Politics of Education: New Texas Social Sciences Curriculum Standards Fraught with Ideology, Critics Say

For example, the standards for high school call for students to "explain major political ideas in history, including the laws of nature and nature's God, unalienable rights." These words replaced the original requirement to explain "natural law, natural rights." The review panel of experts, who are handpicked by board members, recommended the board add a line that requires students to "identify major intellectual, philosophical, political, and religious traditions that informed the American founding, including Judeo-Christian (especially Biblical law)."

Evangelical minister Peter Marshall, who served as one of the experts on the review panel, argues that the state's curriculum is "seriously defective" and that the Biblical motivations of the founding fathers is an important part of history that should be included in the curriculum.

"Part of the problem today is we have a politically correct whitewashing revisionist history approach that tends to simply tar with the same brush in sweeping inaccurate, false generalizations," said Marshall, who serves as president of Massachusetts-based Peter Marshall Ministries and has written three faith-based books. "What I want to do is simply treat it accurately and correctly so there aren't any hidden agendas."

Daniel Dreisbach, a professor at American University, served on the panel as well and argues that scholarly literature shows the importance of Christianity in the lives of the settlers.

"Bible was the most frequently cited source in political literature," he said. "It would do a disservice to students if they weren't aware what was the most-cited source and I think it would be very worrisome."

But critics argue that the language in the standards promotes a Christian perspective that doesn't correctly represent the diversity of religious beliefs.

"This kind of Christian view of America is trying to paint the founding fathers as someone who could walk straight into a Joel Osteen convention and fit right in and so we lose this sense of context," Erekson said.

Erekson and nearly 800 other college history professors signed a letter decrying the standards. Erekson, who was one of 120 people who testified in front of the board on Wednesday, argues that the standards should be focused less on adding political figures and more on teaching kids how to grapple with new sources of information on the Internet.

"In this kind of world where knowledge is growing, we should be paying more attention to how to help students deal with knowledge, helping them understand it," he said. "There's nothing in the standards that would help someone Google search George Washington… how do I know which is the good one? That's the kind of skill I think we have the opportunity to teach and we're missing the opportunity."

The new standards won't take effect until 2011, but until the heated debate is expected to continue until then. The Hispanic and African American caucus of the Texas state legislature is reviewing whether the board of education overstepped its bounds, but no organizations are currently threatening a legal challenge.

Cost is another issue that could have an impact on when the standards are implemented. New social studies textbooks are estimated to cost more than $1 billion. The state paid a similar amount for new science text books last year, and with Texas facing as much as a $20 million budget shortfall, some say there shouldn't be a rush to implement the new curriculum.

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