An Illustrated Description of the Texas State Board of Education Meetings on Social Studies Standards
An Investigation of David Barton's American Christian Heritage Display
Steven D. Schafersman
From the Houston Chronicle Evo.Sphere Blog
2009 September 16-18
2009 September 16
I am in Austin for the current State Board of Education meeting. This afternoon the SBOE is hearing from the public about the proposed new graduation requirements. Tomorrow morning the Social Studies experts will speak, including the two non-qualified bogus "experts" who are really religious political activists. These two are pushing for inclusion of more pro-Christian history and teachings in Social Studies standards, including some that are not historical or appropriate.
The SBOE meeting is being broadcast on both audio and, for the first time, on video. Go to http://www.texasadmin.com/cgi-bin/tea.cgi for the live Web video feed. For the live Web audio feed, go to http://www.tea.state.tx.us/index4.aspx?id=3876. The video will be archived for six months, while the audio is archived indefinitely. The hearing room has broadband access which I have used since it was put in several years ago. I had to download and install RealPlayer SP since the video feed is a .rm file. I am watching the video with the sound off and the feed comes in great. FYI, there is a 30-second video delay after live action. I am very impressed with this service. Be sure to watch for me tomorrow when I get my three minutes.
I took some screen shots of the SBOE Hearing Room from the TEA video feed and posted them below. The quality is adequate. If you click on the photo, the full-size image will appear. I downloaded a freeware Java-based screen capture app and was able to capture any video screen photo I wanted. If you want photos of some other SBOE members, just comment and ask me. I will try to include photos of all tomorrow. I did not include photos of SBOE members during my live blogs months before because they are difficult to get, but the new video system makes it easy. Click on each photo to access the full-size version.
I plan to speak tomorrow about the attempt by some SBOE members and the two unqualified religious political activists appointed by four of the radical religious right SB members to try to make misleading and Constitutionally inappropriate additions to the Social Studies standards. The two bogus Social Studies experts, David Barton, founder and head of the Fundamentalist Christian WallBuilders organization near Fort Worth, and the Rev. Peter Marshall, a Fundamentalist minster from Massachusetts who runs the extreme-right Peter Marshall Ministries. In their voluminous writings, both have attacked the Establishment Clause of the Constitution, claiming that it does not prevent Christian indoctrination of students in the public schools. Both believe that the U.S. Constitution does not protect separation of church and state, and both seek to restore “America’s Christian Heritage" to its proper high place in both culture and education. I will have more on these two men tomorrow, including a copy of my testimony.
I am not live-blogging this meeting, but I will take notes and write several reports. I will have more photos of speakers tomorrow, including the four experts that will speak. Also, if David Barton has his American Christian Heritage show on display, I will have photos of that, too.
Six Career and Technology Education (CATE) courses have been proposed to meet the fourth year capstone course requirement for the new four years of science requirement. Unknown to me, these six were proposed at the July meeting of the SBOE. I was out of town that date and didn't listen to the meeting on Web audio, so I missed this. Three of these CATE courses are Engineering Design and Problem Solving, Forensic Science, and Advanced Biotechnology. These are rigorous applied science courses that would be appropriate for a senior-level capstone course. The other three courses are CATE agriculture courses. One course, Advanced Plant and Soil Science, is equally rigorous and appropriate. However, the other two proposed courses, Advanced Animal Science and Food Science, are not rigorous and would be inappropriate. I learned this from speakers representing the Science Teachers Association of Texas (STAT), the Texas Science Education Leadership Association (TSELA), and the Metroplex Area Science Supervisors (MASS).
These speakers testified against allowing these two courses to be approved as 12th grade capstone courses. Many other speakers, however, testified in favor. These were CATE teachers, supervisors, and university professors who came to Austin to defend the two courses. Their appearance was obviously organized by some organization. I have no knowledge of these two courses myself, but individuals I trust (the three science organization speakers), told me that both courses involve instruction at the middle school level. Advanced Animal Science duplicates quite a bit of Biology content, and Food Science is taught at a low and superficial level. If these two non-rigorous courses are allowed, it is likely that some or many rural students may take one of these courses as the fouth-year capstone course rather than an AP biology, chemistry, or physics course, Earth and Space Science, or the four good courses named above, all rigorous and appropriate courses. Once again, it is clear that Texas education is very political. Apparently, right now five CATE courses have been approved for fourth-year science credit and they will certainly get the four additional ones listed above, but they are lobbying for yet two more. Perhaps we should just require that the fourth year of science should be a CATE course and forget the idea of having a fourth year of real science.
Another theme from many speakers is to retain the Integrated Physics and Chemistry (IPC) course, a notoriously weak and superficial survey course that many high schools want to keep for weaker students. Right now, the course is scheduled to be phased out and eliminated, an outcome I heartedly supported during the debate several years ago. However, some SBOE members and some science teachers want to keep the course so students in the minimum graduation requirement program can take it. Several science teachers truthfully said that the rigor and success of IPC depends on the quality of the teachers, but that is true for any course. The problem is that if the SBOE decides to retain IPC, students will take that, then Biology, Chemistry, and Physics, and then will not take one of the innnovative and rigorous 12th-year capstone courses.
This is just more politics. However, I won't criticize this fact since I rely on politics myself to advocate for my interests: a fourth year of science and math, a new Earth and Space Science course, and high quality accurate science standards and textbooks. I personally lobbied the SBOE members for all three, and that's politics. Tomorrow we will see representatives of other education organizations come to the SBOE and lobby or advocate for education policies that match their point of view. The process is called lobbying when you are paid for your efforts, and advocacy when you are not paid. I am an advocate.
