In a controversial move, the Texas State Board of Education approved changes to the social studies curriculum standards for the state's public schools – a decision that highlights the perils of an overly politicized public education system that makes attempts to challenge church and state separation.
The Dallas Morning News reported the new curriculum standards, which were approved by a Republican-dominated BOE in a 9-5 vote split along party lines, will encourage high school students to question the legal doctrine of church-state separation.
Several of the BOE's members subscribe to the belief
the Founding Fathers did not intend to separate church and state.
The Washington Post reported board member Cynthia Dunbar, a graduate of Pat Robertson's Regent University law school, made her beliefs all too clear.
Dunbar said, "I believe the entire Bill of Rights came into being because of the knowledge our forefathers had of the Bible and their belief in it ... I like to believe that we are living today in the spirit of the Christian religion and as long as we do so, no great harm can come to our country."
The not-so-implicit goal of the majority of the board members appears to be to
indoctrinate the state's students, to force-feed the
students only the information they believe will propel them down a path of Christian conservatism.
The Texas school board is making blatant attempts to caste Christian conservative principals as normative in the public education system – a system in which neutrality in regard to politics and religion is necessary.
There are places for Christianity and the teaching of Christian principles – church or the home.
If parents want their children to be educated in a Christian environment, there are places for that too: Christian schools.
There are some families that do not adhere to Christian principles, as ghastly as that may seem to some. Their children deserve the opportunity to learn in a neutral environment.
Primary and secondary school education should focus on providing students with a well-rounded education free of lessons rife with political innuendo and should teach students how to think. Most importantly, students must be taught how to think critically and how to think for themselves.
Critical thinking is important because it is the intellectually disciplined process of skillfully conceptualizing and evaluating information, with careful reasoning, as a guide to belief and action.
It is a skill essential to the development of young minds.
According to the Washington Monthly, Texas board
member David Bradley, an
insurance salesman without a college degree, said that "this critical thinking stuff is gobbledygook."
This statement says a great deal about the Texas State Board of Education's perspective on education.
The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that some of the harshest criticism of the new standards came from six members of a nine-member panel of experts appointed by the BOE to act in an advisory capacity during the push for changes in the state's curriculum standards.
In a two-page statement released last week, the six members – two college professors and four high school teachers – expressed their "collective disgust" with the changes made by the Texas school board.
According to the Chronicle of Higher Education:
"We feel that the SBOE's biased and unfounded amendments undercut our attempt to build a strong, balanced and diverse set of standards … Texans should be outraged (at how the board rewrote the standards) without regard to standard historical interpretations."
The Dallas Morning News reported that Dunbar referred to the U.S. as a "Christian land governed by Christian principles."
To say the Founding Fathers set up a Christian country on the basis of Christian principles is to make an unreasonable argument and an immaterial one at that.
The same Founding Fathers pushed for the separation of church and state and religious freedom – two principles seemingly ignored or misunderstood by the board.
Claims such as those made by Dunbar merely capitalize on one aspect of the Founding Fathers' beliefs while conveniently disregarding others.
All state school boards should avoid the politicization of the education system – whether those boards be dominated by conservative Republicans or liberal Democrats.
It just so happens that Republicans committed this, the most recent crime against the education system. The issue is keeping the system free of all political and religious biases, regardless of the specific bent.
It would be equally inappropriate for liberal Democrats to force curriculum changes that hold humans contribute to global warming or that God does not exist as incontrovertible fact.
The education system is too important to be meddled with by politicians with little or no experience as educators, who care little for anything other than willfully pushing their
political agenda – in this case, forcing Christian conservative beliefs and values on the pupils of the Texas public school system.