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.
“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.