written stories whose messages they didn’t agree with. They didn’t get what they wanted from the writing teams, so they did an end run around them once the public battles were over. “I met with all the publishers,” McLeroy said. “We went out for Mexican food. I told them this is what we want. We want stories with morals, not P.C. stories.” He then showed me an e-mail message from an executive at Pearson, a major educational publisher, indicating the results of his effort: “Hi Don. Thanks for the impact that you have had on the development of Pearson’s Scott Foresman Reading Street series. Attached is a list of some of the Fairy Tales and Fables that we included in the series.”Click here for reuse options!
Copyright 2010 Liberaland