2009 September 17
The meeting of the Texas State Board of Education begins in Austin. On the agenda today are the Social Studies appointed experts, including the two religious political activists who promote American Christian Heritage and oppose the separation of church and state.
Again, this meeting is being broadcast in both video and audio on the Web. I provided the links in yesterday's column. Most of the photos below are captured from the video feed using a screen capture app. The photos of David Barton's American Christian Heritage Display were taken by me with a digital camera.
WallBuilders American Christian Heritage Display
David Barton of WallBuilders
WallBuilders David Barton does indeed have his American Christian Heritage collection on display. It consists of rare and original books and documents from early U.S. history that have a Christian element. He has some Bibles that once belonged to some famous early Americans such as John Witherspoon, Charles Thomson, and Benjamin Rush. Also letters from John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and other famous early Americans and Founders. He has early schoolbooks that have a Christian element. His rarest book is a copy of the first English-language Bible printed in America in 1782 that Barton terms the "Bible of the American Revolution." I discovered later that this Bible is also known as the Aitken Bible.
The Aitken Bible, Approved by the Congress of the Confederation, 1782
I spoke to David Barton and he told me some interesting information about this Bible, which is the key book in his collection and the one I most wanted to see. Through the courtesy of one of David Barton's assistants, I was able to closely examine the introductory pages as she turned the pages. I didn't take pictures because I assumed, correctly, that copies of these pages were available on the web. Only 50 copies exist out of 10,000 printed. About half are in private hands, half in institution collections. According to Mr. Barton, prior to this date, Great Britain held a monopoly on English Bibles, although Bibles of many other languages could be and were printed in the Colonies, including Native American Indian languages. The reason for the prohibition on printing English Bibles was to ensure that no anti-monarchist commentary was printed in the margins, a common occurrence. English language Bibles with such commentary were routinely smuggled into the American colonies from Holland, Austria, and other countries.
According to Mr. Barton, the Aitken Bible was printed under the auspices of the first Congress of the Confederation and it contains an endorsement in the front notes from Charles Thomson, the longtime Secretary of the Continental Congress and Congress of the Confederation. I confirmed this by examining the page. Apparently, these early Congresses were more overtly religious than the subsequent Constitutional Convention, Constitution, and Bill of Rights. These later founding documents created what is known now as separation of church and state and forbade a religious test for public office and establishment of religion.
Title Page of the Aitken Bible, 1782
I found much more information about this Bible on the Web. The Aitken Bible was the only Bible in the history of the United States to ever receive Congressional endorsement. In January 1781, Aitken petitioned the Continental Congress to certify his version of the Bible which he had already printed as being textually accurate. Congress agreed to endorse the new Bible's accuracy to help the American printing industry, but denied his other requests that his Bible "be published under the Authority of Congress," and that he "be commissioned or otherwise appointed & Authorized to print and vend Editions of the Sacred Scriptures." Later, in September 1782, the successor Congress of the Confederation approved the Aitken Bible and "recommended this edition of the Bible to the inhabitants of the United States...." This endorsement was printed in the beginning of the Aitken Bible, signed by Charles Thomson, Secretary of Congress (see below).
Endorsement Page of the Aitken Bible, signed by Charles Thomson,
Secretary of the Congress of the Confederation
I was unable to find anywhere in the documents I investigated that the Aitken Bible received a Congressional endorsement "for the use of our schools" as claimed by David Barton on the display card. My research found that the Congress of the Confederation only approved the accuracy of the translation, typesetting, and printing, specifically that the Congress was satisfied of Mr. Aitken's "care and accuracy in the execution of the work." This is not an insignificant endorsement, for each letter in this Bible was typeset by hand, a feat that took a year of painstaking work according to David Barton.
The purpose of the Congressional endorsement was secular, not religious, for Congress wanted to recommend books that supported "the progress of the arts in this country," in this case the printer's art. Complicated books such as the Bible were usually imported in the U.S.; prior to Robert Aitken, no English language Bible of fine quality had been printed in America. Congress wanted to encourage this development. Mr. Barton also told me that other Bibles had been printed with errors, a fact of which I was aware, so possessing accurate Bibles were an important consideration. The Congressional resolution was written to attest to the accuracy and quality of Mr. Aitken's work, not an endorsement of religion as Mr. Barton wants to imply. Here is the full Congressional resolution of recommendation:That the United States in Congress assembled highly approve the pious and laudable undertaking of Mr. Aitken, as subservient to the interest of religion as well as an instance of the progress of arts in this country, and being satisfied from the above report of his care and accuracy in the execution of the work, they recommend this edition of the Bible to the inhabitants of the United States, and hereby authorize him to publish this Recommendation in the manner he shall think proper.
From what I could find, there was no official approval of the Aitken Bible by the U.S. Congress for use in schools or for printing it under the authority of the Congress. Congress specifically refused to authorize this Bible or any other Bible. Robert Aitken took on the entire expense of printing 10,000 copies himself, losing a fortune when his Bible was a commercial failure. He attempted to have Congress buy his Bibles and give them to soldiers being discharged, but this request was also rejected by Congress. The translation Aitken used, as David Barton related to me, is what is called today the King James Version, although its official name is the Authorized Version, and most of it--especially the New Testament--is the Tyndale translation. The name "King James" Version was not used in the Revolutionary and Founding Periods for obvious reasons.
Another anomaly is the name of the Bible that David Barton has on its display card: "Bible of the American Revolution." No reference source has this name. I believe it is inauthentic. The Bible is usually termed the "Aitken Bible" after its printer, Robert Aitken. I believe there was never a "Bible of the American Revolution."
