What a Paine That Might Have Been…

This month’s Texas State Board of Education meeting featured many examples of how poorly informed some board members really are. Over a two-day period, the board picked apart a proposed draft of new social studies curriculum standards that teachers, scholars and other community members had spent a year researching, discussing and debating. Often the amendments offered by board members seemed based on a rather distorted (and that’s being charitable) understanding of facts and history. We talked to a number of teachers in the audience. They were appalled.

Pat Hardy, a Republican board member from Fort Worth and a former award-winning social studies teacher, practically begged her colleagues to stop and think. In one particularly revealing discussion, Ms. Hardy saved fellow board member Barbara Cargill from doing something the Republican from The Woodlands near Houston would likely have come to regret.

As you know, Ms. Cargill and other members of the board’s far-right faction want the new social studies standards to emphasize patriotism and Christianity. So at one point during the debate over those standards, it wasn’t surprising to see Ms. Cargill propose adding Thomas Paine to the Grade 5 standards.

Ms. Hardy asked if she was really, really sure she wanted to add Paine. Ms. Cargill appeared confused and noted that Paine was a patriot who had written “Common Sense,” published in 1776, in which he had argued for American independence from Great Britain.

Ms. Hardy tried again, asking if she knew anything else about Paine, suggesting that Paine might not be so ideal a historical figure as her colleague might think. Ms. Cargill had no answer and finally dropped her suggestion, noting that Paine was already in the standards for another grade anyway.

So we’ll take a moment to note that in his three-part book, The Age of Reason, Paine, who was a deist, launched into a harsh attack against organized religion. He wasn’t particularly fond of Christianity, something that might have given Ms. Cargill pause.

Paine wrote:

“The opinions I have advanced . . . are the effect of the most clear and long-established conviction that the Bible and the Testament are impositions upon the world, that the fall of man, the account of Jesus Christ being the Son of God, and of his dying to appease the wrath of God, and of salvation, by that strange means, are all fabulous inventions, dishonorable to the wisdom and power of the Almighty; that the only true religion is Deism, by which I then meant, and mean now, the belief of one God, and an imitation of his moral character, or the practice of what are called moral virtues – and that it was upon this only (so far as religion is concerned) that I rested all my hopes of happiness hereafter. So say I now – and so help me God.”

And Paine seemed particularly disapproving of the mixing of government and religion:

“All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian, or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.”

Perhaps Ms. Cargill should thank her Fort Worth colleague for raising a caution sign.

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11 Comments

  1. Charles
    Posted January 27, 2010 at 8:36 pm | Permalink

    J. Ryan said: “Here is the bottom line. Whether it be the far-right or far-left, you need to stop trying to change history to fit YOUR needs and beliefs. History is just that, it’s the way things really happened. Liberals have been rewritting text books for years to fit their agenda. Our children don’t even know true events now. Texas Freedom Network is trying to take things out of textbooks that does not suit them. Stop lying to us and our children!!!!”

    Okay. I date back to 1952. There were liberals back then. Give me three examples of how liberals rewrote textbooks to fit their agenda between 1952 and 1980—and what should the liberal historians have done instead.

    I double, double, double, double, triple-dog dare you. Anyone see “A Christmas Story”?

  2. ireadsome
    Posted January 26, 2010 at 7:57 pm | Permalink

    J Ryan: history is never how it really happened, it’s always some interpretion. And so it is always changing. It is a shame that Barbara Cargill doesn’t know what she’s talking about and that Pat Hardy has given us the impression she, too, is now trying to squelch access to ideas and opportunities for free thinking. I hope Hardy was just showing Cargill to be the uninformed individual she is and not shielding students from someone whose thinking happens to be different from her own.

  3. J Ryan
    Posted January 26, 2010 at 6:52 pm | Permalink

    Here is the bottom line. Whether it be the far-right or far-left, you need to stop trying to change history to fit YOUR needs and beliefs. History is just that, it’s the way things really happened. Liberals have been rewritting text books for years to fit their agenda. Our children don’t even know true events now. Texas Freedom Network is trying to take things out of textbooks that does not suit them. Stop lying to us and our children!!!!

  4. Bill Rubink
    Posted January 26, 2010 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

    It is too bad that our SBOE members are apparently not very well educated and seem reluctant to seek out those who are knowledgeable in seeking standards for learning. It is very much like the rest of American politics where lawyers (and an occasional dentist) rather than scholars are the deciders.

  5. td3k
    Posted January 26, 2010 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

    Thomas Paine is a person who is too little remembered and discussed in history classes, primarily because of his anti establishment views on religion. I for one would love for Paine to receive much more attention in the classrooms across America. His sensible writings and clear reasoning still resounds today on important issues that society is still grappling over. The Age of Reason is without question the best treatise I’ve ever read regarding the establishment of religion and it’s a book everyone should read.

  6. Yossarian
    Posted January 23, 2010 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

    On the other hand, Paine was a big supporter of using military force in the fight for independence. And accordingly, he didn’t have very nice things to say about the Quakers.

    I would be nice to think that someone like Paine, who was a multi-faceted, modern thinker, could be accepted all around as evidence of an active mind that caused significant things to occur. SBOE is too worried about the significance of “significant things that occur.” The funny thing is, when politicizing history, you have to really study to know what it is your deleting or emphasizing–as this post points out.

  7. Cytocop
    Posted January 23, 2010 at 1:13 am | Permalink

    Only a guaranteed minimum income at the level of slavery would be acceptable to the Tea Party party. (Er, is it the Tea Party party?)

  8. Charles
    Posted January 22, 2010 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

    That would be Facetious Jackson. Nice guy.

  9. Yankee
    Posted January 22, 2010 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    Perhaps Ms. Cargill should thank her Fort Worth colleague for raising a caution sign…

    So are you saying the children should not be aware of The Age of Reason?

    • Posted January 22, 2010 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

      No. We were being facetious.

  10. Charles
    Posted January 22, 2010 at 12:33 am | Permalink

    He was also a professional rebel. Far right types tend to not like rebels who buck the system. Please read the Wikipedia quote below”

    “Paine greatly influenced the French Revolution. He wrote the Rights of Man (1791), a guide to Enlightenment ideas. Despite not speaking French, he was elected to the French National Convention in 1792. The Girondists regarded him as an ally, so, the Montagnards, especially Robespierre, regarded him as an enemy. In December of 1793, he was arrested and imprisoned in Paris, then released in 1794. He became notorious because of The Age of Reason (1793–94), his book advocating deism, promoting reason and freethinking, and arguing against institutionalized religion and Christian doctrines.[3] He also wrote the pamphlet Agrarian Justice (1795), discussing the origins of property, and introduced the concept of a guaranteed minimum income.

    Paine remained in France during the early Napoleonic era, but condemned Napoleon’s dictatorship, calling him “the completest charlatan that ever existed”.[5] In 1802, at President Jefferson’s invitation, he returned to America where he died in 1809. Only six people attended his funeral as he had been ostracized for his criticisms and ridicule of Christianity.[6]”

    A “guaranteed minimum income.” I wonder how that would play at a Tea Party rally?

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