Sunday, March 14, 2010

A Texas-Sized Disgrace

There's been a disturbing story going around lately about, of all things, the Texas Board of Education. It seems this august body of elected officials is in charge of determining the content of textbooks used in their schools. The Board has been overrun by Christian conservatives, and they outnumber the normal board members nearly two-to-one. The leader of the conservative faction, a dentist by the name of Dr. Don McLeroy, has used the majority to pass over 100 amendments to the 120-page curriculum standards which affect what is taught in history, economics and civics.

McLeroy is a self-described "orthodox conservative Christian" who feels he is on a mission to rid the Texas school system of the tired old threat of "liberal bias." He is one of those people who believes the earth is less than 10,000 years old. He does not believe in the validity of the fossil record or the carbon-dating process which determines the age of rocks, or the dinosaurs which lived 65 million years ago, or the two-billion-year-old rocks you can find in Greenland. He does believe there was once a Garden of Eden and a snake who hoodwinked Eve into munching on a Red Delicious.

While he's pretty clear on believing certain things that happened thousands of years ago, he seems to have a bit of a problem with more recent events. For instance, instead of students learning about Chicano labor leader and activist Cesar Chavez, McLeroy and his ilk have decided they will learn about the puckered, skeletal Phyllis Schlafly, who headed the ultra-conservative Eagle Forum in the eighties. To counter the nonviolent approach and civil-rights accomplishments of Dr. Martin Luther King, students will now be instructed in the violent philosophies of the Black Panthers.

There's more: students will read less about Franklin Roosevelt and more about senile, Alzheimer's-addled buffoon Ronald Reagan. One of the founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson, has been replaced on a list of influential 18th and 19th century writers by the likes of St. Thomas Aquinas and John Calvin, who both lived long before the 18th century. Jefferson, despite his place of honor in this country's history, is a favorite target of conservatives because he coined the phrase "separation between church and state." Also, the American economic system is referred to as the "free enterprise system," because "capitalism" sounds too much like that other terrible "ism" - "socialism" - and the vast majority of Texans can't tell the difference between the two anyway.

The revisionist history goes on and on. One would be inclined to dismiss this blatant, unconscionable whitewashing of the facts as just the regular, outrageous level of stupidity and ignorance associated with the state of Texas. After all, everything is bigger in Texas except people's brains. But because of quirks in the educational system this is a much bigger deal than one realizes. Texas is such a huge market for textbooks that their standards are incorporated into the books and then sold to schools all over the country. So students everywhere may be exposed to the ignorance, biases and prejudices of the crotchety, crusty conservatives on the Texas Board of Education.

This is such a cowardly, underhanded thing, even for conservatives. We're all used to hearing about conservatives advancing their agenda by any illegal and immoral way possible, such as election theft, falsifying votes, attack ads on the media, and just out-and-out bald-faced lying about everything they don't agree with. But to poison the textbooks school children use to learn with their toxic blend of stupidity and lies, is a new low even for them. And McLeroy does not feel the least twinge of guilt from misusing the educational system to force his bigotry down the throats of children across the country.

Now obviously a system which allows and indeed propagates such insanity beyond the borders of Texas is tragically, profoundly broken. Nobody cares if children in Texas grow up to be total idiots because after all, it's Texas, and that's more or less their destiny. But when it starts to contaminate other areas of the country, well that's a problem. The textbook publishers couldn't care less if the content of their books is dangerously skewed and biased, they're just out to make money. One can only hope with all the other ways to get information in the modern world, such as through the internet, teachers won't have to rely entirely on the contents of a textbook to teach students what they need to know to make intelligent, informed choices as adults. But because of Mr. McLeroy and the Texas Board of Education, they are getting sabotaged from the very start with a massive, early dose of stupidity.

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