An excellent source for accurate and reliable information about religion in America during the Founding Period is the Library of Congress Exhibition "Religion and the Founding of the American Republic." A book to accompany this exhibition was prepared by James Hutson of the Library of Congress. This book, also titled Religion and the Founding of the American Republic, is out of print but is available as a PDF file on the Web from this link. Here are the relevant pages of Congressional endorsement of the Aitken Bible from the official printed Journals of Congress as archived in Chapter Four, devoted to "Religion and the Congress of the Confederation," of the Library of Congress Exhibition available on the Web (click on each photo to retrieve a full-size photo that can be easily read):
Journals of the Congress of the Confederation,
September 12, 1782
After researching and writing my description of the Aitken Bible, I found an excellent source that contains much more information about this Bible. It is the first chapter in a book by Chris Rodda titled Liars for Jesus. Ms. Rodda is an outstanding historian who has investigated and refuted claims made by religious pseudoscholars who claim that the Founding Fathers and documents from the Founding Period wanted the U.S. to be a Christian nation and that the U.S. was established to achieve precisely this. As I have stated before, the claim that the U.S. is a Christian nation is untrue; as documented by all legitimate American historians, our country was founded on Enlightenment principles that include a secular government--religion was deliberately and specifically kept separate from government. Refer to my list of books at the conclusion of this column for references to justify this conclusion.
As you might suspect, David Barton is a major figure investigated and discussed in Chris Rodda's website and book, including the first chapter that deals specifically with "Congress and the Bible." Ms. Rodda confirms my few obvious insights I write about above--all of which she previously documented in much greater detail--and relates much, much more. For example, she discusses the bogus stories of the Aitken Bible that religious pseudohistorians such as David Barton like to use to mislead the public. She says:
There are many versions of this story floating around, all worded to mislead that Congress either requested the printing of the Bibles, granted Aitken permission to print them, contracted him to print them, paid for the printing, or had Bibles printed for the use of schools. Congress did none of these things.
I think it is obvious that David Barton has been indulging in this type of misleading misinformation and is continuing to do so as evidenced from my brief investigation documented with photographs. Misleading the public about our country's history is unethical and reprehensible. Concerning Mr. Barton's title for his Bible, Ms. Rodda says that "on many Christian American history websites . . . the Aitken Bible is called The Bible of the Revolution, implying that this was what the Bible was called at the time it was published." She documents that this name was first used in 1930 by two men who were marketing and selling individual leaves from original copies of the Aitken Bible. Her book contains much more about Robert Aitken's subsequent but unsuccessful attempts to enlist George Washington's aid in selling his Bibles and several other relevant topics, none of which I have the time to consider here.
Of special interest to readers interested in the State Board of Education's Social Studies controversy and its appointment of two pseudohistorians as "experts," Chris Rodda's website contains a nine-part video documentary titled, "David Barton Lies About Chris Rodda." Since Chris Rodda is apparently David Barton's most serious critic, it is easy to understand why he has attacked her. I haven't had time to watch these yet, but I surely intend to do that soon. All nine videos are on YouTube. I will have to see if Ms. Rodda also has any specific information about Peter Marshall. Chris Rodda also shares a blog with several other defenders of church-state separation and freedom from religion, Talk To Action. She has published a series of columns documenting the historical distortions in the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools, a subject that I have addressed before.
I urge that readers interested in this topic, as I obviously am, to download and read this easily obtained chapter from Rodda, or obtain her complete book which is an outstanding example of accurate scholarship. Rodda and Hutson's two books are two obvious accurate and reliable sources of information about the topic of religion during the American Revolution and the Founding Period. In my opinion, these are better sources than David Barton or Peter Marshall. Several other books are available that I can also recommend and I list them at the conclusion of this column.
Here are some more photos of the WallBuilders display of American documents, books, and artifacts from the United States Founding Period and later that contain references to Christianity:
WallBuilders American Christian Heritage Display
Public Testimony about the Social Studies Standards
Robert Scott, Texas Education Commissioner
Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott opens the meeting with a few remarks.
State Representative Eddie Rodriguez
The first speaker is Texas Representative Eddie Rodriguez. He defends keeping Cesar Chavez and Thurgood Marshall in the history books. As is well known, or should be, the two bogus "experts" appointed by the radical religious right SBOE members advocated that these two men be deleted from Texas history books because they aren't important enough compared to other famous Americans. An impressive speaker, Rep. Rodriguez said he had the support of the entire 40-member Hispanic-American Legislative delegation who are equally concerned. All three Hispanic-American SBOE members--Mary Helen Berlanga, Rene Nunez, and Rick Agosto--thanked Rep. Rodriguez for addressing the State Board and mentioned that they had received thousands of letters about this issue.
The next speaker is Pat Epstein of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Dallas. She discussed some Jewish issues with the Social Studies standards. This is an example of how political organizations come to Austin to advocate for their point of view in standards and textbooks in Texas public education. Readers, this is what you must do if you want accurate and reliable education standards and textbooks. Believe me, if you don't organize and get involved in this process, the SBOE will vote their ideological, religious, and political biases. Unfortunately, they do this anyway, even when advocates give them the correct information. Look what happened earlier this year with the science standards. Every legitimate scientist who testified asked that the good proposed science standards be adopted, but the radical religious right SBOE members inserted their own anti-scientific, Creationist-friendly standards anyway.
