Sometimes the majority knows best

What a bunch of bozos! Did you know that our State Board of Education has a majority of Republicans who jammed through some social studies requirements for public school students that whitewash history and erase the very presence of minorities from the American story? Did you know that these bumbling amateurs had the temerity to see things differently from some who do this for a living (and are thus completely without any personal agenda or bias)? If you don’t know this it’s because you haven’t read many news stories on the subject. Overwhelmingly, stories and columns across the country have expressed contempt for the Texas SBOE over their March meeting decisions on social studies standards.

Are they racist dilettante bozos? You could make a pretty good case that they are none of those things, if you actually consider the most outrageous things being said about them. Clearly, some of the Democrat minority came to the deliberations determined to right the wrongs of past decades by berating current institutions and past leaders of the nation. Of course they were offended every time their agenda was turned back. I’d characterize the differences on the board as being between those interested in helping our students learn history and those who came to make people and events from the past serve the agendas of the present. The standards adopted seem to be revisions (not revisionist) warranted by an open-minded and less agenda-driven view of history.

Texas, of course, gets more attention than most states because our standards impact textbook content for small states that don’t buy as many books. That’s why national publications felt compelled to chide our SBOE for their insensitivity to the priorities of multiculturalism. Let’s look at some of the most common criticisms.

Joseph McCarthy was a Republican senator from Wisconsin. During the early 1950s he initiated investigations of the possible presence of Soviet spies in several institutions including the Army, the State Department, and the Truman administration. This was during a time of great fear toward an aggressive enemy. He was widely lampooned by many during his life and since that time his name is shorthand for paranoia and witch hunting. Is it insignificant that many of his concerns turned out to be valid? Conservatives on our Texas SBOE favor noting the release of about 3,000 messages passed between the Soviet Union and its agents in the U.S. In these messages, many of the people accused during McCarthy’s investigations were implicated as?even proven to be?Soviet operatives. No one says that McCarthy was right in attitude or about everything, but liberals seem to believe that saying there were in fact Soviet spies in the U.S. during the Cold War is an example of ultraconservatism.

Is it necessary, on every mention of the Texas Rangers or the U.S. Army, to mention atrocities committed by individuals over a century earlier? I reject the notion that the only way to encourage or affirm those of minority heritage is to diminish the institutions of the whole society. One SBOE member insisted that students learn that the Texas Rangers murdered Mexican-Americans on one or more occasions. The significance of such an event is harder to polish when we also learn that a large number of Texas Rangers were and are of Mexican descent. Failure by the board to include information about these alleged murders was listed in the Houston Chronicle as an example of conservative whitewash.

Similarly, conservatives and liberals disagreed over whether the growth of American influence in the world should rightly be called “expansionism” or “imperialism.” Liberals offered that experts found “imperialism” the preferred term. But is it the right term? Don’t we all know that some “experts” aren’t big fans of our nation’s success?

If students are going to examine the consequences of significant government actions, why not offer more than one view of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal programs? The addition by conservatives of contrary viewpoints on the New Deal has been railed against in more than one news story. Could leaving out this material be rightly termed “liberal whitewash?”

Is it academically necessary to insist that the traditional use of B.C and A.D. to designate years before and after (approximately) the birth of Christ be changed in public school texts? Some academics prefer C.E. (common era) and B.C.E. (before the common era) because they sleep better having rescued the “C” from that Jewish carpenter. What makes it even more silly is that the dividing line of human history for these enlightened thinkers is no different. The “common era” in question began (approximately) at the birth of you know who. According to critics, preferring the traditional terms makes our SBOE members “ultraconservative,” even (brace yourself)?in league with Christians. I put this bit of viewpoint jiggering in the same category as referring to a gaggle of feminine adults as “womyn.”

And then there is the dust up about separation of church and state. Critics say that the conservative board members prefer an America that is an intolerant theocracy. Actually, no religion is preferred in the standards, neither is America described as a Christian nation. The standards do emphasize the religious factors that led to the settlement of our nation. They also fail to ignore that the founders did believe religion to be an important aspect of American life and that God is the source of “unalienable rights.” For those reasons, the majority voted to let the plain

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