Moses in U.S. History

For hundreds of years, Old Testament prophets have been absent from American history narratives. That might seem entirely appropriate to, say, historians, but it was apparently somewhat annoying to religious conservatives. Well, no more.

The strange and very conservative board that approves instruction materials in the state of Texas has long dominated the textbook market across the United States. Because the Texas State Board of Education gets to approve state textbooks, and because Texas is such a large state that textbook publishers have to create materials that will be approved for use there, many American school books end up having funny Lone Star tinges.

And now it’s going to get worse. According to this piece at the spirituality blog Patheos, back in November,

The Republican-controlled Texas State Board of Education voted along party lines 10-5 to approve [new]… textbooks.

The textbooks were written to align with instructional standards that the Board of Education approved back in 2010 with the explicit intention of forcing social studies teaching to adhere to a conservative Christian agenda. The standards require teachers to emphasize America’s so called “Christian heritage.”

More specifically,

Christian conservatives in Texas have successfully forced a… historical narrative into public school textbooks that portray Moses as an influence on the Constitution and the Old Testament as the root of democracy.

Moses

As Mariah Blake wrote in this magazine several years ago, this sort of thing shouldn’t be that surprising. The board is made up of people like David Barton, former vice chairman of the Texas Republican Party. Barton’s

goal is to pack textbooks with early American documents that blend government and religion, and paint them as building blocks of our Constitution. In so doing, he aims to blur the fact that the Constitution itself cements a wall of separation between church and state. But his agenda does not stop there. He and the other conservative experts also want to scrub U.S. history of its inconvenient blemishes—if they get their way, textbooks will paint slavery as a relic of British colonialism that America struggled to cast off from day one and refer to our economic system as “ethical capitalism.” They also aim to redeem Communist hunter Joseph McCarthy….

Because anything that’s big enough to sell in Texas is likely to eventually be adopted by school districts across the country, and because the board approved the new standards a few months ago, Moses may be coming soon to a school near you.

And no, for the record, the Israelite prophet and lawgiver had no influence whatsoever on the founding of the United States of America. The Torah, yes, but the Constitution, not so much.

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