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A rat done bit my sister Nell.

July 14, 2009, 12:17 pm

There’s such an enormous disparity between different groups’ experience of American history that what is sneeringly called “multiculturalism” deserves consideration. To pick an example, a good history about the New Deal would (a) show it generally working and (b) show it coming up short for blacks. Which isn’t a way of slighting white Christians. If you pick up a multiculturally influenced high-school history textbook you’ll find no shortage of presidents, captains of industry, explorers, soldiers, and judges—occupations that overwhelmingly tend to white Christians. You’ll find revivalists and abolitionists and social gospelers and Bryanites. But evidently that’s not enough.

The Texas Board of Education, which recently approved new science standards that made room for creationist critiques of evolution, is revising the state’s social studies curriculum…

Three reviewers, appointed by social conservatives, have recommended revamping the K-12 curriculum to emphasize the roles of the Bible, the Christian faith and the civic virtue of religion in the study of American history. Two of them want to remove or de-emphasize references to several historical figures who have become liberal icons, such as César Chávez and Thurgood Marshall.

“We’re in an all-out moral and spiritual civil war for the soul of America, and the record of American history is right at the heart of it,” said Rev. Peter Marshall, a Christian minister and one of the reviewers appointed by the conservative camp.

… The three reviewers appointed by the moderate and liberal board members are all professors of history or education at Texas universities, including Mr. de la Teja, a former state historian. The reviewers appointed by conservatives include two who run conservative Christian organizations: David Barton, founder of WallBuilders, a group that promotes America’s Christian heritage; and Rev. Marshall, who preaches that Watergate, the Vietnam War and Hurricane Katrina were God’s judgments on the nation’s sexual immorality. The third is Daniel Dreisbach, a professor of public affairs at American University.

The conservative reviewers say they believe that children must learn that America’s founding principles are biblical. For instance, they say the separation of powers set forth in the Constitution stems from a scriptural understanding of man’s fall and inherent sinfulness, or “radical depravity,” which means he can be governed only by an intricate system of checks and balances.

The curriculum, they say, should clearly present Christianity as an overall force for good — and a key reason for American exceptionalism, the notion that the country stands above and apart.

… But the emphasis on Christianity as a driving force is disputed by some historians, who focus on the economic motivation of many colonists and the fractured views of religion among the Founding Fathers. “There appears to me too much politics in some of this,” said Lybeth Hodges, a professor of history at Texas Woman’s University and another of the curriculum reviewers.

Some outside observers argue that curriculum analysts should be trained academics…

Nearly every state has its own curriculum standards, and there are scores of social studies texts to choose from at most grade levels, so what happens in Texas won’t necessarily affect other states. But the Texas market is huge, so most big publishers aggressively seek approval from the board, in some cases adopting the majority’s editing suggestions nearly verbatim.

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