Florida County Commissioners Discover That Religious Freedom Means Freedom for Everyone, Even Pagans

Religious-right activists celebrated when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled earlier this year, in a 5-4 decision, that beginning governmental meetings with sectarian prayers doesn’t violate the Constitution’s Establishment Clause.

Family Research Council President Tony Perkins declared: “The court has rejected the idea that as citizens we must check our faith at the entrance to the public square.”

Of course, citizens don’t have to “check their faith at the entrance to the public square.” Citizens have the right to practice their faith and to pray, or not, wherever they like. The issue is whether government may favor a particular religion (or religion generally) and whether offering sectarian prayers does that. The Supreme Court has now said such prayers are permissible.

Well, as you can see in the video clip above, last week an Agnostic Pagan Pantheist — David Suhor — decided to bring his particular beliefs into the regular meeting of the Escambia County Board of County Commissioners in Florida. But that didn’t go over too well with some of the Christians at the meeting. One commissioner walked out, offering this explanation:

“People may not realize it, but when we invite someone a minister to pray they are praying for the county commissioners for us to make wise decisions and I’m just not going to have a pagan or satanic minister pray for me.”

He certainly had a right to leave. So did state Sen. Dan Patrick, the current Republican nominee for Texas Lieutenant Governor, when he boycotted the invocation of a Muslim cleric at the beginning of the Texas Senate’s work day in 2007. But government — certainly in the United States — shouldn’t be in the business of picking and choosing whose religious beliefs to favor or disfavor.

Back in Florida, the Escambia County School Board has so far refused to allow Suhor to offer his prayer, in addition to the board’s traditional Christian invocation, at its meetings. Suhor, who said governing bodies should offer simply a moment of silence instead of prayers at their meetings, is considering litigation against the school board.

(H/T Addicting Info)

Posted in religious freedom, TFNEF | 2 Comments

Texas Religious-Right Fundraiser to Feature Morally Challenged Felon

DSouzaOn Tuesday a judge sentenced conservative political commentator and writer Dinesh D’Souza to five years probation, including eight months in a  community confinement center, for violating federal campaign finance law. That sentencing comes nearly two years after D’Souza resigned his position as president of The King’s College, a small conservative Christian school in New York. He lost that job following the revelation that he was engaged to a woman while both of them were still married to other people.

You might think that kind of history would make social conservatives a little wary of him. But not so with the folks who run the religious-right group Texans for Life Coalition. That organization, which wants to ban abortion and opposes sex education, sent out an email Friday promoting D’Souza as the featured speaker at its annual fundraising dinner in October.

The email happily declares: “He’s still coming – tickets going fast!” It goes on to describe D’Souza as a “conservative & Christian apologist.”

But that email doesn’t tell potential ticket-buyers that D’Souza is now a convicted felon (he pleaded guilty) for using straw donors to provide $20,000 to a New York Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in 2012. (The candidate lost.) Nor does the email note how his ex-wife has alleged that, as Talking Points Memo reports, “D’Souza was abusive, that he lied in his defense against the criminal charges, and implied D’Souza had manipulated the couple’s daughter into making positive public statements about him.” And nor does it acknowledge that D’Souza has defended his extramarital relationship with this astonishing claim:

“I had no idea that it is considered wrong in Christian circles to be engaged prior to being divorced, even though in a state of separation and in divorce proceedings.”

Seriously? D’Souza was president of a conservative Christian college. His own website describes him as a “brilliant and forceful defender of Christianity.” One of his own books tells folks What’s So Great About Christianity. He “had no idea”?

“Whatever,” the folks at Texans for Life Coalition seem to be saying. Maybe they think none of that matters since D’Souza has long portrayed himself as a defender of the “traditional family values” they supposedly champion. In fact, he’s been pretty ruthless in that role. As an editor at the right-wing Dartmouth Review in the early 1980s, for example, D’Souza gleefully outed fellow students who were gay. And he’s mouthed many of the words social conservatives love to hear. In arguing that “marriage is the only known incubator for the raising of children,” for example, he has insisted that:

“This arrangement works best when marriage is restricted to heterosexual couples who are of adult age and unrelated to each other. Polygamous arrangements, incest, and homosexual relationships do occur in society, but there is no reason to give them greater social acceptance, nor to give them the special legal status of ‘marriage.'”

Fortunately for D’Souza, society still allow him the “special legal status of marriage” despite proposing to another woman before divorcing the mother of his daughter. Minor details, right?

Or maybe the folks at Texans for Life Coalition are overlooking all of this because they agree with D’Souza’s ridiculous suggestions that his prosecution for violating federal campaign finance laws was the result of a political vendetta by President Obama. Never mind, of course, that D’Souza has admitted that he broke the law. He had this to say to the conspiracy theorists at the right-wing website World Net Daily:

“I am contrite for what I did, and I tried to express that,” he said. “But I also tried at the same time not to allow the case to deter me from making public criticism of the Obama administration.”

“I didn’t want the government to to be successful in shutting me up,” he said. “I wanted to continue to speak out candidly and uninhibitedly. I did that.”

He acknowledged the judge at times saw his stance as inconsistent with a contrite attitude.

“I don’t think it is inconsistent,” he told WND. “I think it’s quite possible to say, (a) I’m contrite for exceeding the campaign finance laws and for breaking the law, and (b) the Obama administration has been doing a lot of bad stuff, and I’m going to call them on it.”

Actually, we suspect what really gets the juices flowing for the Texans for Life crowd is D’Souza’s open and over-the-top loathing for President Obama. In writing and film, D’Souza portrays the president as some foreign, Marxist America-hater out to destroy the country. He, no doubt, will provide a lot of that kind of rhetoric at the fundraiser. That’s like crack for religious-righters — they crave it so much that they choose to overlook the sordid past of the dealer selling it to them.

Posted in Dinesh D'Souza, Texans for Life Coalition, TFNEF | 2 Comments

What’s in the Proposed New Texas Textbooks? We Got Democracy from Moses

This month’s public hearing at the State Board of Education (SBOE) highlighted serious problems in the proposed new social studies textbooks for Texas public schools. Scholars working with the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund noted many of those problems in extensive reviews of the new textbooks. We released our scholars’ reports on those textbooks September 10. You can read the reports here.

We knew there would be problems in 2010, when religious-right members of the SBOE passed new curriculum standards requiring Texas schools to teach students that Moses influenced the writing of America’s founding documents. Historians and constitutional scholars have dismissed that requirement as absurd. But publishers appear to have felt compelled to include those claims in their textbooks anyway.

Perfection Learning’s Basic Principles of American Government textbook puts Moses ahead of John Locke and Charles de Montesquieu in a list of “philosophers, historians and economists” from whom the nation’s Founders got their ideas for the U.S. Constitution. The text also goes so far as to suggest that the story of Moses getting the Ten Commandments from God is historical fact:

 “Moses (born in the Second Millennium BCE in Egype) was the Hebrew leader who forced the Pharaoh to release his people from slavery. During their years of wandering in the desert of the Sinai, Moses handed down God’s Ten Commandments to the Hebrews. These commandments now form the bedrock on which the Jewish, Muslim, and Christian codes of behavior are based. The full account of Moses’ life can be found in the Bible’s book of Exodus.

It is one thing to tell students that Christians and Jews believe this; it’s quite another to teach these faith claims as historical fact in a public school classroom. But it gets worse.

See where Pearson Education’s Magruder’s American Government finds the origins of modern democratic government:

“The roots of democratic government in today’s world — including government in the United States — lie deep in human history. They reach back most particularly to ancient Greece and Rome, and include elements related to Judeo-Christian philosophy, dating back thousands of years to Old Testament texts and Biblical figures such as Moses and Solomon.”

This simply isn’t true. As Dr. Emile Lester writes in his review of the Pearson textbook, the forms of government mentioned in the Old Testament are theocracy and monarchy. Moreover, no Old Testament figures called for alternatives that remotely approach democratic government.

In a section discussing Moses’ influence on American government, McGraw-Hill’s United States Government textbook tells students:

“The biblical idea of a covenant, an ancient Jewish term meaning a special kind of agreement between the people and God, influenced the formation of colonial governments and contributed to our constitutional structure.”

As Dr. Lester writes in his review, this passage “provides students with almost the opposite of the historical truth.” The American Founders purposely sought a Lockean social contract that was a voluntary agreement between the people and their government: “Locke’s version of the social contract was in many ways a repudiation of the biblical covenant view referenced in this passage.”

All of these passages — and similar ones in the proposed textbooks — are clearly designed to meet the demands by members of the State Board of Education that students learn Moses and Judeo-Christian principles were primary influences on the American constitutional structure. Indeed, these claims are at the core of arguments, made by religious-right activists and politicians, that the Founders intended to create a Christian nation with a government and its laws based on the Bible. Those arguments are profoundly wrong, but students will learn them if the SBOE votes in November to approve these new textbooks.

You can read more about what’s in the proposed new social studies textbooks for Texas public schools here: tfn.org/history. While you’re there, sign the petition calling for textbooks based on honest, accurate history, not the ideological beliefs of politicians on the State Board of Education. The SBOE is set to vote in November on which textbooks to approve.

Posted in social studies adoption (2014), TFNEF | 6 Comments

TFN Works with the Best to Keep Politics Out of Public School Classrooms

The Texas Freedom Network has been very fortunate to work with respected professionals on a number of projects over the years. Among those professionals are scholars at Southern Methodist University in Dallas — scholars who care as much as we do that Texas students get honest textbooks based on facts and sound scholarship, not the political agendas of ideologues on the State Board of Education.

So we were pleased late last week to see SMU’s press office acknowledge the university’s scholars who have worked with TFN on issues ranging from public school Bible courses to the adoption of science and social studies textbooks. Check out the SMU press release  below (and online here):

SMU experts address controversial content proposed for Texas’ new public school textbooks

‘This is not a political issue. It is simply whether the books provide good history.’

September 19, 2014

DALLAS (SMU) — SMU Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences faculty members Ron Wetherington, Kathleen Wellman, David Brockman and Edward Countryman are speaking out about what they see as “flawed” and “distorted” textbooks being considered for Texas classrooms.

Wetherington, Wellman and Brockman addressed the State Board of Education (SBOE) at a daylong hearing in Austin on Sept. 16. Earlier that week Brockman and Countryman participated in a press conference, releasing research findings that have garnered national attention.

Citing historical and cultural inaccuracies, each SMU faculty member says corrections are needed before the textbooks get adopted this November for use by Texas’ more than five million public school students in 2015. The new texts under consideration would replace books published 12 years ago.

Countryman, an SMU history professor, and Brockman, an adjunct instructor in religious studies, were contracted by the religious liberties watchdog group Texas Freedom Network (TFN) to conduct a comprehensive review of 43 proposed textbook packages (including written, video and audio materials) for sixth- through 12th-grade history, government and geography classes in Texas public schools.

Countryman and Brockman joined faculty and researchers from the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Mary Washington in Virginia to provide findings independent of Texas’ official state review, which the TFN says lacked a broad representation of subject-area scholars.

“Of the more than 140 people assigned to the official state review panels we could identify just four who appear to be faculty members at a college or university,” the TFN said in its September 2014 report, “Writing to the Standards: Reviews of Proposed Social Studies Textbooks for Texas Public Schools.”

The TFN charges that the new textbooks, produced by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, McGraw-Hill, Pearson and other smaller publishing companies “suffer from many of the same serious flaws that plague the state’s controversial curriculum standards” approved by the SBOE in 2010.

Countryman agrees. The distinguished professor says publishers’ attempts to align with the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) requirements “led to errors, misconceptions or worse.”

For example, TEKS calls for textbooks to list slavery as one of the last reasons for the U.S. Civil War, he says, denying what Confederate leaders including Jefferson Davis and the secession conventions were saying at the war’s start. Other text describes the Inca civilization before the Spaniards as a “welfare-state with huge bureaucracy,” suggesting it was one of the reasons the civilization fell.

Countryman’s other objections include passages he says misrepresent the doctrine of the separation of church and state. In particular, the TEKS requirements forced the textbook publishers to assert direct Biblical origins for the U.S. Constitution, “despite there being no evidence at all to support that idea,” he says.

“This is not a political issue,” Countryman told The Dallas Observer. “It is simply whether the books provide good history that makes the best possible sense of what happened.”

Brockman, who reviewed religion-focused content, found “a kind of subtle Christian tilt” in many of the textbooks, “which would seem to assume the students and instructors are themselves Christians,” he notes. In addition, he says Christianity’s violent past is downplayed in the textbooks while Islamic violence is exaggerated.

“It’s very important that all religions be presented fairly and accurately in the public school classroom,” he says.

Brockman told the SBOE panel that the TFN compensated him for his work, but that the group’s “particular views did not shape my reviews of the textbooks.” His research and reporting work was conducted over several months.

SMU history professor Wellman chose to address the SBOE Sept. 16, telling the panel that several U.S. government and history textbooks she has reviewed exaggerate the influence of biblical figure Moses on America’s founding fathers.

“These books make Moses the original founding father and credit him for virtually every distinctive feature of American government,” she said, noting that if the books are adopted as-is, Texas schoolchildren will grow up “believing that Moses was the first American.”

SMU anthropology professor Wetherington informed the SBOE panel of “archaic, misleading and unintended racist commentary” that included use of the expression “Negro race.”

“The term ‘Negro’ is archaic and fraught with ulterior meaning,” he said. “It should categorically not be used in a modern textbook.”

Wetherington was featured in the 2011 PBS documentary “The Revisionaries,”which addressed the culture wars in America by looking at the inner workings of the Texas Board of Education. The documentary won the 2014 duPont award, the broadcast equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize.

In 2008 he was appointed one of six science experts by the Texas Education Agency to advise the State Board of Education’s revisions of science standards for K-through-12 public schools. After the scholars’ work concluded in 2009 and social studies standards were revised, Wetherington called out interpretive errors in many of the proposed changes.

Another SMU professor, Mark Chancey, is a nationally recognized religious studies expert on political and academic issues raised by public school Bible courses. He now serves on the TFN board.

Chancey published the 2013 study “Reading, Writing & Religion II,” which found that most of Texas’ 60 public school districts offering Bible study courses are not meeting a 2007 state law mandating the courses be fair as well as academically and legally sound.

For more on this subject, visit http://tfninsider.org/2014/09/14/tfn-in-the-news-review-of-social-studies-textbooks/.

We would be remiss if we didn’t also note the work of Dr. Emile Lester, associate professor of political science at the University of Mary Washington, and the seven doctoral student at the University of Texas who reviewed the proposed social studies textbooks for us this year. And the excellent specialists at the National Center for Science Education examined what those textbooks say about climate science, identifying serious problems on coverage of that issue.

You can can help TFN ensure that Texas students get social studies textbooks and other instructional materials that are honest, accurate and free of political agendas. Click here to sign our petition to the State Board of Education (SBOE).

Posted in social studies adoption (2014), TFNEF | 4 Comments

Houston RR Group Says Supporters of Equal Rights Ordinance Are ‘Enemies of God’

The leaders of the venomously anti-gay Houston Area Pastor Council want to make something perfectly clear: if you disagree with them, then you are an enemy of God.

In an email to supporters last week promoting another pro-discrimination public event, the HAPC explained why it wants to repeal Houston’s new Equal Rights Ordinance. HERO bars discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations based on race, religion, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, military status and other characteristics. But HAPC’s leaders think equality is anti-God:

Houston is being closely observed across the nation because of our boldness and unfaltering resilience in facing the enemies of our God to restore justice and Godly morals in government! Remember, we are fighting this ordinance because we collectively failed to elect a mayor and council majority who respect God’s law or even have a guiding moral compass. Never again on our watch…!

The anti-discrimination protections for LGBT people really have the folks at HAPC upset. But don’t forget that at least some of them think discriminating against anyone — including Jews — in public life should be legal if it’s done for personal religious reasons.

Posted in civil and equal rights, Houston Area Pastor Council, Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, LGBT issues, TFNEF | 4 Comments

The Week in Quotes (Sept. 14 – 20)

Here are some of the week’s most notable quotes culled from news reports from across Texas, and beyond.

continue reading »

Posted in The Week in Quotes | Leave a comment

More about the Anti-Science Nonsense in New Textbooks for Texas

As we reported on Monday, a National Center for Science Education review finds that a number of proposed social studies textbooks for Texas public schools promote climate science denialism. One geography textbook, from publisher McGraw-Hill, even includes a passage written by political hacks at the polluter-funded Heartland Institute — the right-wing organization that a few years ago launched an infamous billboard campaign that featured “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski supposedly claiming: “I still believe in global warming. Do you?”

The McGraw-Hill textbook passage, written by Heartland’s Joseph Bast and James M. Taylor, also attacks the overwhelming scientific evidence showing that climate change is a real and growing threat. The textbook irresponsibly uses that factually inaccurate passage as a counterpoint to a paragraph from the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

So who are Bast and Taylor?

Taylor is a senior fellow for Heartland and serves as managing editor of the organization’s Environment and Climate News publication.  He is also a spokesperson on a variety of media outlets and at events held by political groups like the similarly right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council. And he writes a regular column on “energy and environmental issues” for Forbes magazine.

But Taylor isn’t a scientist. He’s a lawyer. His Heartland bio says he “studied atmospheric science” but majored in government in college. So what does “studied atmospheric science” mean? He took a class in the subject? Who knows? The point is that Taylor is simply not a credible authority on science. But McGraw-Hill essentially portrays him as a climate science expert in a textbook for millions of public school students.

Just as bad (maybe worse) is that the McGraw-Hill textbook portrays Bast in the same light. Bast is Heartlands’s president and CEO. You might recall that he testified last year in a major school finance court case in Texas. Check out state District Judge John Dietz’s scathing criticism of Bast in his ruling in that finance case last month:

Mr. Joseph Bast, president and CEO of the Heartland Institute, testified for the Intervenors regarding the Texas Taxpayers’ Savings Grant Programs (“TTSGP”), a school voucher bill that failed in the 82nd Legislative Session. As a threshold matter, this Court finds that Mr. Bast is not a credible witness and that he did not offer reliable opinions in this matter. While Mr. Bast described himself as an economist, he holds neither undergraduate nor graduate degrees in economics, and the highest level of education he completed was high school. Mr. Bast testified that he is 100% committed to the long-term goal of getting government out of the business of educating its own voting citizens. Further, his use of inflammatory and irresponsible language regarding global warming, and his admission that the long term goal of his advocacy of vouchers is to dismantle the “socialist” public education system further undermine his credibility with this Court.

You read that right. The highest level of education Bast completed was high school. He is not a scientist. Nor is he an economist. He’s a political hack who, like Taylor, shills for polluters who claim climate change either isn’t happening or isn’t a problem. But now his and Taylor’s factually inaccurate criticisms of climate science are presented in a high school social studies textbook alongside the IPCC’s factual information.

Had enough of publishers bowing to the ideological demands of politicians on the State Board of EducationSign our petition telling publishers to remove climate science denial from their textbooks.

Posted in climate change, Heartland Institute, James M. Taylor, Joseph Bast, TFNEF | 4 Comments

What a Politicized Texas History Textbook Looks Like

On Tuesday a number of university scholars spoke out at a State Board of Education (SBOE) public hearing on proposed social studies textbooks for Texas public schools. Among those scholars was Dr. Jacqueline Jones, chair of the history department at the University of Texas at Austin. She was also a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in History this year for her book A Dreadful Deceit: The Myth of Race from the Colonial Era to Obama’s America. Dr. Jones focused her hearing testimony on one of the textbooks submitted by publisher Pearson Education. Her testimony, which we are posting here with her permission, is an excellent commentary on how the state’s deeply flawed curriculum standards (adopted by the SBOE in 2010) and textbooks based on those standards distort American history and promote ideological biases rather than sound scholarship.

My name is Jacqueline Jones. I am a professor of history at the University of Texas at Austin, where I chair the history department. I received my PhD in history from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. My fields of expertise include the history of modern America, the Civil War, the South, and the labor of African Americans and women. Between 2011 and 2014, I taught more than 1,000 UT students in the second half of the introductory American history survey (“The U. S. Since 1865”—HIS 315L). I speak here today representing only myself.

My comments will focus on the Pearson text, United States History: 1877 to the Present. I believe this text adheres closely to the TEKS [Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills curriculum] standards, and thus provides a good indication of the way those standards shape teaching materials for public school students here in Texas. Simply put, those standards are deleterious to the teaching of history in several ways: First, TEKS standards encourage ideological biases that are either outside the boundaries of established, mainstream scholarship, or just plain wrong. Second, these biases lead to the omission of crucial facts. And third, the standards mandate the highlighting of certain arguments that the evidence in the text in fact refutes, leading to a great deal of confusion in the reader. This is especially the case with the standards that promote the significance of the American free enterprise system.

Before I begin however I would like to say a word about the way this text is organized. Pearson is of course a powerhouse textbook publisher, and this offering is visually stunning, full of videos and colorful images. It showcases a variety of online bells and whistles that seem to have been developed with the short attention span of the American teenager in mind. Each chapter, or “topic,” includes a series of “lessons” (usually six or seven to each “topic”) divided further by several “texts,” as well as an interactive reading notepad, editable presentations, videos, maps, core concepts, and a glossary. The “Celebrate Freedom” section, which includes documents such as the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, could have been considerably strengthened, and rendered more accurate, had it included the voices of various groups who celebrated freedom by working for a full and inclusive American citizenship.

The individual “texts,” which consist of five to nine slides and each take a couple of minutes to read, are the meat of this textbook. Unfortunately, for the historian, this fragmented approach hinders rather than advances the reader’s understanding of history. Students can—and are probably encouraged to—read the texts in any order they choose. And by organizing information in tight “silos,” the authors fail to show that history is in fact a story, with interweaving themes, and not pieces of discrete information to be committed to memory. And so Topic 5, The Great Depression, Lesson 2, text 2 (“Rural America Struggles with Poverty”), mentions the plight of farmers in the Dust Bowl, the Midwest, and California, but says nothing at all about the collapse of the sharecropping system in the Deep South, a major development during the 1930s. To find information on sharecroppers one must click on text 3, “Hard Times Hit Most Americans.” Again, this organization strikes me as piecemeal as best; it does not allow readers to understand the way that various themes connect with each other to form a coherent whole. Instead, the reader is presented with small, incomplete pieces of history standing alone.

In line with the TEKS standards, this particular textbook includes overtly ideological material that distorts the true story about this nation’s past. Rather than let students evaluate the evidence and formulate their own opinions, the text offers subjective judgments that seem to foreclose all debate. In a so-called interactive chart called “Reagan’s Leadership,” we learn that the president throughout his tenure demonstrated exemplary communication skills and problem solving, as well as courage, decisiveness, dependability and integrity.

Driven by ideological bias, questionable statements and assumptions abound in this text. It is hard to justify the claim that “The minimum wage remains one of the New Deal’s most controversial legacies.” Certainly people today debate the wisdom of raising the minimum wage, but the Aid to Dependent Children program (“welfare”) was much more contentious, to the extent that it—but not the minimum wage—was abolished in subsequent legislation. The section “Opposition to the New Deal” focuses only on FDR’s court-packing plan and his conservative critics, telling the student nothing about the vibrant Left composed of a variety of groups that believed the New Deal did not go far enough in eliminating the structural weaknesses and inequities in the American economy.

Moreover, throughout the text the authors seem determined to shield impressionable students from some of the unpleasant facts of our history. Thus Governor George Wallace’s attempt to block school integration, and his persistent glorification of white supremacy, is reduced to the statement that he represented “Southern voters who were unsettled by the cultural and social changes in the country,” making it sound as if he was appealing to those who did not like the Beatles’ music or their haircuts. The text also makes blatant insinuations that cannot be supported by the facts. Thus, the ferment of the 1960s, when women, blacks, and gays claimed their right to full American citizenship, is characterized as a time when young people “took a step away from the worldview of their parents,” a worldview that, we learn, “valued loyalty and authority and respected the military and veterans.” The authors also claim in the late 1960s, “Against a background of anti-war demonstrations, political assassinations kept the nation on edge,” implying (wrongly) that the assassins of King, Robert Kennedy, and Malcom X were motivated by some sort of anti-Vietnam War stance.

However, it is the relentless glorification of the free enterprise system that will probably cause the most confusion among students. The authors claim that the U. S. has close to a “pure,” market economy (Topic 1, Lesson 1, Economics Core Concepts), one that contrasts with a socialist “mixed economy.” Considering the skepticism with which the authors discuss governmental programs of any kind—they are invariably portrayed as misguided, inefficient, too costly, or damaging to individual freedoms—the student might reasonably expect to see an extended discussion of a market guided by an invisible hand of supply and demand, unfettered by the “meddling” of the government. Instead, the text is replete with examples of the way that government initiatives promoted the interests of business in material ways. Land subsidies and tax breaks gave a boost to private railroad companies. Tariffs protected American businesses from foreign competition. Laws governing corporations protected reckless and willfully negligent companies from the suits of consumers. And government programs also served to shape businesses in progressive ways—by enforcing health and safety regulations in the workplace, and passing clean air and water legislation. The relation between free enterprise and laissez faire remains unclear throughout.

We do our students a disservice when we scrub history clean of unpleasant truths, and when we present an inaccurate view of the past that promotes a simple-minded, ideologically driven point of view. Our young people are not so naïve; they look around and see a complex, highly partisan American political system and a dangerous world. Unless we enable them to understand the historical roots of the here and now—and those roots are admittedly tangled and messy—we cannot prepare them to be informed, engaged citizens of the United States. And college faculty will see a generation of students ill-prepared for the rigors of the history classroom, students who have never been taught how to think historically, or to think for themselves.

Textbooks adopted by the SBOE in November could be in classrooms for up to a decade. Scholars who reviewed the textbooks for the TFN Education Fund also identified serious problems with bias and inaccurate history. The textbooks are available for review online. Don’t forget to sign the petition calling for the State Board of Education to adopt textbooks that offer an honest, accurate portrayal of history.

Posted in social studies adoption (2014), TFNEF | 12 Comments

Live-Blogging the Texas Social Studies Textbooks Public Hearing

You can watch today’s public hearing at the State Board of Education live online here.

3:50 – The board hearing just ended. Board members will discuss the textbooks tomorrow (Wednesday). We’ll be here.

3:47 – Cargill and other board members keep arguing that nothing can be done about the flawed curriculum standards adopted in 2010. So in their view, the flawed textbooks get a free pass because the flawed standards they are based on are already on the books. Huh?

3:43 – Patty Quinzi from the Texas chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, compliments TFN for asking respected scholars to review the proposed textbooks. We appreciate that. It’s too bad state board members didn’t ensure that more than a tiny handful of university scholars served on the official state review teams.

3:38 – Emile Lester, a professor of political science at the University of Mary Washington who reviewed proposed government textbooks for the TFN Education Fund, is up. As he does in his report for us, Lester expresses concerns about how textbooks exaggerate religious influences — especially Moses — on the American founding and the Constitution. No one challenges his points.

3:17 – Zach Kopplin, a science advocate and member of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, offers even more criticism of textbooks that would teach students that Moses influenced our nation’s constitutional structure. He also knocks the climate change denialism in the textbooks.

3:00 – Charles Jackson, a research scientist at the University of Texas at Austin, criticizes inaccurate textbook coverage casting doubt on the overwhelming scientific consensus that climate change is a serious and growing threat.

2:55 – Saenz (with support from board members like Mercer) insists that TFN wants textbook to ignore the opinions of folks who oppose separation of church and state. No, we simply want textbooks to tell students the truth: that separation of church and state is a foundational, constitutional principle recognized by our nation’s founders and the U.S. Supreme Court. Some of the textbooks, as written, simply don’t do so.

2:45 – Board member Mercer declares that publishers have a responsibility to the state board, not to anyone else — including, apparently, citizens, scholars and organizations with concerns after reviewing the new textbooks. Now we have a running conversation between Mercer and Saenz about how terrible it is for TFN to have asked scholars to weigh in on the adoption process.

2:39 – Saenz’s argument in short: TFN is wrong because we didn’t have enough votes in 2010 to keep the board from vandalizing the curriculum standards and inserting historically inaccurate requirements in those standards.

2:31 – Jonathan Saenz, the attorney lobbyist who heads up the far-right group Texas Values, is up to speak. Saenz decides to spend his two minutes attacking TFN and our scholars’ reviews of the textbooks. Says he doesn’t want to see publishers pressured into rewriting textbooks to reduce the importance of Christianity in American history. We’re wondering who he’s talking about. In fact, TFN has not asked publishers to do anything of the kind. We’ll just say it plainly: Jonathan Saenz has trouble telling the truth.

2:28 – James Caneiro, a Texas State University student, adds his voice to those criticizing Pearson’s government textbook for its troubling treatment of affirmative action.