Kathy Miller, Texas Freedom Network
The next speaker is Kathy Miller of the Texas Freedom Network. She criticized the selection of the two unqualified religious political activists as Social Studies experts. She objected to the politicization of public education policy by some SBOE members. She says, "It really looks like the SBOE is putting politics ahead of sound scholarship and quality education in our classrooms. This politicization is eroding the faith that parents might have that the process will result in standards that give their kids a sound education."
The two next speakers represented the Texas National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Texas League of United Latin American Citizens, the two very old national organizations that promote the political interests of African Americans and Hispanic Americans. Yannis Banks spoke on behalf of the NAACP and Cardenas Cedillo for LULAC. Again, these organization understand what is at risk here. They understand that they must come to Austin and lobby the SBOE members to make sure that the history of their peoples in the U.S. are represented correctly. Clearly, if they don't show up and let the SBOE know they are concerned, their interests will be compromised.
Christina Anderson of the National Council for History Education spoke next. Deborah Parrish then spoke, repeatedly pointing out that the Christian, Hebrew, and Moslem Gods were monotheistic, while the Hindus had many Gods, as many as "one for every day of the week." Her intent was obviously to goad the SBOE members to reject the inclusion of Hindu polytheism in a standard, not a very noble goal. Students would be better prepared for life in modern globalized society if they learned more about Hinduism, Islam, and Buddhism than about Jesus and football. So many problems exist due to citizens' abject ignorance of other people who share their planet.
When it was my turn to speak, I opposed the selection of Barton and Marshall as Social Studies experts. My theme was that these two men were opponents of the Establishment Clause and wished to promote Christian exceptionalism in American history. I discussed the reasons why politicizing and Christianizing social studies in public education is a bad idea, and that the SBOE members should resist making their own politically-, ideologically-, and religiously-motivated changes.
Like the others who spoke before me, I was advocating for a cause: in my case it was secularism and separation of church and state. I stated that silence implies consent, and I do not consent to the promotion of overt religiosity in the Social Studies standards, especially giving preference to Christianity as I believe is the intent of some Board members. The concept of secularism--upon which our country was founded and which is the basis of our government institutions today, including public schools--is never acknowledged in history or discussion, despite the fact that our country's Founders made it a founding principle in the Constitution and Bill of Rights. I am the only one who is advocating for this important principle. The dominant push by the radical religious right Board members is for inclusion of more Christianity, distorting the harsh discrimination and authoritarianism of early American Christians, and suppression of secularism and church-state separation in the history of our country. I consider this a distortion of history and one motivated by the radical religious right control of the Texas SBOE and their two far-religious right "expert" appointments.
Here is my testimony. I left out some text when I spoke to get it down to three minutes, so what I say on the archived video is shorter than what appears here.Public Testimony
Steven D. Schafersman
2009 September 17
My work defending the accuracy and reliability of science education in Texas depends on the Establishment Clause of the Constitution. Christian Fundamentalists with political power in this country have repeatedly tried to stop the teaching of evolution in public schools, tried to teach both Biblical Creationism and evolution, tried to teach Intelligent Design Creationism, and--most recently--tried to have bogus weaknesses of evolution taught so students will be confused and disheartened about science and not trust their science teachers and scientists. Except for the last one--and we are still waiting for the outcome of that--all these attempts have failed because concerned parents have sued school districts and state boards of education in federal court to have the laws ruled unconstitutional. In a dozen cases, the parents sued under the Establishment Clause because the state or school district was trying to establish religion in a public government institution that was required to remain secular and neutral, neither favoring nor disfavoring religion or irreligion.
Some State Board members appointed two "experts" who are not Social Studies experts, but are unqualified political activists who have made it their lives' work to attack the Establishment Clause and criticize and misrepresent it. Contrary to Mr. Barton and Mr. Marshall, it is illegal to promote religion of any type in public education. It is illegal to promote religion over irreligion. It is illegal to promote Christianity in the public schools, but that's what some of you and your "experts" are trying to do. The new Chair of the State Board was quoted in the newspaper saying the United States is a Christian nation. This is a false and dangerous belief, because it sends a signal to Texans who hold other beliefs that their state's education leadership believes they are second-class citizens.
The United States is a secular country governed by a secular Constitution that allows all religions and non-religious philosophies to exist without government approval or disapproval, or at least that's the goal. Using official state powers to promote Christian exceptionalism is illegal and unethical. Our founding law, the Constitution, was written by men, several of whom had their own particular Deist, Unitarian, and very non-Christian religious beliefs; this group included the first six presidents of the United States and several other major Founding Fathers. They intentionally left religions and especially Christianity out of the Constitution and Bill of Rights, writing instead that "no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust" and that governments "shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."
The social studies teachers and curriculum experts should be left to write the Social Studies standards without interference from you, unlike how you interfered with the English and Science standards. It is your responsibility to ensure that curriculum standards are well-written, not rewrite them yourselves to suit your political and religious biases, which is what you have been doing and intend to do again. You want your two bogus "experts" to give some of you cover to make inaccurate and unnecessary changes, just as you did with the science standards. Go ahead and put Christmas back into sixth grade social studies, and while you're at it, make sure that students learn that Christmas--and Easter, too--were well-established pagan holidays for thousands of years that celebrated the cycle of seasons long before Christianity appeared. Christmas is a winter solstice holiday, Easter a spring equinox holiday, and they were celebrated for millennia by non-Christians before the holidays were Christianized. This is good history, and students should study history.
