Monday, January 11, 2010

The Texas SBOE’s Foray Into Revisionist History

We all knew it was coming, but the Austin American-Statesman has a rather in-depth article on recent actions of the Texas State Board of Education’s in their project to rewrite the state’s social studies curriculum.

The article is a revelation, if you will, on how the board of education, led by conservative evangelical Chair Gail Lowe, is attempting to do something that is usually anathema to conservatives, by a twisting around of the truth. By a reinterpretation of what we know about American history.

By engaging in what is known in the field as “Revisionist History.”

Firstly, why is this anathema to conservatives? Well, the analogy to revising what we know about American history is in the reinterpretation of what the founding fathers meant in their drafting of the founding documents of the federal government: the US Constitution. Conservatives are all about “strict construction,” that is, not reading more into the meaning of the constitution other than what was originally intended by those who wrote it.

So in engaging in a revisionist view of American history conservative evangelical members of the SBOE are in effect doing to history what progressive liberal Supreme Court Justices have done to the constitution in the past - much to the consternation of conservative justices.

Now, how does what the conservative evangelicals are trying to do to the social studies curriculum constitute revisionism?

First, as shown in the Statesman article, advisors who have been hired to help rewrite the curriculum have grasped two conflicting ideas and unbelievably melded them together as one doctrine.

From the American-Statesman:

“Barton and Marshall [the evangelical consultants] were among six reviewers chosen by the board to make suggestions for changing the curriculum. Their key recommendations for revision include more emphasis on documents from early America like the Mayflower Compact of 1620, written by Christian pilgrims who wanted religious freedom, or adding the Bible to sources that influenced the creation of significant documents when America was founded. If their changes are accepted, students who now receive a more generic overview of religious freedom and its importance in the country's founding would be taught that the nation's founders wanted to shape America based on biblical principles.”
So let me get this straight. What we have here is some cherry picking on the part of these two consultants to bring about a reintroduction of Christian religious doctrine in the public school curriculum.

Yes, the Mayflower Compact, the governing document of the Plymouth Colony, established a government in Plymouth, and the compact is purported to have been made “for the Glory of God and advancement of the Christian Faith and Honour of our King and Country,” the actual reason it was drawn up was to cover a change in plans.

The pilgrims, it turns out, were originally supposed to land and settle at the mouth of the Hudson River, in lands owned by the Virginia Company. A change in plan caused them to settle further north, in Massachusetts. This, we now know, caused several of the settlers, not of the Puritan faith, to claim that they were free to act independently from the Puritans. The Mayflower Compact nixed that plan.

But now we are to accept the surficial notion that the government was established to further Christianity.

Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, if your average run-of-the-mill Puritan were asked whether they were establishing a government-sponsored religion, their form of that religion no less, they would have recoiled in revolt. If anything, Puritans were all about escape from religious persecution.

That’s why they emigrated to America.

That the founding founders, the framers of the constitution were also Christians who wished to establish a Christian nation is also laughable.

Most of the Founding Fathers were non-Christians and were known as Deists. Indeed Thomas Jefferson is famously cited as having written, later in life in a letter to letter to Dr. Thomas Cooper, these words:

“Christianity neither is, nor ever was a part of the common law.”

But now we are being made to believe, by these two Christian revisionists of American history, that not only did the pilgrims intend a Christian government (when they were escaping a government that was trying to impose a religion upon them), but so were the Founding Fathers, when that was the last thing on their minds.

All of this in the guise of establishing a specific religious creed on Americans who are of ever-expanding diverse backgrounds. In a school system supported by taxpayer dollars.

All I have to wonder is this then. If the SBOE and its neoconservative evangelical members get their way and succeed in establishment of Christianity as the required religion in Texas, what is next?


1 comment:

Rebecca Bell-Metereau said...

Whatever happened to the separation of church and state? Or a nation founded on religious freedom? We need to keep personal politics out of education and bring the focus of the board back to the educating the children of Texas in a fair and balanced way. This is why I am running for State Board of Education, District 5.
-Rebecca Bell-Metereau