Texas: Too Far Right

GW3.jpg

On Wednesday the conservative Fordham Institute released its report on the state of U.S. history standards.

Texas is doing particularly badly. This surely has a lot to do with its bizarre textbook approval process, first reported by Mariah Blake for this magazine back in January/February 2010.

According to an article by Gary Scharrer in the Houston Chronicle:

In a report being released today, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute gives the Texas social studies curriculum standards a “D” while accusing “the conservative majority” of using the curriculum “to promote its political priorities, molding the telling of the past to justify its current views and aims.”

“Biblical influences on America’s founding are exaggerated, if not invented. The complicated but undeniable history of separation between church and state is flatly dismissed,” the group wrote.

The broad swipe from a respected conservative education think tank comes after civil rights groups and minority lawmakers have demanded the board scrap the standards and start over.

Under the current system Texas textbooks must be approved by the Texas State Board of Education, a group made of creationists and other right-wing zealots. This means that its textbooks, and due to the size and influence of Texas, America’s textbooks, often reflect a rather interesting take on American history.

In Texas social studies standards the religion of America’s founding fathers is emphasized, states’ rights is listed before slavery as a cause of the Civil War, segregation is only mentioned in passing, federal entitlement programs are attacked, and capitalism is referred to as “the free enterprise system.”

State Board of Education Chair Gail Lowe thinks Fordham got it wrong. As the Chronicle explained:

“We believe the Fordham grade is based on misinformation,” Lowe said. “Fordham obviously does not know that the Texas Education Code requires us to teach the free enterprise system and its benefits. That’s the primary reason the free enterprise system is emphasized throughout our document, rather than just relegated to a high school economics class.”

No, know. We just think it’s dumb, explains Fordham. The 86 “free enterprise” references in the Texas standards constitute “a drumbeat of uncritical celebration of ‘the free enterprise system and its benefits, resembling, in an inverted historical echo, Soviet schools harping on the glories of state socialism,” according to the report.

Fordham itself is generally considered a rather right-wing organization. It receives funding from the Walton Family Foundation, the William Simon Foundation, and the Hoover Institute. In its 2003 look at state standards it emphasized that state social studies standards mostly displayed a left-wing bias.

But “left” or “right” isn’t really the point. What’s going on here is that actual education has been hijacked by zealots. As historian Sheldon Stern, who wrote the Fordham study, put it: “In the end, who suffers but students because they don’t learn real history at all.” [Image via]

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer