By now, you most likely know that Texas has become ground zero for the latest battles in the textbook wars. While conservatives and progressives take their stands on the issue, I wondered, what would America’s founders think about this feud?
For those who have somehow dodged the news, the 15-member Texas State Board of Education has been hearing and debating variances of opinion regarding what to include and exclude in the social-studies curriculum and subsequent textbook. Not surprising is the full range of progressive issues that liberals want the SBOE to include: from emphasizing equity and tolerance for all minorities to erasing key conservative figures and events from history and whitewashing the Judeo-Christian convictions of our founders.
Though not a perfect system, the Texas curricula decision-making process is actually quite sound and fairly representative of the 24 million Texans and 4.5 million students. It all begins by the input of literally hundreds of teachers who write the first set of standards. They are overseen and report to 15 elected state board of education members who appoint six expert reviewers. These six experts review all that the teachers have recommended, then give all their findings and suggestions to the 15 SBOE members, who, in turn, review all the presentations, listen to hundreds of hours of more testimony, then rule on a proposed draft as the state curriculum.
On Friday, the SBOE members began to wrap up the process by endorsing a draft proposal of the state’s social-studies curriculum with an 11-4 vote. A copy of the curriculum will be posted online for a month so citizens can comment, and then the SBOE will meet in May for more debate and a final vote. Again unsurprising, the four dissenting voices claimed that the proposed standards water down the contribution of minorities to American history and culture.
The reason every American should be concerned about this issue is because the Lone Star State is the No. 1 purchaser of textbooks in the country and even the world. And Texas textbooks are used in 47 of the 50 states – more than 90 percent of America’s textbooks are based on Texas’ curriculum.
I’m proud that Texas (along with only Alaska) opted out of the federal curriculum-standard mandates, as the 10th Amendment to the Constitution prescribes for us. Texas refused to participate in order to keep control of what is taught at our public schools. We certainly don’t need the federal government’s help raising or educating our kids. That is what has allowed us to be independent and autonomous over our curriculum. For example, while federal courts have banned educational options like intelligent design in biology, many who are involved in the curricula decision-making process in the Lone Star State believe there is a place for it somewhere in academia, if even in classes on government. If God were good enough for our founders and Creator-language important enough to be in pivotal documents like the Declaration of Independence, then why can’t our kids be educated about that Creator from at least their original documents?
Opponents’ primary rebuttal to Creator education is often to retort that the First Amendment prohibits it, but America’s founders penned the First Amendment to protect, not prohibit, the practice of religion, even in public arenas. That misunderstanding was witnessed again on the SBOE, as Democratic board member Mavis B. Knight introduced an amendment covering the separation of church and state. She explained that it was “intended to inform students that there is a political and legal doctrine out there that addresses the issue.” But Republican board member Ken Mercer rightly rebutted, “I think [the founders'] point was that they did not want a separation from religion, they just wanted to avoid having a national denomination … one religion everyone would have to follow. I think they had a different understanding of religious freedom.” Knight’s amendment was voted down by the SBOE.
Interestingly, in 2009, authors Gary Tobin and Dennis Ybarra of the Institute for Jewish and Community Research found some 500 imperfections and distortions concerning religion in 28 of the most widely used social-studies and history textbooks in the United States.
That is why, as reported even in a recent New York Times treatise, conservatives argue that most American history in textbooks basically avoids religion – and thus changes and misrepresents history – and prominent religious scholars are apt to agree with them on that point. Martin Marty, emeritus professor at the University of Chicago, former president of the American Academy of Religion and the American Society of Church History and recognized as one of the country’s foremost American religious historians, explained, “In American history, religion is all over the place, and wherever it appears, you should tell the story and do it appropriately.”
Nevertheless, liberal critics continue to lambaste the SBOE (which is comprised of 10 Republicans and five Democrats) as a biased committee that is intolerant, exclusive and too far right. Even one of its own members, Mary Helen Berlanga, D-Corpus Christi, stormed out of the meeting on Thursday because she thought the committee should be more inclusive, saying that she wouldn’t return to her seat until Friday.
Liberals and progressives complain that conservatives are hijacking the curriculum process and modifying textbooks to fit their ideological whims. But the history of textbook alterations has clearly proven it is the former who have changed the course and content of curricula and textbook production. Conservatives have been largely the guardians or preservationists of tradition. Progressives have changed curricula content to pacify the politically correct and adopt what they value today and want others to value tomorrow.
Gilbert Sewall, director of the American Textbook Council, admitted that the quality of textbooks has been gradually declining. Sewall explained, “There’s no doubt that identity politics have contributed to the decline of textbook quality over the last 20 years.” He warns that the most vocal groups have muscled their preferences into curriculum.
Dr. Frank Wang, former president of Saxon Publishing, also confessed that textbook production has indeed radically changed over the years. Rather than historians and other experts writing the texts, a blend of freelance writers are drafting them, often in record-breaking speed and catering to politically correct curriculum standards. Dr. Wang says, “The process has evolved from art to engineering,” the production more of an “assembly line” than a “work of art.”
