Monday, May 24, 2010

Wot? No slavery?

This past week I've once again found myself getting frustrated and angered by the actions of certain people whose beliefs, coupled with a modicum of power within public office, threaten to tear down the walls of sensibility and truth. Last month, the Texas Board of Education approved a social studies curriculum that will put a conservative stamp on history and economics textbooks, stressing the superiority of American capitalism. It questions the Founding Fathers’ commitment to a purely secular government and presents Republican political philosophies in a more positive light. As some press observers have pointed out, this will mean a considerable re-write of existing US history including a severe downplaying (or ignoring) of such matters as slavery. Efforts by Hispanic board members to include more Latino figures as role models for the state’s large Hispanic population were consistently defeated, prompting one member, Mary Helen Berlanga, to storm out of a meeting, saying, 'They can just pretend this is a white America and Hispanics don’t exist. They are going overboard, they are not experts, they are not historians. They are rewriting history, not only of Texas but of the United States and the world.'

'We are fighting for our children's education and our nation's future,' says Cynthia Dunbar, an ultra-conservative evangelist and lawyer who described sending her children to state schools as 'throwing them in the enemy's flames'. She now serves on the State Education Board. 'In Texas we have certain statutory obligations to promote patriotism and to promote the free enterprise system. There seems to have been a move away from a patriotic ideology. There seems to be a denial that this was a nation founded under God. We had to go back and make some corrections.'

These 'corrections' include sidelining Thomas Jefferson, who favoured separation of church and state, while introducing a new focus on the 'significant contributions' of pro-slavery Confederate leaders during the civil war. The new curriculum also asserts that 'the right to keep and bear arms' is an important element of a democratic society. Study of Sir Isaac Newton is dropped in favour of examining scientific advances through military technology. There is also a suggestion that the anti-communist witch-hunt by Senator Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s may have been justified. The education board has dropped references to the slave trade in favour of calling it the more innocuous 'Atlantic triangular trade', and recasts the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as driven by Islamic fundamentalism.

'There is a battle for the soul of education," says Mavis Knight, a liberal member of the Texas education board. 'They're trying to indoctrinate with American exceptionalism, the Christian founding of this country, the free enterprise system. There are strands where the free enterprise system fits appropriately but they have stretched the concept of the free enterprise system back to medieval times. The president of the Texas historical association could not find any documentation to support the stretching of the free enterprise system to ancient times but it made no difference'

The curriculum has alarmed liberals across the country in part because Texas buys millions of text books every year, giving it considerable sway over what publishers print. By some estimates, all but a handful of American states rely on text books written to meet the Texas curriculum. The California legislature is considering a bill that would bar them from being used in the state's schools.

Sad and scary and, of course, the idea that America has some God-appointed right to lead the world is an extraordinary conceit bearing in mind that it has existed for just a few centuries and was founded by basically killing or dispossessing the native population.

Good grief.

(Some of this content was lifted from an article in the Guardian here. Cartoons shamelessly purloined from Durango Bill's anti-creationist site here.).

No comments: