Texas’ New Curriculum – The Founding Father Argument

by on May 17th, 2010

“This is what the Founding Fathers intended” – a commonly used phrase in the U.S. in defending heatedly discussed issues, such as the right to bear arms. The Founding Fathers are the heavy weights of debate, the killer argument if you will, no more reasoning necessary, discussion completed.

The same argument could be heard in recent months in a public debate over revising Texas’ school curriculum. The Texas board of education considered changing the Founding Fathers’ strong commitment to a secular government to a more Christian-based interpretation. Never mind that the idea of America as a Judeo-Christian nation has been revised and discussed for decades. The Texas School Board of Education treats these ideas as established and unmovable truth. And never mind that Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, was a strong advocate of a strict separation of church and state. The board simply removed him from its canon.

And these are not the only changes. The board added Confederate President Jefferson Davis’ inaugural speech to its curriculum, altered the portrayals of conservative movements to a more positive one, and presents the U.S. Army as one of the revolution’s greatest achievements, even though it were precisely the Founding Fathers that had strong reservations against a standing army.

Conservative members of the board see their efforts as correcting a curriculum that has been skewed by liberal teachers over the years and Texas is not the only state with these tendencies. Virginia’s governor Bob McDonnell declared April to be “Confederate History Month” and urged Southern values should not be forgotten. Civil rights activists were rightly shocked since this declaration essentially results in a trivialization of slavery.

A split along party lines can frequently be found in American public life, no surprises here. But in this case even one of the ten Republicans on the board exclaimed during a meeting “Guys, you’re rewriting history now” and its consequences could soon spread beyond state borders. Texas has one of the largest education funds in the country ($22 billion), which is used to finance a huge amount of textbooks every year (48 million), keeping costs per book low. Other, less wealthy, states like to profit from these comparably low prices and buy Texan textbooks instead of publishing their own. Since January more than 100 amendments have been added to the 120-page curriculum that affects history, sociology and economics classes from elementary to high school. In March, the changes were passed by a 10-5 vote with all Republicans on the board voting for it. A final vote will be taken this month although, with a Republican majority, changes are unlikely to happen.

But a ray of hope remains. Conservatives wanting to Christianize schools’ curricula have never remained in office for very long. For one, Don McLeroy, leader of the conservative faction of the board, was not re-elected in March. His term will come to an end in the beginning of next year. After all, term limits is what the Founding Fathers intended, isn’t it?

Greta Koehler