2:19 – More confusion from board members about just what the rules are for the textbook review process. Fortunately, board member Tom Maynard cuts through the bureaucratic mumbo jumbo and makes it clear that folks testifying today should be assured that their concerns will be heard and considered by the board and publishers. But we want board members to insist that they know what changes publishers are making before voting on whether to adopt the textbooks in November.

1:51 – Kathleen Wellman, a professor of history at SMU in Dallas, is up. She volunteered to serve as an official state reviewer, but she was one of the more than dozen scholars who were not appointed to the state panels. Wellman takes aim at the requirements that Moses and the Judeo-Christian thought influenced the American founding and constitutional and legal system. She flatly rejects these requirements as “ahistorical” and calls the textbook passages about them overt factual errors: “The most problematic is Moses, who shows up everywhere [in the textbooks] doing everything.” She suggests that the publishers tried to conform to the flawed requirements without really knowing how to do so. Board member David Bradley asks whether Wellman is affiliated with and compensated by TFN. Her (entirely accurate) answer is no to both. Bradley’s continuing petty attempts to suggest that scholars are influenced by TFN rather than having formed their own professional opinions in their many years of research, writing and teaching are not surprising.

1:33 – Testimony is resuming after a lunch break.

12:36 – TFN President Kathy Miller is up to testify. She notes that more than a dozen scholars at Texas colleges and universities did not get appointed to the textbook review panels. Why? And now she’s cut off by board Chairwoman Barbara Cargill, saying that testimony should focus only on the textbooks, not the flawed process for adopting them.

12:19 – Testifier criticizes the inaccurate textbook passages about the influence of Moses on the American legal system and constitutional structure of government.

12:16 – Once again, state board members seem confused by their own review process and how it is conducted (through Texas Education Agency staff). Let’s be clear here: the state’s official review process is deeply flawed and simply can’t be trusted. It includes few scholars (and many review panels have none), and they met in person to review the social studies textbooks for just a week. Our scholars worked for three months to review the textbooks.

12:10 – Ron Wetherington, a professor of anthropology at SMU in Dallas, is up. He echoes concerns voiced earlier by Chris Rose, who testified this morning, about the use of archaic and potentially offensive language identifying racial categories in one of the textbooks. Rose reviewed a number of world history textbooks for the TFN Education Fund.

12:00 p.m. – Another testifier is upset about the replacement of AD and BC with CE and BCE. And she thinks the social studies textbooks portray evolution as a fact. Human beings didn’t evolve from a bug, she says.

1:40 – David Brockman, a Christian theologian who teaches religious studies at Southern Methodist University in Dallas and Brite Divinity School in Fort Worth and reviewed the textbooks for the TFN Education Fund, is up to speak. He’s concerned about a lack of balance in the textbooks in the coverage of world religions, particularly Islam and Christianity. The example he offers in the two minutes allotted to his testimony: of the textbooks portray Islam as a particularly violent religion that spread only by violence, which is inaccurate. The role that force and violence sometimes played in the spread of Christianity is ignored, on the other hand. He also tries to correct the record on what jihad really means. Board member David Bradley suggests TFN — which hired Brockman to conduct his reviews — is an “ideological organization.” He claims TFN has filed two court briefs calling for the removing the Pledge of Allegiance from classrooms. Simply not true.

11:14 – Another speaker, Dr. Amy Jo Baker, insists that textbook aren’t telling the truth about Islam (jihad! Sharia law! Muslim Brotherhood! Islamic terrorism!) and American exceptionalism. This will almost certainly be a recurring theme throughout the day. “Communism, Nazism and Islamic terrorism is diametrically opposed” to what makes America exceptional, she says. She’s also critical of textbooks using CE and BCE instead of AD and BC for historical dates. She calls the change “politically correct” and biased. Board member Mavis Knight notes (accurately) that CE and BCE are typically used in academia. Baker explains that this is an issue of being “historically accurate” or “politically correct” and “leftist.” Those who want to use CE and BCE want to hide “the significant role Christianity has played in the history of the world.”

11:08 – A testifier notes a textbook discussion in one of the textbooks (McGraw-Hill geography) includes factually inaccurate discussions of Sikhism, including the religion’s origins. How could the state review teams miss that? Maybe because so few content experts were appointed to serve on them. So much for the wonderful review process Cargill and her colleagues brag about.

11:06 – Cargill argues that state law requires the public school curriculum materials to promote the free enterprise system. Yes, it does. But it doesn’t require those materials to lie to students.

11:04 – Board member Mercer misleadingly argues that curriculum writers “crossed out” discussions of free enterprise in early drafts of the curriculum standards. No, the fact is that curriculum writers wanted to call our economic system capitalism. Mercer is rewriting history.

10:55 – Dr. Jacqueline Jones, chair of the University of Texas History Department, is speaking now. She’s focused on the Pearson American history textbooks. She’s particularly concerned with the way the texts discuss the free enterprise system. The conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute has criticized what it calls the uncritical celebration of the free enterprise system in the state’s curriculum standards (failing to include, for example, sufficient discussion of the role government has played in our economic system and the economic development of the United States). Jones sees that problem reflected in the Pearson textbooks as well. College students are encouraged to understand that America’s history is “a complicated story,” not a simplistic one, Jones explains. High school students should be prepared for that. Jones notes that the Pearson textbook follows the state curriculum standards very closely on this topic, resulting in an ideologically biased discussion.

10:51 – Frank Mayo, head of a group (him and an email account, we think) called Texans for Superior Education, is up. During the science textbook last year, Mayo was an evolution critic. Lately, Mayo has been promoting the argument that AP U.S. History courses have been taken over by Common Core and the great world conspiracy to do… something, we’re not entirely sure. We’re not sure what he’s trying to say this morning. State board members seem confused as well.

10:48 – State board members themselves seem confused about the process for reviewing and adopting textbooks — the process members like Barbara Cargill have bragged about in the past.

10:40 – Board member Ken Mercer, R-San Antonio, just finished promoting the fiction that state curriculum writers four years ago wanted to keep study of the Holocaust out of social studies classrooms. The man is shameless.

10:15 a.m. – We’ll be here today reporting on the State Board of Education’s public hearing on the proposed social studies textbooks. Two of the board’s far-right members, David Bradley and Barbara Cargill (board chair), have already warned testifiers that they won’t tolerate testimony criticizing the deeply flawed curriculum standards adopted by the board in 2010. They want testifier to discuss just the content in the textbooks — despite the fact that the textbook content is directly tied to the flawed standards themselves. How convenient.

Posted in social studies adoption (2014), TFNEF | 7 Comments

Proposed Texas Textbooks Get the Facts Wrong on Climate Change, Promote Denialism

When it comes to Texas textbook adoptions, attacks on science seem to be almost an annual affair now. So with the State Board of Education considering new social studies textbooks for Texas public schools this fall, we asked the National Center for Science Education to check what those texts say about climate change. The news is troubling. One textbook goes so far as to equate arguments from a polluter-funded political advocacy group with real facts from an international science organization that won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007. Check out (below) our joint press release with NCSE.

Then click here to sign our petition and send a message to textbook publishers: take climate change denialism out of textbooks. Here’s the press release we just sent out:

An examination of how proposed social studies textbooks for Texas public schools address climate change reveals distortions and bias that misrepresent the broad scientific consensus on the phenomenon.

Climate education specialists at the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) examined the proposed textbooks, which publishers submitted for consideration by the State Board of Education (SBOE) in April. NCSE identified a number of errors as well as an exercise that absurdly equates a political advocacy group with a leading international science organization.

“The scientific debate over whether climate change is happening and who is responsible has been over for years, and the science textbooks Texas adopted last year make that clear,” explained Dr. Minda Berbeco, a programs and policy director at NCSE. “Climate change will be a key issue that future citizens of Texas will need to understand and confront, and they deserve social studies textbooks that reinforce good science and prepare them for the challenges ahead.”

NCSE’s analysis is available here.

The distortions and bias in the proposed social studies textbook are troubling, said Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund.

“In too many cases we’re seeing publishers shade and even distort facts to avoid angering politicians who vote on whether their textbooks get approved,” Miller said. “Texas kids deserve textbooks that are based on sound scholarship, not political biases.”

NCSE’s examination of the proposed textbooks noted a number of problematic passages dealing with the science of climate change. Among the problems:

• McGraw-Hill’s Grade 6 textbook for world cultures and geography equates factually inaccurate arguments from the Heartland Institute, a group funded by Big Tobacco and polluters to attack inconvenient scientific evidence, with information from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). IPCC is a highly regarded international science organization that won a Nobel Peace Prize in 2007.

• A Pearson elementary school textbook tells students: “Scientists disagree about what is causing climate change.” In fact, the vast majority – 97 percent – of actively publishing climatologists and climate science papers agree that humans bear the main responsibility.

• WorldView Software’s high school economics textbook includes an inaccurate and confusing section that misleadingly links tropical deforestation to the ozone hole.

These distortions of science raise concerns like those expressed in last year’s science textbook adoption, when more than 50 scientific and educational societies signed a letter to the Texas SBOE stating: “climate change should not be undermined in textbooks, whether by minimizing, misrepresenting, or misleadingly singling [it] out as controversial or in need of greater scrutiny than other topics are given.” That statement is available here.

NCSE and the TFN Education Fund are calling on publishers to revise the problematic passages to ensure that political bias doesn’t undermine the education of Texas students. On Tuesday the SBOE will hold its first public hearing on the new textbooks. The board will vote in November.

Last week the TFN Education Fund released a series of reports from scholars who have detailed other serious concerns about the proposed textbooks. An executive summary and those reports are available here.

Don’t forget to sign our petition and send a message to textbook publishers: take climate change denialism out of textbooks.

Posted in climate change, social studies adoption (2014), TFNEF | 3 Comments