Kathy Miller: Politics and Social Studies

Various newspapers have run the following op-ed from Texas Freedom Network President Kathy Miller about the State Board of Education‘s January meeting on new social studies curriuclum standards for Texas public schools. We’re posting her 0p-ed here for TFN Insider readers.

Rewriting History: Politics and Social Studies Standards

During January’s State Board of Education debate over new social studies curriculum standards, sound scholarship once again took a back seat to politics and personal agendas.

At one point, for example, board members voted to delete Dolores Huerta from a standard because the co-founder of United Farm Workers of America is a socialist. The same board members apparently didn’t realize that Helen Keller, who remains in the same standard, was also a staunch socialist. Nor did they seem to know that W.E.B. Du Bois, who helped found the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), had joined the Communist Party the last year of his life. The board had added Du Bois to the standards the day before.

Of course, social studies students should learn about the contributions of all three of these important Americans, regardless of their political beliefs. But board members clearly looked misinformed as, over just two days, they made wholesale revisions to standards that teachers, scholars and other community members had spent nearly a year debating and drafting. And many of the changes were based simply on board members’ personal beliefs or knowledge, however limited that was.

Teachers in the audience watched the board’s votes with growing alarm. They wondered how in the world to teach ill-considered new standards or squeeze a long laundry list of added names into their limited class time. Board member Pat Hardy, R-Fort Worth, herself an award-winning former social studies teacher, begged her board colleagues to stop.

Many of the additions, Hardy explained, were not grade-appropriate or overloaded the standards with unnecessary detail. On occasion she pointedly asked whether board members actually knew much about a person or event they wanted to add. They often did not.

The board had set the stage for this farce by deciding in November to proceed on the standards revision without further guidance from teachers and academic experts. Then they voted to end a public hearing on the standards even though dozens of people, including veterans from the American GI Forum, hadn’t yet spoken.

So with no outside input, board members worked late into the evening to rewrite history according to their own points of view. Of course, this is a terrible way to make education policy. And sure enough, the standards are beginning to look more like a political manifesto than a curriculum document.

For example, a revised high school U.S. history standard implies that Joseph McCarthy’s political smear campaign in the 1950s was somehow justified. Another requires students to learn about Phyllis Schlafly, Moral Majority and other conservative icons – not because of their historical accomplishments, but because of their role in promoting conservative philosophies. There is no similar standard asking students to study individuals or groups that simply promoted liberal philosophies.

One board member succeeded in deleting the concepts of justice and responsibility for the common good from a standard on citizenship. And the board is considering a standard that suggests the civil rights movement brought about “unrealistic expectations of equal outcomes.” That’s a political belief – like many other revisions the board approved at the meeting – not a view backed by scholarship. Even so, some board members want to weaken another standard that has students learn how women and minorities worked to overcome obstacles to equality and civil rights.

Last spring the Texas Legislature refused to rein in the heavily politicized State Board of Education’s authority over curriculum and textbook content. To understand how foolish that failure was, lawmakers need only to have watched what happened at January’s state board meeting.

Kathy Miller is president of the Texas Freedom Network, a nonpartisan organization that supports public education and religious freedom.

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10 Comments

  1. Posted April 12, 2010 at 8:24 pm | Permalink

    As a substitute teacher, I generally do not express religious beliefs in the classroom. When I do talk about religion, which is seldom, I will tell the students facts about the different religions–and only the facts, like facts pertaining to practices and holy days. But that’s it. Like I just said, I don’t express religious beliefs in the classroom and that’s because it’s not my place to do so. I leave religious training to the students’ families, who will practice different faiths, be it Catholicism, Baptism, Seventh-Day Adventism, Islam, Judaism, Methodist, or whatever.

  2. trog69
    Posted February 18, 2010 at 10:19 am | Permalink

    Great job instructing the “para-professional” , everyone. I will now instruct my dog on how to properly flip over toaster waffles to ensure even browning; I will almost assuredly have better results than you lot, though it certainly has nothing to do with my superior teaching skills, as I can’t even get her to stop digging in the trash. My dog, not Ms. Wegner.

