In a preliminary round of voting, a conservative majority of the Texas School Board voted on Friday to make decidedly right-leaning changes to requirements for social studies textbooks to be used state-wide over the next 10 years, to the chagrin of the board's more liberal members. After a public comment period, the standards will be voted on by the full board in May.
As power-buying Texas goes, so go many smaller textbook markets across the country. This decision has repercussions for smaller states, regardless of their politics.
Proposed changes tentatively approved include, discussion of the decline of the dollar and the abandonment of the gold standard; use of the term "free market" over the less friendly "capitalism"; highlighting of the founding fathers' Judeo-Christian beliefs; mention of country and western music as an important aspect of American culture (I'm not making this up); Newt Gingrich's Contract with America; and, many other darlings of the right.
Out of favor are Thomas Jefferson (a Deist), the candidacy of Ralph Nader, Hip-Hop (of course) and many other darlings of the left.
These standards were meant to "add balance," says Don McElroy, leader of the conservative faction. "Academia is skewed too far to the left."
But is balance really the goal of education? What Mr. McElroy seems to be implying is that because the left has skewed some aspects of the curriculum in the direction they favor, he intends to skew it in the opposite direction, in the hope that if the child doesn't see the issues his way, at least he or she will sort it all out appropriately and come to a conclusion somewhere close to reasonably correct.
Some would argue that what is needed is not balance but guiding principles.
A big chunk of the Great American Experiment is our venerated Bill of Rights and the First Amendment, which reads, in part, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."
Prior to its enactment (and de facto well into the 20th century) churches and religious leaders held sway over what was taught in American public schools. While this led to factionalism, which in general gave rise to the First Amendment, at least it had guiding principles — education toward godliness. And most would agree that godly people, for the most part, make great citizens. Thus, the mission of the churches and the needs of the state overlapped.
The First Amendment brought with it the unintended consequence of the obliteration of all guiding principles. Public education has been careening, rudderless, ever since.
Thomas Jefferson's express goal for schools was, "General education, to enable every man to judge for himself what will secure or endanger his freedom." The argument could be made that neither country and western music nor hip-hop are necessary to such judgment. However, this simple principle, nor any other, ever found its way into our founding documents.
But it doesn't look like Thomas Jefferson is going to make it into the Texas curriculum for the next decade anyway, so his goal is unlikely to have any impact on the majority-rule school board he helped to create.
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