American public schools are ready to open for the new academic year, fully
prepared for reading, writing and righteous indignation. It is a rare September
indeed when there is not some controversy over textbooks or curriculum. “Back to
school” usually means back to the battleground. This year is no
In Helena, Montana, the school board has been struggling with
a proposed health curriculum that would include sex education, always a
However significant sex ed is in Montana, it pales
in comparison to Texas. This is a banner year for Texas conservatives
social studies curriculum is not only ideological, it is inaccurate. So
faith-affiliated organizations, including the Anti- Defamation League
some members of Congress; and more than 1,200 history scholars from
across the US who signed a letter stating that the Texas board’s
the state’s history and social studies curricula distort the historical
A Democratic board member was trounced when she introduced an
amendment requiring that students study the reasons “the founding
protected religious freedom in America by barring the government from
or disfavoring any particular religion above all others.”
Texas board members have said they are simply adding “balance” and
field against the liberals who influenced the curricula in the past. In
of balance, for instance, Texas managed to downplay Thomas Jefferson,
principal author of the Declaration of Independence (1776) and the third
president of the US, and who crafted the term “separation between church
state” – the idea that is the backbone of religious freedom in the US.
the Texas canon, Jefferson was displaced by, among others, Thomas
medieval Catholic priest-philosopher, and John Calvin, the 16th century
LAST MONTH, a Texas congresswoman, Eddie Bernice
Johnson, sponsored a resolution in the US House of Representatives
the curriculum standards adopted by the Texas State Board of Education
accurately portray the struggle by minorities and women to achieve civil
equal rights in the US. Worse, she charged, elected officials on the
“disregarded many academically based recommendations and approved
biased standards within the curriculum that are outside of mainstream
scholarship.” The curriculum, Texas-style, will mean extolling
Christianity, the military and contemporary Republican political
according to various published accounts. Last year, Texas’s target was
social studies; it was science and Darwin. The state curriculum was
give less attention to – among other topics – evolution.
This is no small
thing. A politicized school board’s decisions will affect what and how
five million children in Texas will be taught in the next decade.
Texas has a far broader reach than the borders of the Lone Star State,
schoolbook publishers tend to follow the leads of their biggest
This gives populous states, like Texas, enormous influence
over which textbooks are published.
The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive
director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, has
Texas’s handling of social studies standards “a travesty.” “America’s
children cannot be expected to learn accurate history if ideologues are
to manipulate the educational process,” he said.
FROM TEXAS to the Turks.
Across the country, a federal appellate court in Boston ruled earlier
that Massachusetts schools can teach the Armenian genocide without
the Turkish “contra-genocide” view.
This battle goes back to 1998, when
the Massachusetts legislature directed the State Board of Education to
an advisory “curriculum guide” for teaching about genocide and human
guide included a section on the Armenian genocide, about which it said:
the 1890s, and during World War I, the Muslim Turkish Ottoman Empire
large portions of its Christian Armenian minority population.”
Turkish complaints, the guide was amended to present the
with sources indicating that the fate of Ottoman Armenians did not
policy of genocide.
Those additional references to pro-Turkish sources
were removed after the Armenian community complained. Education
David Driscoll and the board of education defended the removal of the
contra-genocide view by arguing that the state legislature required the
“address the Armenian genocide and not to debate whether or not [it]
The Assembly of Turkish American Associations filed suit
against the education commissioner in federal court in 2005. Two federal
however, now have ruled that the “contra” literature can be excluded
rights teaching guidelines.
The Turkish advocates have called this
censorship, and contend that it violates students’ First Amendment
constitutional right to free speech and rights to “inquire, teach and
from viewpoint discrimination.”
The appellate court said, however, that
the guide’s referral to sources with a particular viewpoint do not mean
other views are out of bounds for study or discussion.
the public schools, backed by the federal courts, have taken a stand for
integrity of human rights education. As Holocaust scholars know,
has no place in a legitimate human rights curriculum. To include
genocide denial would be the equivalent of allowing Holocaust-denial
“Those who deny the Holocaust could sue to challenge the
curriculum in every school system that instructs students about the
atrocities,” attorneys for the Armenian Assembly of America said in a
the court brief” on behalf of the Massachusetts Department of Education.
of course, cannot be right.” Regardless of substance, there is the
authority. “There is no denying that the State Board of Education may
exercise curricular discretion,” the appellate court said in the
That is what happened in Texas. The board exercised its discretion
and now we can look forward to the state-sanctioned skewed education and
inculcated ignorance of Texas students. The federal courts have become
guardians of historical honesty in Massachusetts. Maybe they can be
upon to tackle the ideologues in Texas, until the voters there are wise
to boot them out of the future of schoolchildren.