    Ms. Wegner couldn’t even bother Googling Kathy Miller in order to determine if Ms. Miller was competent and capable of providing legitimate answers to her ill-informed queries.

    I would suggest that any parents that may have Joanne Wegner assisting in their children’s classroom think about having their kids transferred to a different instructor, and perhaps an inquiry to the admin. at the school/county about whether Ms. Wegner is performing her duties in a secular and fair manner.

    As for St. Joseph, MO., I worked there for almost two years, and my co-workers who also were from other climes agreed that the locals were some very inbred, racist yahoos. I saw only one black man working at the very large construction sites, and very few Latinos, which doesn’t make sense until you learn that the pay scale was extremely generous. Anecdotal evidence indeed, and I can also say that most of the people I met there were helpful and kind, almost to a fault.( including a car mechanic who lowered my bill from the estimate because he was able to bang out the dent in my oil-pan, rather than replace it!). But I’m a non-threatening white man with a pickup truck and short hair.

  3. Charles
    Posted February 17, 2010 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

    And the interesting thing is that Ben’s list could have gone on for another 10-20 pages. These are the things people never think about because the parents JUST ASSUME that the teacher will somehow be an exact carbon copy of them—specific beliefs and all. That’s not true anymore. We have foreigners running around everywhere in great numbers, and a bunch of them (or their children) are likely to be the school teachers of the future. If one teacher gets to teach her particular religion to the kids in a public school classroom, then all teachers will have that right.

    For Christians, it is already a problem in Hawaii. Did you know that Joanne? Christians are a minority group in Hawaii. It is my understanding that the Christians there struggle to shield their chidren from being taught Shintoism, Buddhism, etc. in their public school classrooms. Think about it.

  4. Ben
    Posted February 17, 2010 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

    Charles, you make a good point when you ask Joanne how she would like it if a Hindu school teacher led a prayer to Vishnu in the classroom.

    Joanne, I’ll continue on that thought…but from a different angle, and I’ll make the assumption that you’re a Christian.

    Assuming the teacher is Christian and not Hindu, would you still want the teacher to lead school prayer?

    What if the teacher is one of the Christians who accepts the practice of polygamy?

    What if the teacher is one of the Christians who, instead of seeking medical treatment for a deathly ill child, decides to rely on prayer instead?

    What if the teacher is one of the Christians who likes to carry signs that say, “God hates fags”?

    What if the teacher is one of the Christians who thinks it’s okay to use violence in the name of the Lord, like shooting a doctor in the head in a church foyer?

    What if the teacher is one of the Christians who likes to handle poisonous snakes, and encourages your child to do the same?

    What if the teacher is one of the Christians who insists that the Haiti earthquake and Hurricane Katrina were punishment from God?

    What if the teacher is one of the Christians who thinks it’s okay to deny equal rights to people who aren’t just like them?

    What if the teacher is one of the Christians who thinks Joseph Smith was a happenin’ dude with all kinds of intelligent ideas?

    What if, in all the scenarios above, each of those teachers imparted their values via the prayers they led in the classroom?

    What if, for instance, a teacher led a prayer in which he or she thanked the Lord for using AIDS to kill homosexuals?

    Can you see the problem with organized school prayer yet?

  5. Joe J. Bernal, Ph.D.
    Posted February 17, 2010 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

    If we really want to rein in the social conservatives on the SBOE who are determined to heavily politicize textbook selection and curriculum upgrading then it is imperative that the Board members mind our own Texas experts…the Texas classroom Teachers who daily teach the subjects and who’s recommendations would surely be more scrupulous and equitable. But being that they’re not mindful of our Texas teachers then a simple way to do it is to change the vote from a majority (8 of 15) to a 2/3 vote (10 of 15) regarding adoption of curriculum changes and textbook adoptions. My last and best recommendation is that we stop complaining and vote the rascals out…it is that time of the year!!!!

