Fundamentalist-Led Texas History Standards Get ‘D’ from Conservative Think Tank

After reviewing Texas’ new social studies curriculum, The Thomas Fordham Institute has handed the Texas Board of Education a ‘D’ and a stern lecture. 

But the far-right learning Christian fundamentalist board members, who rewrote the curriculum last year to create a version of American history in their own image, can’t honestly dismiss the study as the work of pointy-headed liberal elites. The Fordham Institute is a conservative think tank that advocates for school choice.

As the institute’s study makes clear, Texas’ new standards are evangelical-led revisionist history, one that portrays America with all the depth and diversity of a Dick and Jane learn-to-read book. But the study also singles out the complete hash the board has made of the curriculum’s organization.

The review is so scathing, it’s hard to pick out an excerpt, even from the executive summary, but I’ll try:

Complex historical issues are obscured with blatant politicizing throughout the document. Biblical influences on America’s founding are exaggerated, if not invented. The complicated but undeniable history of separation between church and state is flatly dismissed. From the earliest grades, students are pressed to uncritically celebrate the “free enterprise system and its benefits.” “Minimal government intrusion” is hailed as key to the early nineteenth-century commercial boom—ignoring the critical role of the state and federal governments in internal improvements and economic expansion. Native peoples are missing until brief references to nineteenth-century events. Slavery, too, is largely missing. Sectionalism and states’ rights are listed before slavery as causes of the Civil War, while the issue of slavery in the territories—the actual trigger for the  sectional crisis—is never mentioned at all. During and after Reconstruction, there is no mention of the Black Codes, the Ku Klux Klan, or sharecropping; the term “Jim Crow” never appears. Incredibly, racial segregation is only mentioned in a passing reference to the 1948 integration of the armed forces.

Or this section:

Texas’s heavily politicized 2010 revisions to its social studies curriculum have attracted massive national attention. Indeed, both in public hearings and press interviews, the leaders of the State Board of Education made no secret of their evangelical Christian-right agenda, promising to inculcate biblical principles, patriotic values, and American exceptionalism. And politics do figure heavily in the resulting TEKS. But the problems begin with the very structure of the document, an unwieldy tangle of social studies categories and arbitrary thematic subdivisions.

 Or this one:

The conservative majority on the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) has openly sought to use the state curriculum to promote its political priorities, molding the telling of the past to justify its current views and aims. Indeed, the SBOE majority displayed overt hostility and contempt for historians and scholars, whom they derided as insidious activists for a liberal academic establishment. 

Ouch. That’s so gotta sting. The review was part of a study of all state academic standards for U.S. history. Texas was not the only state to receive a poor grade. The institute gave 28 states a ‘D’ or ‘F.’ To see how your state measures up, go here

One would think that the review would give board members and their supporters pause and maybe a moment of reflection that perhaps they had gone too far in pushing their conservative theocratic agenda. But then again, rewriting history to conform to one’s preferred version of reality is kind of their thing. As former board president Don McLeroy once said, “Somebody needs to stand up to the experts!”

So, instead, they threw a conniption and dismissed the study because the Fordham Institute is an elitist think tank. (Remember what I said above about honestly dismissing the study?) The Texas-based Liberty Institute, an arm of Focus on the Family, released a news release last week: 

This attack comes from a group funded in part by the liberal Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, but I must admit I am still embarrassed for them in their inaccuracies, even with their clear bias,” said Kelly Shackelford, president/CEO for Liberty Institute. “Texans are not impressed by some education elitist ‘think tank’, with left-wing funding and an agenda, launching bombs from Washington, D.C., aimed at Texas. This attack was baseless, inaccurate, biased, and ineffectual.

But the Houston Chronicle reports that the institute’s funding comes from many conservatives: 

The Fordham Institute also gets funding from the Walton (Wal-Mart) Family Foundation, the William Simon Foundation, The Hoover Institute and other conservative players. “We could be described as right-of-center,” Institute spokeswoman Amy Fagan said. “We support education reform and are definitely critical of the status quo. We support school choice and more options for parents — including high-quality charter schools and voucher programs. And we are particularly big on smart accountability and high-quality standards.”