Every 10 years, the Texas State Board of Education rewrites the textbook standards for all of the public school districts in Texas — and, as a practical matter, for the entire nation, because Texas is the textbook publishing industry’s biggest market. This year, the Board is effectively controlled by a group of fringe-right Christianists who are in the process of conforming the nation’s textbooks to fit their ideology (h/t Doug at Balloon Juice).
Mariah Blake has a fascinating albeit depressing and even alarming article in The Washington Monthly about the social reactionaries who have gained so much influence over public education in Texas:
Don McLeroy is a balding, paunchy man with a thick broom-handle mustache who lives in a rambling two-story brick home in a suburb near Bryan, Texas. When he greeted me at the door one evening last October, he was clutching a thin paperback with the skeleton of a seahorse on its cover, a primer on natural selection penned by famed evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr. … With childlike glee, McLeroy flipped through the pages and explained what he saw as the gaping holes in Darwin’s theory. “I don’t care what the educational political lobby and their allies on the left say,” he declared at one point. “Evolution is hooey.” This bled into a rant about American history. “The secular humanists may argue that we are a secular nation,” McLeroy said, jabbing his finger in the air for emphasis. “But we are a Christian nation founded on Christian principles. The way I evaluate history textbooks is first I see how they cover Christianity and Israel. Then I see how they treat Ronald Reagan—he needs to get credit for saving the world from communism and for the good economy over the last twenty years because he lowered taxes.”
Views like these are relatively common in East Texas, a region that prides itself on being the buckle of the Bible Belt. But McLeroy is no ordinary citizen. The jovial creationist sits on the Texas State Board of Education, where he is one of the leaders of an activist bloc that holds enormous sway over the body’s decisions. As the state goes through the once-in-a-decade process of rewriting the standards for its textbooks, the faction is using its clout to infuse them with ultraconservative ideals. Among other things, they aim to rehabilitate Joseph McCarthy, bring global-warming denial into science class, and downplay the contributions of the civil rights movement.
Texas’s shrinking stock of educators and advocates who support reality-based teaching rather than right-wing agitprop are struggling to keep up morale, but it isn’t easy:
While the writing teams have so far made only modest concessions to the ideologue experts, the board has final say over the documents’ contents, and the ultraconservative bloc has made it clear that it wants its experts’ views to get prominent play—a situation the real experts find deeply unsettling. While in Texas, I paid a visit to James Kracht, a soft-spoken professor with a halo of fine white hair, who is a dean at Texas A&M University’s school of education. Kracht oversaw the writing of Texas’s social studies standards in the 1990s and is among the experts tapped by the board’s moderates this time around. I asked him how he thought the process was going. “I have to be careful what I say,” he replied, looking vaguely sheepish. “But when the door is closed and I’m by myself, I yell and scream and pound on the wall.”
Here are a few more examples of what they’re up against:
Barton and Peter Marshall initially tried to purge the standards of key figures of the civil rights era, such as César Chávez and Thurgood Marshall, though they were forced to back down amid a deafening public uproar. They have since resorted to a more subtle tack; while they concede that people like Martin Luther King Jr. deserve a place in history, they argue that they shouldn’t be given credit for advancing the rights of minorities. As Barton put it, “Only majorities can expand political rights in America’s constitutional society.” Ergo, any rights people of color have were handed to them by whites—in his view, mostly white Republican men.
… In late 2007, the English language arts writing teams, made up mostly of teachers and curriculum planners, turned in the drafts they had been laboring over for more than two years. The ultraconservatives argued that they were too light on basics like grammar and too heavy on reading comprehension and critical thinking. “This critical-thinking stuff is gobbledygook,” grumbled David Bradley, an insurance salesman with no college degree, who often acts as the faction’s enforcer. …
A similar scenario played out during the battle over science standards, which reached a crescendo in early 2009. Despite the overwhelming consensus among scientists that climate change exists, the group rammed through a last-minute amendment requiring students to “analyze and evaluate different views on the existence of global warming.” This, in essence, mandates the teaching of climate-change denial. What’s more, they scrubbed the standards of any reference to the fact that the universe is roughly fourteen billion years old, because this timeline conflicts with biblical accounts of creation.
As much as I’ve quoted, there is a lot more that I haven’t, and it deserves to be read in full. Read the whole thing, here.