My goal today in speaking to you is just to establish my opposition to the efforts of some State Board members to Christianize and politicize public education in Texas. Silence implies consent--and I do not consent. I respect and defend your right to hold your personal religious beliefs because I wish for reciprocal respect and support for my right to hold my personal philosophical beliefs. The only way such a live and let live policy will be successful is if public officials do not attempt to use their government powers to force their preferred religious tenets into state policies, such as curriculum standards. I request that you avoid doing this.
Presentations by the Social Studies Experts
Professor Frank de la Teja, Texas State University
I was very impressed by the three university social science professors appointed by the rational SBOE members. The first expert to speak is Professor Frank de la Teja from Texas State University (also former State Historian). His theme is that the history of American includes contributions from many ethnic groups. U.S. history is one of great diversity of peoples and cultures, and all should be included. He says, "The republic has been moving in the direction of a more perfect union since its founding. That journey is not over."
Professor Frank de la Teja, Texas State University
De la Teja is saying that we do a disservice to our children by presenting a view of American history that is too narrow and limited just to traditional historical figures and events. His views would be opposed by those Board members who oppose multiculturalism and who wish to promote an Anglo and Christian exceptionalism. As readers should know, this anti-multiculturalist viewpoint is not historical and misrepresents the true history of our country. Mary Helen Berlanga asked several good questions and made some excellent points in support of the theme of being more inclusive.
Mary Helen Berlanga
Reverend Peter Marshall
The next "expert" is the Rev. Peter Marshall. He speaks about how the Declaration of Independence is the true founding document of the United States. He said the U.S. is the only country "founded on a creed, a statement of faith." Both of these statements are untrue, of course. Furthermore, he says the Founders structured the establishment of the new country on their views of the Christian God. In their letters, they invoked God and Christian principles to how they viewed political government. That may be true, but they ignored those beliefs when it came time to actually found the new country. The history of the American founding period must include the Great Awakening of Christianity, he says.
The Rev. Marshall criticizes histories that emphasize the secular principles and ideals in the creation of the new republic (presumably including Locke, Blackstone, and Montesquieu, all three luminaries of the Enlightenment who influenced the writers of the Constitution). Marshall says it is not realistic to ignore the Bible-based faith of the people during the founding period, since they received their political beliefs from their religion. The Reverend concludes that "America is a godly experiment that has no equal in human history."
Reverend Peter Marshall
Marshall's testimony proves my contention that he was appointed by the radical religious right SBOE members to push for more inclusion of Christian contributions in early American history. Most professional scholars downplay this contribution of Christian faith since, while it was present among most individuals including some founders, it was certainly secondary when it came time to write the founding documents that define our country and present government institutions. Also, the several theistic mentions in the Declaration of Independence were written from a Deist-Unitarian view of God, not a Christian view. Jefferson chose this view because he knew if would be accpetable to the majority of signers of the Declaration, while a Christian view would not be. Furthermore, while the Declaration is a founding document, the Constitution and Bill of Rights are more important and preeminent.
Marshall was questioned by Mary Helen Berlanga and Mavis Knight about this views on historical minority contributions to Texas and the U.S. Berlanga asked Marshall if people lived in Texas before Stephen Austin arrived since Texas history begins with Austin in the current history standards. Knight asked why Marshall criticized the inclusion of Thurgood Marshall in the U.S. standards. The Rev. Marshall again said, incorrectly, that Thurgood Marshall was famous for only one thing although that was important. Marshall was also questioned by Lawrence Allen for some of his written views. SBOE member Rick Agosto wants to know why Rev. Marshall wanted to include the inventor of the yo-yo in the standards but not Cesar Chavez.
Professor Lybeth Hodges, Texas Women's University
Professor Lybeth Hodges of Texas Women's University is speaking now. She also emphasized that history should be written from a multicultural perspective since that is now recognized by historians and social studies professionals to be the best and most accurate way. Prof. Hodges says that women and other minorities and their contributions should be represented more in textbooks than they have been. Mary Helen Berlanga agreed with several of Prof. Hodges's statements.
Professor Lybeth Hodges, Texas Women's University
Professor Jim Kracht, Texas A&M University
The next speaker is Prof. Jim Kracht of Texas A&M. He says that the social studies curriculum standards currently used in Texas public schools is good and don’t need a complete revision. This is the case, no doubt, because both Barton and Marshall have proposed dozens of revisions that further their Christian heritage and anti-multicultural viewpoint. Prof. Kracht warns about overloading the standards with too many people, places, events, and dates. He says there should be more depth and more balance on various points of view. An attempt to cover a lot of historical information superficially in not a good pedagogical practice.
Professor Jim Kracht, Texas A&M University
Prof. Kracht also says that the Social Studies writing team members should be better protected from political pressure. I thought this was a remarkably brave and needed comment, since some of the SBOE members are the ones attacking the Social Studies review committees. He says he trusts the teachers to do a good job and says their work should be valued, not derided as it has been by political ideologues.
David Barton, WallBuilders
The last speaker is David Barton, founder and head of WallBuilders, an organization that promotes Christian American heritage and opposition to church-state separation. Unexpectedly, he starts off by showing examples of African American, women, Jewish, and Hispanic patriots of the founding period who have been left out of history.
He says, quite correctly in my opinion, that these significant minority individuals should be included in American history texts. He uses a chain to illustrate the continuity of American history with the many links of individuals, saying that more individuals should be included, including women, Jewish, black, and Hispanic patriots.
It seems that Mr. Barton is presenting himself as a multiculturalist today, and I applaud that surprising perspective. Of course, there has to be a selection of individual names, since pedagogical studies have demonstrated that students learn more effectively when fewer subjects are studies in depth rather than many topics superficially. However, I do think some of these early women and non-Anglo male patriots should be mentioned somehow. I never learned about these individuals when I was in high school! Their contributions and accomplishments, as related by Barton, were interesting and educational even to me, a life-long student of history.
