Texas Scold ‘Em: Conservative Christians Go on Offensive in Critical Textbook Review

The Texas Board of Education’s ongoing battle over rewriting its social studies curriculum has gotten its fair share of attention from the national media. But the religious right has been fairly quiet on the subject outside of the Lone Star State.

This weekend, Mike Huckabee will step into the fray, delivering national exposure to a conservative market. Mathew Staver of Liberty Counsel and dean of Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University law school, will be a guest on Fox News’ Huckabee show to discuss the curriculum revisions.

But Dan Quinn of the religious right watchdog Texas Freedom Network said if a Liberty Counsel news release about Staver’s appearance is any indication, the show will no doubt misrepresent the efforts of the curriculum writing committee and unfairly portray its members as a “bunch of anti-Christian bigots.”

That’s because right-wing fundamentalist members of the Board of Education want to ignore the committee’s curriculum standards in an attempt to insert dubious stories and language that promotes the idea that America was founded as a “Christian nation. Liberty Counsel is an evangelical Christian advocacy organization that champions issues that break down the barrier of separation of church and state.  

Accusing “people of trying to rewrite the past,“ the news release says Staver and Huckabee will be discussing academic attempts to “remove references to Daniel Boone, General George Patton, Nathan Hale, Columbus Day, and Christmas.” It also said the committee was trying to include “the cultural impact of hip hop music, ACLU lawyer Clarence Darrow, and the Hindu holiday of Diwali.”

Quinn called the news release a “blatant distortion of the truth.”

Last month, members of the Board of Education proposed a litany of amendments to the draft history curriculum that the writing committee of teachers, scholars and community members had spent almost a year writing. (The board of education will continue its review of the proposed standards in March. It’s scheduled to make a final vote in May.)

As an example of the news releases’ distortion, the committee suggested moving discussion of Hale, an American Patriot hanged by the British, from the 1st grade curriculum to 4th grade because it thought the gruesome topic was more appropriate for older students. “The right began to scream, but in most cases they were just putting them in a different spot,” Quinn said.

The topic of Christmas had already been part of a 6th grade geography class on world religions that included two Christian holidays (Easter and Christmas), two Jewish ones (Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah) and the Muslim observance of Ramadan. In an effort to streamline the curriculum guidelines, the committee proposed listing only one tradition from each religion. Rosh Hashanah and Christmas were dropped. But Staver and Huckabee may have a short discussion on this subject seeing as Christmas was put back in after conservatives on the board objected.

What seems to have been forgotten in all the discussions is that curriculum guidelines are not comprehensive laundry lists of every topic and person who should be taught in class. Rather, they are descriptions of broad concepts that the students are supposed to master. And there are no doubt hundreds of men and women who helped define this nation who students should learn about.

Religious conservatives have called for removal of plenty of names and topics too, but their motivations appear to be more for ideological reasons.

As for the issue of hip hop, well, Quinn said, it was pretty clear at a discussion in January that board members didn’t even have a clue to what hip hop was, confusing it with “gangsta rap.” In the end, board members left in hip hop, but they also included country western music. (I’m thinking of sending board member Don McElroy a copy of Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prison Blues for the lyrics, “I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die.”)

Regarding Clarence Darrow, board members objected to his work as an ACLU attorney in the Scopes Monkey Trial.

Conservatives also proposed removing César Chavez (labor organizer and civil rights leader) because of his leftist ties. And Thurgood Marshall (the nation’s first black US Supreme Court justice who, as a young attorney, successfully argued the public school desegregation case of Brown v. Board of Education) should be removed from textbooks because his contribution to this nation‘s history was insignificant. “There is a big difference for removing a name for structural reasons, rather than political perspectives,” Quinn said.

Huckabee, who has said he doesn’t believe in evolution – or more specifically, that his family didn’t come from apes – isn’t likely to give this a thoughtful analysis. Rather, he’ll probably jump on all the right buzz words – Christmas, ACLU, liberals and socialists – to motivate his conservative viewers.  

And since Texas is the second biggest purchaser of textbooks in the country, the battle has national significance, influencing the textbook purchases in other states.  

“It’s not like Vegas,” Quinn said. “What happens in Texas doesn’t stay in Texas.”

Huckabees’ show airs at Fox News at 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 a.m. and 8 p.m. Sunday (EST).

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