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Texas school board approves controversial textbook changes

The Texas State Board of Education adopted controversial new social studies textbook standards Friday, emphasizing the Christian influences of the nation’s founding fathers, highlighting conservative groups and personalities while downplaying liberal ones, and rewriting common terms such as “democratic” to fall more in line with standards the board deemed more conservative.

The news standards, approved 9 to 5 along party lines by the predominantly Republican Christian board, will affect 4.8 million children in the state of Texas over 10 years, and may influence textbooks published in other states, which often adopt Texas guidelines, where a large percentage of textbooks are published.

According to the Associated Press,

In one of the most significant curriculum changes, the board diluted the rationale for the separation of church and state in a high school government class, noting that the words were not in the Constitution and requiring students to compare and contrast the judicial language with the First Amendment’s wording.

The board also required that the U.S. be referred to as a “constitutional republic” rather than a “democratic” one.

Conservative panel members argued that the state curriculum had long been dominated by liberal ideas, and it was aiming to reverse the trend.

“I think we’ve corrected the imbalance we’ve had in the past and now have our curriculum headed straight down the middle,” Republican Don McLeroy, one of seven social conservatives on the board, said, according to the Dallas Morning News. “I’m very pleased with what we’ve accomplished.”

Rod Paige, a former secretary of education under President George Bush appeared during public testimony and requested that the board delay its vote on the standards. “We have allowed ideology to drive and define the standards of our curriculum in Texas.”

Among the controversial amendments adopted, according to the Texas Education Agency:

• Analyze Abraham Lincoln’s ideas about liberty, equality, union and government as contained in his first and second inaugural addresses and the Gettysburg Address and contrast them with the ideas contained in Jefferson Davis’s inaugural address.

• Examine the reasons the Founding Fathers protected religious freedom in America and guaranteed its free exercise by saying that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, and compare and contrast this to the phrase “separation of church and state.”

• Explain instances of institutional racism in American society.

• Discuss the solvency of long term entitlements such as Social Security and Medicare.

The final day of the three-day voting process began with an invocation given by Cynthia Dunbar, a conservative member on the board, who shared her views that Christianity is an integral part of the founding of the country. “I believe no one can read the history of our country without realizing that the Good Book and the spirit of the savior have from the beginning been our guiding geniuses. Whether we look to the first charter of Virginia, or the charter of New England, or the charter of Massachusetts Bay, or the fundamental orders of Connecticut, the same objective is present, a Christian land governed by Christian principles.”

Some other highlights from the debate:

  • In a discussion about Barack Obama, one conservative board member, David Bradley, suggested his middle name, Hussein, be included. After heated debated, Bradley withdraws his amendment, and the board agrees to list the president’s name as Barack H. Obama, as it is on the White House website.
  • A debate on the causes of the civil war was resolved  with the answer: “sectionalism, states’ rights and slavery.” Critics like the Texas Freedom Network argued that this list waters down the most important cause of the Civil War: slavery.
  • Oscar Romero, a bishop from El Salvador assassinated in 1980, was added back to the standards in a unanimous vote. He had been removed a list of human rights activists when many board members did not know who he was. One member joked that there had been “no movie” made about him. He was later corrected. (Raul Julia starred in “Romero” in 1989.) The incident became fodder for the national news media, including “The Daily Show.”

A bill introduced into the California state Senate attempts to protect California schools from the decisions made in Texas by requiring California’s board of education to screen state curricula for any of the new standards adopted in Texas. According to the Associated Press:

The bill describes the Texas curriculum changes as “a sharp departure from widely accepted historical teachings” and “a threat to the apolitical nature of public school governance and academic content standards in California.”

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