Monday, May 17, 2010

American Exceptionalism And The Texas School Board

The Texas School Board used to have lots of influence on the contents of American school texts simply because of the size of the Texas market. Whatever Texas wanted Americans in general got.

I'm not sure if that is equally true today. Perhaps new technologies allow the tailoring for texts for different states? But if not, then we should be concerned about what is taking place in Texas:

Cynthia Dunbar does not have a high regard for her local schools. She has called them unconstitutional, tyrannical and tools of perversion. The conservative Texas lawyer has even likened sending children to her state's schools to "throwing them in to the enemy's flames". Her hostility runs so deep that she educated her own offspring at home and at private Christian establishments.

Now Dunbar is on the brink of fulfilling a promise to change all that, or at least point Texas schools toward salvation. She is one of a clutch of Christian evangelists and social conservatives who have grasped control of the state's education board. This week they are expected to force through a new curriculum that is likely to shift what millions of American schoolchildren far beyond Texas learn about their history.

The board is to vote on a sweeping purge of alleged liberal bias in Texas school textbooks in favour of what Dunbar says really matters: a belief in America as a nation chosen by God as a beacon to the world, and free enterprise as the cornerstone of liberty and democracy.

"We are fighting for our children's education and our nation's future," Dunbar said. "In Texas we have certain statutory obligations to promote patriotism and to promote the free enterprise system. There seems to have been a move away from a patriotic ideology. There seems to be a denial that this was a nation founded under God. We had to go back and make some corrections."

Those corrections have prompted a blizzard of accusations of rewriting history and indoctrinating children by promoting rightwing views on religion, economics and guns while diminishing the science of evolution, the civil rights movement and the horrors of slavery.

Several changes include sidelining Thomas Jefferson, who favoured separation of church and state, while introducing a new focus on the "significant contributions" of pro-slavery Confederate leaders during the civil war.

Fascinating stuff. A list of some proposed changes can be found here (pdf). The amendments also require that students learn

about "the unintended consequences" of affirmative action and Title IX, the landmark federal law that bans gender discrimination in education programs and activities.

And what might those "unintended" consequences be?