Our Common Good

Two years since a conservative sweep of the State Board of Education, November’s election carries high stakes, with all 15 seats on the ballot and the instructional direction of 5 million Texas school children in the balance.

The divide between two camps on the issues of history and science, political and religious ideology is deep. For one, the fight for control of the SBOE is nothing less than a cultural clash. The other views the November contests as critical choices to protect conservative values.

The board determines curriculum standards and textbooks for the state’s K-12 public school system and also controls the $26 billion Permanent School Fund, which benefits public education.

The next board will select new science and social studies/history textbooks to reflect updated science curriculum standards.

“That’s where all these culture war battles will come to a head over what students learn about evolution, about civil rights, about church and state separation,” said Dan Quinn, spokesman for the Texas Freedom Network, an Austin-based group that monitors the SBOE from a more liberal perspective. “All those battles will come in 2013 and 2014, and the textbooks will be in the classrooms for a generation.”

Will the new textbooks “teach science or pseudo science?” Quinn asks. “Will we have history textbooks that teach facts based on real scholars or opinions based on the political beliefs of whoever controls the board?”

Remember that Texas textbook purchases are so large, they pretty much determine the content of texts used in schools across the nation.

From 2010, after conservatives won the most seats in the last election:

The conservative members maintain that they are trying to correct what they see as a liberal bias among the teachers who proposed the curriculum. To that end, they made dozens of minor changes aimed at calling into question, among other things, concepts like the separation of church and state and the secular nature of the American Revolution.

“I reject the notion by the left of a constitutional separation of church and state,” said David Bradley, a conservative from Beaumont who works in real estate. “I have $1,000 for the charity of your choice if you can find it in the Constitution.”

They also included a plank to ensure that students learn about “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.”

[…]

In economics, the revisions add Milton Friedman and Friedrich von Hayek, two champions of free-market economic theory, among the usual list of economists to be studied, like Adam Smith, Karl Marx and John Maynard Keynes. They also replaced the word “capitalism” throughout their texts with the “free-enterprise system.”

“Let’s face it, capitalism does have a negative connotation,” said one conservative member, Terri Leo. “You know, ‘capitalist pig!’ ”

In the field of sociology, another conservative member, Barbara Cargill, won passage of an amendment requiring the teaching of “the importance of personal responsibility for life choices” in a section on teenage suicide, dating violence, sexuality, drug use and eating disorders.

[…]

In economics, the revisions add Milton Friedman and Friedrich von Hayek, two champions of free-market economic theory, among the usual list of economists to be studied, like Adam Smith, Karl Marx and John Maynard Keynes. They also replaced the word “capitalism” throughout their texts with the “free-enterprise system.”

[…]

In the field of sociology, another conservative member, Barbara Cargill, won passage of an amendment requiring the teaching of “the importance of personal responsibility for life choices” in a section on teenage suicide, dating violence, sexuality, drug use and eating disorders.

[…]

Cynthia Dunbar, a lawyer from Richmond who is a strict constitutionalist and thinks the nation was founded on Christian beliefs, managed to cut Thomas Jefferson from a list of figures whose writings inspired revolutions in the late 18th century and 19th century, replacing him with St. Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin and William Blackstone. (Jefferson is not well liked among conservatives on the board because he coined the term “separation between church and state.”)

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