SBOE member David Bradley praised Barton and recommended that visitors examine the early books and documents in his display. Barbara Cargill said the current Social Studies standards present the U.S. in a negative light, not as an exceptional nation. Barton did not take the bait and criticize the standards; he just said that when any American travels to a foreign country he or she understands that the U.S. is an exceptional country.
Mrs. Berlanga recommended several early Hispanic Americans for inclusion in the standards. Barton replied that many Hispanics fought at the Alamo under the 1824 banner side-by-side with the Anglos, and they should be recognized, too. Several other SBOE members also asked questions, including Mavis Knight, Pat Hardy, and Terri Leo.
David Barton presented himself as a moderate person and an excellent historian. I will have to read his recommended changes to the Social Studies TEKS closely to see what he has written.
David Barton, WallBuilders
If he is truly advocating a moderate position that supports more multiculturalism and inclusion of minorities in early American history, than he would have my support. But his change in stance toward multiculturalism was, I fear, made temporarily for public consumption. Mr. Barton's history has always been hard against church-state separation, the Establishment Clause, and religious liberty which includes non-religious liberty. Freedom of religion must include freedom from religion, since even religious persons presumably wish to have freedom from the hundreds of religions with which they disagree.
Religion in America During the Founding Period
Both Barton and Marshall have an incorrect understanding of religion in America during the Founding Period. Almost all of the Founders were religious men but the major figures were not Christians; these included the first six presidents, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Paine. All of these men believed in a God but denied the divinity of Jesus. The closest to a non-believer I know who could be considered a Founder was Ethan Allen, leader of the Green Mountain Boys and a true patriot. His religion was something like a Spinozan pantheist, very naturalistic and much like Goethe's. Allen wrote Reason: the Only Oracle of Man, a bitter denunciation of religion in general and Christianity in particular. Even Paine was not this anti-religious. Paine was the only pure Deist among the Founders, more deistic than Jefferson who could better be characterized as a Deist-Unitarian. Paine was extremely anti-clerical but defended Deism in his anti-Christian masterpiece, The Age of Reason. All the real atheists during the Founding Period lived in Europe. As all good American Freethinkers know, true atheism finally came to the U.S. early in the 19th century shortly after the Founding of the United States, but the way had been prepared by many true Freethinkers, Rationalists, and Skeptics among the Founding Fathers. Their political intelligence and knowledge of history is the reason our country was created so well.
Peter Marshall pointed out the uniqueness of the Declaration of Independence and the "extraordinary announcement" within it. The "all men are created equal" declaration, he noted, served as the pivotal issue of the American Revolution, the struggle against slavery, the women's movement, the Civil Rights movement and now the pro-life movement. That's why he advocates a "preeminent place" for the Declaration to be taught in school history classes. (Of course, the "pro-life" movement is in reality the anti-choice movement, since adult women are living beings, too, and presumably they would like their life to be considered equal to a man's in the context of control of one's body.)
Giving preeminence to the Declaration of Independence is a very common theme among the Christian Right. Since the true founding document and law of the land, the Constitution, leaves God out entirely and even explicitly displaces religion in one clause as a test for public office, religious right activists who advocate a Christian Heritage for the U.S. always advocate for the Declaration to be preeminent. This is nonsense, of course, since the Constitution and Bill of Rights must obviously be preeminent. Also, the God of the Declaration is clearly the Deist-Unitarian God of Jefferson, Washington, and the other leading Founders, not the Christian God. Jefferson invoked the natural rights and natural law granted by "Nature's God," not the God of Christianity. But the Christian Heritage people are desperate to find religion in America's founding so they grasp whatever they can. There are hundreds of books and papers devoted to arguing for an American Christian heritage as proven in historical documents, letters, and treaties, and the refutation of that claim by equally motivated nonreligious and secular scholars and historians. I have read many of these. It is clear to me that the Founders were students of the Enlightenment and, while religious themselves, many were freethinkers who developed their own personal religious beliefs. In many cases these were not Christian beliefs. See the list of books at the end of this column that document this history.
All of the Founders were religious and most were Christians, so it is true that they frequently discussed and cited religion and especially Christianity. But when it came time to actually plan a government and state, they fully realized that the country had to be secular and neutral, neither favoring or disfavoring any religion. The most intelligent of the Founders, including Jefferson, Madison, and Paine, also realized that this meant neither favoring or disfavoring religion and irreligion. That is, secular means that religion can't be favored over atheism and nonbelief. This is the way the courts have interpreted the two religion clauses in the First Amendment and the Founder's intentions. Scholars have found quotes from Jefferson and other Founders to this effect.
Most people--especially the Christian majority--accept that the government can't favor one religion over another. However, they incorrectly view the Constitution and government as having two possibilities, secular vs. religious, and they want the government to favor religion over the secular, i.e. to be more religious and less secular. If this happens, Christianity, being the majority religion, will have the most to gain. However, the correct and Constitutional perspective has three possibilities: religious, secular, and irreligious. Governments under the Constitution must be secular, neither favoring or disfavoring religion or irreligion. Secularism is the neutral, middle policy that the state (i.e., all federal, state, and municipal government institutions) must follow under law. Secularism does not mean anti-religion as many people mistakenly believe; it means neutrality to religion and irreligion, to non-religion and non-irreligion. Secularism means that a government cannot support religion over non-religion any more than it can support one religion over another. This point of view was the one the Founders actually agreed upon even though all were religious men, because frankly some of the Founders privately believed in very non-traditional and idiosyncratic religions that many Christians in the majority would consider heretical. More importantly, this view is the one supported so far by the Supreme Court, which has repeatedly upheld the principle of secularism.
