Texas Holds 'Em: No Go to Christian Curriculum
Sept. 2, 2009
By RUTH N. GELLER
The Texas public school curriculum will have less Christianity and more rationality - thanks, in part, to the efforts of the American Humanist Association (AHA) and other supporters of fair and balanced education.
On July 30, the American Humanist Association sent a letter to the Texas State Board of Education that expressed concern about the social studies standards being set for Texas public schools. The letter raised objections about the possibility that Texas would adopt "a new social studies curriculum that would present the United States as having biblical foundations and would minimize our nation's strong tradition of church and state..."
The letter urged the Board to provide a fair and balanced account of U.S. history, taking into consideration both the traditions of division between church and state and religious pluralism.
Bob Bhaerman, education coordinator of the Kochhar Humanist Education Center (a program of the AHA), composed the letter along with AHA Communications and Policy Manager Karen Frantz. Bhaerman is a former elementary school teacher and college professor of curriculum development.As of Sept. 1, approximately 2,300 signatures were gathered on a petition created in conjunction with the AHA's letter, which called on the Texas State Board to keep the curriculum historically accurate.
The Texas State Board of Education, a body of 15, appointed six curriculum advisors to help develop textbook curriculum for history and social studies. Of the six curriculum experts, three can be called religious far right extremists. For example, the Rev. Peter Marshall, one of the appointees, states on his web site that, "(My) life and ministry is dedicated to helping to restore America to its Bible-based foundations through preaching, teaching, and writing on America's Christian heritage and on Christian discipleship and revival."
Another conservative curriculum advisor, Phillip Barton, believed - as did Rev. Marshall, - that neither labor leader Cesar Chavez or Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American to achieve that position, were appropriate role models for students.
Texas has the second-largest school system in the United States, and many textbooks that are published and used by students across the country are written to meet Texas guidelines. So a student reading a skewed-to-the-religious-right social studies textbook outside of Texas, could very well be reading something written in synch with the religious beliefs and world view of Christian conservatives who influence the Texas Board
"The separation of church and state is the issue. It's not a Christian nation and they're trying to make it sound like it is," said Bhaerman.
In late August, after the first draft of the revised curriculum became available to the public, the AHA responded again. However, this time the AHA called on supporters to send a letter to the State Board commending them for not including some of the feared religious and conservative content in its first draft.
The alert says the curriculum for the most part is "satisfactory," despite one section of the draft curriculum that requires students to be able to "identify conservative advocacy organizations and individuals, such as Newt Gingrich, Phyllis Schlafly, and the Moral Majority." As it stands now, students are not asked to identify equivalent liberal advocacy organizations, such as Planned Parenthood, the Sierra Club, etc. The AHA also asked supporters urge inclusion of such standards in the final curriculum.
While noting that it was "hard to say what prompted the review committee not to include the religiously-tinged standards some members of the school board and the advisory panel were calling for," Frantz said that the strong pressure from the AHA and the community for historical accuracy did make the board very aware that -" 'Hey, this is something that people care very strongly about and the backlash could be considerable if we don't get this right'. "
It appears that the letter and the petition, which garnered more signatures than any other petition in AHA history, has had an influence in Texas, and helped correct what would have been a very unbalanced view of history.
(Ruth N. Geller is the editor of the Humanist Network News.)