And is anyone naïve enough to believe that the White House will use its influence to spin less liberal and progressive information into state curricula and textbooks? To be certain, you can bet anything it does will remain under the guise of “educational reform that will improve academic standards.”
The 10th Amendment protects each state and American citizen from an overreaching federal government, to decide for themselves (in this case) what is best for their education. That is why, in 2004, the SBOE approved health textbooks for Texas only after publishers changed the wording in some of the approved textbooks to reflect marriage as being between a man and a woman. One of the publishers even changed its text to include a definition of marriage as a “lifelong union between a husband and a wife.”
The fact is that the majority of the SBOE members find themselves in good company, in line and legacy with American founders’ conservative views for public education – for example, like their required instruction about a Creator and the importance of religion, which they counted on (among other things) to help secure morality in individuals and civility in society.
The founders’ educational philosophy even included teaching the Bible. As Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, wrote, “To the citizens of Philadelphia: A Plan for Free Schools,” on March 28, 1787: “Let the children who are sent to those schools be taught to read and write and above all, let both sexes be carefully instructed in the principles and obligations of the Christian religion. This is the most essential part of education.”
Noah Webster, the “Father of American Scholarship and Education,” stated, “In my view, the Christian religion is the most important and one of the first things in which all children, under a free government, ought to be instructed. … No truth is more evident to my mind than that the Christian religion must be the basis of any government intended to secure the rights and privileges of a free people.”
In 1789, during the same time when the First Amendment was written, then-President George Washington signed into law the Northwest Ordinance, which states, “Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.” Does anyone not know what the term “forever” means? Can any member of the SBOE or any other state board of education be penalized for agreeing with the founders of America?
Even Thomas Jefferson, while protecting the University of Virginia (chartered in 1819) from the single sectarianism typically connected to other higher academic institutions of his day, wrote about his vision for the university on Dec. 27, 1820: “This institution will be based on the illimitable freedom of the human mind. For here we are not afraid to follow the truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error as long as reason is left free to combat it.”
That seems to me the charter of a true American system of education. But as we know, our nation’s public schools, and especially our nation’s colleges and universities, are the seedbeds of politically correct and liberal indoctrination, out of sync with our founders’ vision and views. It shouldn’t be that way, but it is.
Maintaining a balanced curriculum in our public schools is the reason my wife, Gena, and I joined the board of “The National Council On Bible Curriculum In Public Schools,” whose state-certified Bible course (elective) has been implemented in 532 public-school districts (2,035 high schools) in 38 states. More than 360,000 students have already taken this course nationwide on high-school campuses and during school hours for credit. You, too, can learn more about the curriculum, why its teaching is constitutional and how it can be implemented in your public school by contacting:
National Council On Bible Curriculum In Public Schools
Post Office Box 9743
Greensboro, North Carolina 27429
(336) 272-7199 (fax)
As I wrote in my newly released and expanded paperback version of “Black Belt Patriotism,” if you want to join me in stopping educational corruption, gridlock and tyranny, then consider doing any of the following:
1. Stay active in your child’s education, homework, classroom, PTA, school boards, etc.
2. Get familiar with how academic curriculum is reviewed and chosen in your state, then e-mail your thoughts on it to your state’s education board. For those in Texas, the contact info is e-mail, 512-463-9007 (phone) or 512-936-4319 (fax).
3. Get involved in local, state and national politics and make your voice heard. The time for passivity is over. As Thomas Jefferson once said, “All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent.”
4. Learn your state’s laws on education and understand your parental and educational rights, and teach them to others. To quote Thomas Jefferson again, “Educate and inform the whole mass of the people. … They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.”
5. Petition your representatives to support a constitutional amendment protecting the child-parent relationship from unreasonable government intrusion.
6. Consider petitioning your state’s education board, school district and local school to adopt “The National Council On Bible Curriculum In Public Schools” curriculum about the influence of the Bible in history, civilization, law, literature and the founding of America.
If you have a good public school with balanced curricula, congratulations. If not, and you’ve exhausted the above measures or believe the educative inculcation and indoctrination is a substantial risk, for many parents the only responsible choice is to send their children to a Christian, parochial or private school or to homeschool, as my wife, Gena, and I have chosen to do with our 8-year-old twins.
Our right to liberty includes our right to educate our children as we, not the government, prefer. Indeed, our founders would be appalled if we surrendered this right, which they took for granted in their own time.
It’s a travesty that we have even come to this point that we have to protect our children from the public-school systems, by policing their policies, testing their textbooks and combating their biases to education. But such is the sign of our times.
My personal warning to educational tyranny and tyrants is this: best not to test or mess with Texas. If you thought we fought hard for the Alamo, wait until you see what we can do for the right to educate our children. You can hide behind your No. 2 pencils, but our branding irons will find your tail sides.