Historical, Scholarly, and Recommended Books:
The Faiths of the Founding Fathers
by David L. Holmes
Founding Faith: How Our Founding Fathers Forged a Radical New Approach to Religious Liberty
by Steven Waldman
American Gospel: God, the Founding Fathers, and the Making of a Nation
by Jon Meacham
Revolutionary Spirits: The Enlightened Faith of America's Founding Fathers
by Gary Kowalski
Moral Minority: Our Skeptical Founding Fathers
by Brooke Allen
God and the Founders: Madison, Washington, and Jefferson
by Vincent Phillip Muñoz
Faith of the Founders: Religion and the New Nation 1776-1826
by Edwin S. Gaustad
So Help Me God: The Founding Fathers and the First Great Battle Over Church and State
by Forrest Church
The Separation of Church and State: Writings on a Fundamental Freedom by America's Founders
by Forrest Church
Jefferson and Madison on the Separation of Church and State
by Lenni Brenner
The Establishment Clause: Religion and the First Amendment
by Leonard Levy
The Founding Fathers and the Place of Religion in America
by Frank Lambert
Religion and the Founding of the American Republic
by James Hutson
Liars for Jesus
by Chris Rodda
Unhistorical and Unscholarly Books Not Recommended:
Separation of Church & State: What the Founders Meant
by David Barton
Original Intent: The Courts, the Constitution, & Religion
by David Barton
Ten Tortured Words: How the Founding Fathers Tried to Protect Religion in America . . . and What's Happened Since
by Stephen Mansfield
Founding Fathers vs. History Revisionists: In their own words, Founding Fathers SET THE RECORD STRAIGHT
by Bob Gingrich
2009 September 18
I am back at the Texas State Board of Education hearing room for the official Friday meeting.
Actually, that's not true. I am back home in Midland watching the SBOE meeting on the live Web video stream. I drove quickly back to hear the great evolutionary biologist Professor E. O. Wilson speak at Midland College last night about biodiversity loss, global warming, and excessive human population growth, and about how we all--religious believers included--should work together to save the Creation. His recent book is titled The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth. Knowing Midland, I can say with some certainty that half the people in the audience didn't believe him or didn't care. Just about everything he said were things I had been teaching students starting 30 years ago. Other biology and geology professors in the United States have been teaching the same things for the last 30 years. You can see how well all that instruction has worked; conditions on Earth have become progressively worse over the last three decades. Why do we even have university education when our political leaders ignore the advice of scientists and take no action to stop climate change, biodiversity loss, and excessive human population growth.
State Board of Education Hearing
Room During Award Presentations
I can watch the SBOE on the Web and take photos by using a screen capture program. You really would not know if I am actually in Austin or not. Or what I'm wearing or eating. Thank you, Texas Legislature, for mandating this new video system that allows Texas citizens to watch their State Board of Education in action. This experience may motivate some Texas citizens to become more involved with the politics of Texas public education and try to vote some of the Board members out of office.
There are seven SBOE members whose political, ideological, and religious views are so extreme that they should not hold any public office if citizens value the integrity and quality of public policy, in their case public education policy. However, I can ruefully state that the views of the seven do reflect the views of plenty of Texans, just not a majority of the Texas population. As I have reported before, the SBOE districts are gerrymandered to favor the Republican Party, the Texas Republican Party is under the control of the radical religious right, so these radicals are preferentially elected to the SBOE in their primary elections, then easily win the general election in their gerrymandered districts, and are then able to achieve quite a bit of their damaging and perverted policy objectives by majority democratic vote at the SBOE, even though the majority of Texans would disagree with their methods and goals (if they followed the news, of course, which most Texas citizens do not).
In short, the education political system in Texas is cooked to ensure that plenty of extremist beliefs are written into public education rules and regulations. Is it any wonder that Texas education statistics are among the very worst in the country, and this in one of the richest states that could do much, much better. Much smaller and poorer states have significantly better public education achievement statistics. I have collected and saved all of the recent statistics that prove this but just haven't had time to write about them and document our poor situation here. Believe me, Texas public education is in very bad shape, totally unnecessary and undeserved, and the reason starts at the top.
Remember, the video streams in as a Real Media file (extension .rm), so you need RealPlayer to watch it. Just download this free application from the Real website and install it. There are versions for Mac, Linux, and iPhone, iPod, and Blackberry. Then go to http://www.texasadmin.com/cgi-bin/tea.cgi to access the live video and audio stream. The entire process is easy and the results are terrific. I may never have to visit Austin again except when I speak.
Update on the Texas TEKS Review Process
Gail Lowe, Chairman of the State Board of Education
The State Board of Education is chaired by Gail Lowe. She has been doing an excellent job of chairing the meetings. She is calm, fair, and knows what she is doing. She obviously took the time to study parliamentary procedure or already understood it. I told her personally that I thought she was doing a great job and I meant it sincerely. That doesn't mean I agree with her education policies. After all, she appointed David Barton as an "expert."
Anita Givens, Associate Commissioner for Standards and Programs
Staff spoke to the SBOE members about the process by which the TEKS are reviewed and revised. Associate Commissioner Anita Givens is again leading the discussion for the Board. I have know Anita a long time and she is very professional and competent. She mentions that the SBOE members are responsible for the curriculum standards and they are advised by curriculum experts and the experts they appointed. Anita says that most of these (all except the two bogus Social Studies "experts" I have criticized earlier) are university professors whose specialize in the appropriate topics.
