|Action Reaction: Redacting History - by Brett Edward Stout|
|The Power of the Written Word|
|What we need to do|
Brett Edward Stout. Photo: Adam Bouska
On March 12th, 2010 the Texas Board of Education ruled 10-4 (with one opposing member storming out in protest) to enact new social studies textbook guidelines. Final approval of the decision will come in May. The Board is entrusted with doing so every 10 years and that the vote occurred was not in and of itself abnormal. However, the decision they made that day is considered by some to be the most terrifying power play the Religious Right has ever perpetrated. But why should the actions of the Texas Board of Education deserve a national reaction? What do the content of textbooks matter in an Internet age where print media seems ever more obsolete?
Attacks on school curriculum by the Religious Right are not new and have had questionable success. In 1954 “Under God” was successfully legislated as an addition to the Pledge of Allegiance, but then in the 1960s school prayer was successfully halted. Most recently, in the 2005 case of Kitzmiller v. Dover, public schools were barred from religious challenges in science classrooms but the battle over history has just begun. The following year, David Barton started to gain notoriety for “educating” religious institutions with his theory that the United States was created as a “Christian experiment.”
His work was soon heavily criticized, most notably in Chris Rodda’s book Liars for Jesus: The Religious Right’s Alternative Version of American History.
Those who consider the obsolescence of textbooks vastly undervalue the power of the written word vs. the ever changing content of the web. They also fail to recognize that the content available online is largely based on the general knowledge of the public. Textbooks are the driving force of curriculum and lay the framework for academic discussion. The Texas Board of Education, operating as the hand of religious extremists, is seeking to fundamentally alter that foundation of that public discussion. What makes the situation more significant is that, after California, which exclusively uses its own textbooks, Texas is the largest consumer of textbooks. Due to this massive market share, Texas-tailored textbooks are the only affordable option for other states. Therefore textbook standards are largely determined by Texas’s guidelines. It is not an exaggeration to say that the long-term impact of this recent decision could be so profoundly insidious that it could undermine the fair, balanced, and free-thinking American way of life as we know it.
The more than 100 amendments, redactions, and alterations to the recommendations made by Texas’s teachers were not posed by other, more enlightened historians but, rather, by 15 elected officials, (seven of which are proud members of the far religious Right.) What Texas is doing is beyond the usual arguments over the teaching of evolution or sex education. The revisions mandated by the board include removing references to Thomas Jefferson, the separation of church and state, minority heroes and artists, and downplaying the role slavery played in the Civil War. Instead of these facts, proposed textbooks will include the conservative philosopher John Calvin, speculation of how Christian fundamentals influenced the founding fathers, interpretations of how biblical law might be the basis for our legal system, negative impacts of social reform, positive outcomes of the McCarthy Hearings, the harrowing rise of the conservative movement in the 1980s and 90s, and distorted data that paints the Republican Party as a champion of civil rights.
While some of this may cause you to laugh, don’t. None of this is an exaggeration or a joke. These changes are deliberate, broad, and devious. Religious conservatives have one objective in mind: creating a future voting body that sees the separation of church and state as a myth and believes the United States is a Christian nation beholden to biblical principles. The purpose of this move is to transform our country into a theocratic republic controlled by religious zealots. Make no mistake: if you enjoy freedom of choice, freedom of thought, freedom of religion, or freedom of speech, you are these people’s enemy. They perceive you as hostile and un-American. This is not a bid for the state election of 2010, this is a bid for national intellectual domination in 2032.
While it is unclear if we need federally mandated education standards, what is clear is that we need an independent counteracting force to oppose the influence that Texas has on our national curriculum. But how do we protect our progeny from state-regulated ignorance?
We need unified opposition and outcry to the redacting of American and world history. We need to move to block our children from being force-fed the ideology of the Right until there is no child Left behind. At the moment, doing this means that the Texas Board of Education must be removed from the responsibility it has assumed. It has proven itself unable to bear that burden ethically.
While the moderate resolution is to call for court action in order to protect students from politically contorted teaching, perhaps an extreme approach is merited in the face of extreme treachery. Perhaps if Texas insists on standing alone in rewriting history, it should do so without the benefit of federal education funding. No smaller punishment is deserved for such grossly partisan abuse of elected office and public trust.
In America as well as Texas, where everyone stands to salute the “almighty dollar” perhaps it’s time to call for Texas to pledge its allegiance— with liberty and justice for all.
Writer, filmmaker, and photographer Brett Edward Stout is a Cedar Rapids native and recent graduate of the University
of Iowa. He spent five years in the US Marine Corps as a Russian linguist. His first novel Sugar-baby Bridge was published in 2008. He is currently working on his second novel, entitled The Lives Between.