SBOE member and former chairman Don McLeroy immediately speaks up and says that having a PhD doesn't mean much to him when advising on education curriculum matters! He would rather trust the views of his fellow SBOE members. McLeroy's anti-intellectualism is well-known and his views have unfortunately been influential in writing several unnecessary, stupid, unscientific, and counter-productive curriculum standards. McLeroy contempt for education and curriculum experts is famous by now. He takes pride in "standing up to the experts." McLeroy is a primary reason Texas education policy is so bad since he was Chairman for two years.
Barbara Cargill says she agrees with Don McLeroy about relying on the views of SBOE members rather than experts with PhDs. She also says she agrees with Prof. Kracht that standards-writing workgroup members should be protected from outside intimidation to which they have been subjected. I am appalled. Her hypocrisy is just jaw-dropping. Does she not realize that all the intimidation of curriculum panel members has been from her and her fellow right-wing Board members, the extremist "experts" they appointed, and the citizens they deliberately agitated. Several months ago Don McLeroy released a confidential preliminary copy of the proposed standards to James Leininger's right-wing Texas Public Policy Foundation who then publicly chastised the social studies standards panels in a letter to the Board and the press. I happen to know that the individual panel members were appalled by this and felt intimidated, humiliated, and angry.
Then their efforts were further ignorantly, unjustly, and politically criticized by two of the extreme right-wing SBOE-appointed "experts." They began to get email messages and phone calls from extremist Texas citizens who had been goaded by the same radical religious right SBOE members using their email newsletters and talks to right-wing community organizations. Incidents like this are the reason why Professor Kracht had to ask that the Social Studies TEKS review committee members be "protected." Only in Texas do teachers voluntarily serving on state-mandated TEKS review committees have to be protected from their state's elected public education officials.
Mavis Knight says the SBOE members "should muzzle their own mouths when the writing panels are in session." Precisely. Good for Ms. Knight, one of the finest SBOE members, who is willing to speak up to the radicals. And I might add that the SBOE members should then begin to actually value and respect the standards they receive from the TEKS review committee members.
Anita Givens mentions that only a few Social Studies review committee members showed up at their most recent TEKS-writing meetings. Apparently most of the appointed members have quit the process. Do the SBOE members truly not understand why this is happening? That SBOE authoritarian interference with and obvious contempt for the TEKS review committees is the reason the review committee members have quit? Why would anyone voluntarily (only expenses are paid, not time or effort) want to serve on a panel to write good TEKS when their efforts are publicly derided by hypocritical and ignorant SBOE members, and who on the last day of the process rewrite the standards anyway to suit their own religious, political, and ideological biases, so that the TEKS review panel members at that point have to watch their careful work manipulated, compromised, and censored. That's exactly what the science review committee members had to experience in January and March earlier this year. This is Texas politics at its most shameful.Terri Leo
Terri Leo says that the workgroup members do not write the TEKS! Rather, she says, by statute the SBOE writes the TEKS! Leo says the workgroups' role is to implement the directives of the SBOE and the Board has to find a better way to get this to happen. Leo is wrong on every item. The TEKS review committees by statute write the standards. The Board then reviews them and does have the statutory right to make changes. The TEKS review panel members must consider all information--from the public, from experts, and "directives" from the SBOE--but then use their own best judgment and experience to decide what goes into the standards. They can ignore input from some experts and the SBOE members when writing their standards, and from past experience as a TEKS review committee member for the science standards I can certainly advise them to do this. As readers well know, the Board contains seven Young Earth Creationists and they appointed three Creationists as Science "experts," including one, Stephen Meyer of the Discovery Institute, who is not a scientist. This time these same Board members appointed two Social Studies "experts" who are not social scientists or trained, professional historians.
During the science standards writing and adoption, we were advised by three anti-science "experts" appointed by the same SBOE members who appointed Mr. Barton and the Rev. Marshall. We carefully considered the suggestions from these three indivduals and rejected them (since they were anti-scientific and inimical to good science education). We accepted many suggestions from the other three experts who were very good scientists and science education professionals and several suggestions from citizen public input which we also considered. The Social Studies review committee members should make the same distinction. The SBOE has the authority to make changes at the end of the process, but then the changes are their exclusive responsibility. Good teachers and curriculum experts should refuse to be complicit in the attempted manipulation and corruption of curriculum standards to favor extremist political and religious views.
Textbook Proclamation Discussion
State Board of Education in Session
The SBOE members are now entering into a long discussion of the forthcoming textbook Proclamations. Associate Commissioner Anita Givens is leading the discussion. The Legislature is not providing enough money to pay for the textbooks, so the SBOE has to make some decisions about asking the publishers to rebid their contracts for textbooks. Motions were made by Cynthia Dunbar and Tincy Miller.
Geraldine "Tincy" Miller
Several motions and amendments were made about the proclamations, but they are too convoluted to consider here. I understand what they mean, but the effort for me to write and describe the details is more than the knowledge to inform you is worth. The SBOE is moving on to committee reports and other topics now, so I may not write much more. Right now, I am returning to the previous columns to revise and complete them.
I think I have posted photos taken from the web video stream of all fifteen SBOE members, two TEA staff members, five of the appointed Social Studies experts, and three of the public speakers (one of these was me). You should now have a good understanding and vision of what goes on in Austin at SBOE meetings and hearings.
The meeting ended at 1:30 p.m. Until the next SBOE meeting in November, goodbye.
Steven Schafersman Last updated: 2009 October 8