  6. Coragyps
    Posted February 17, 2010 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

    Charles, I read a piece a few years ago by a former prayer-in-public-school advocate who was an evangelical Christian. He went to a football game in Hawaii where the opening invocation was a Buddhist prayer – most of the home team were of that persuasion. He immediately realized that wanting Christian prayers before the kickoff is no different: it’s the wrong thing for non-adherents.

    Joanne – the kids may need Cthulhu worse…..

  7. medallynch
    Posted February 17, 2010 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    Charles you are a wise and sensible man.

    What you fail to consider is that you are not dealing with wise and sensible people here. The education system was kidnapped by a very large group of evangelical fanatics who wish to keep Christianity above all else over the realm of intellegence years ago.

    These people have always been here in the South and from what it looks like, they will always be here – they insure their survival (mainly) by refusing to educate their spawn.

    One generation just keeps depriving the next of a free-thinking existense and so the story never ends.

    Christianity didn’t survive these last 2000 years because intellegent educated people sat around and discussed the possibility of the bible being anything other than a book – it survived because (in most cases) the bible was the only book these fanatics allowed to have in their house or their school and from what I gather, that’s the way most of these people would like to keep it.

    Free thinking would disrupt what I call the “Southern Mentality” and that would never do – not now – not ever!

  8. Charles
    Posted February 17, 2010 at 12:04 am | Permalink

    Yikes. What is this about? Trolling?

    Hi Joanne. I’m not Kathy Miller, but I have a few thoughts that might be helpful. We unemployed people have a lot of spare time on our hands to provide free advice.

    1) To avoid conflict with the First Amendment to the U.S. constitution, a public school Bible curriculum is supposed to teach the Bible as ancient history and literature only in the public schools, while maintaining neutrality about whether a child should or should not actually believe in the content that is being taught. In other words that you might understand better, it is not legal to teach the Bible in the same way it is done in Sunday school at your church—the purpose there being for the teacher to use the Bible, Sunday school books, songs, and oral teaching to instill a child with faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. It has been illegal to do that in public school classrooms in the United States since 1788, but it was not really firmly enforced until about 1962-1963.

    Texas supposedly has state standards for a neutral Bible curriculum. However, in practice, the local public school systems break the law and teach the Bible just like in Sunday school class. Kathy Miller can give you a nice bound report on that subject.

    The Eagle Forum people have a different approach that was applied in Tennessee. They demanded (and the state authorities caved big-time) that the state was NOT to set a state-level curriculum standards for neutrally teaching the Bible as literature and ancient history in public schools. This was considered to be a great conservative victory in Tennessee because it left each municipal and county school system with the local option to create its own curriculum, one that could more easily “break Federal law on the sneak” by turning the public school Bible classes into Billy Graham Crusades. Thus, the state would have no legal authority of its own to intervene at the local level.

    Either way, it is against Federal law. Litigation will ensue at some point, and the school systems in Texas and Tennessee will lose, costing each system about $1,000,000 in legal fees, court costs, and damages. If you try to get this implemented in your school system, it will likely cost them a fortune, and you will almost certainly be fired fromyour job with the school system if you play a key role in establishing the unconstitutional Bible classes. Check with your attorney.

    2) To put this gently, you are inadequately informed about prayer in our public schools. Prayer to God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, or the Cosmic Muffin is legal in every public school in the United States. It has always been legal, is legal now, and will continue to be legal. It is also legal for a public school child to bring their Bible to school and read it during breaks in the school day. It is also legal for one child in a public school to voluntarily share their faith with another child in school during the school day, as long as it is not done in a disruptive manner, meaning in the same general vein as a girl wearing outrageous and disruptive clothing to school. Read over all of that again carefully.

    Now, the illegal thing is this. The school administrators and teachers (who are goverment employees and legal representatives of the state) are not allowed to direct, organize, or lead the children in prayers, Bible reading, or witnessing at school. There is a good reason for this. How would you like to have a Hindu school teacher leading and directing your children in prayers to the Hindu god Vishnu while they are held captive in a public school classroom? I would not like that one bit and neither would you. Actually, something sort of close to this happened in my daughter’s class at a private pre-school where she actually had a Hindu school teacher.

    3) You said of your children in the St. Joseph school system, “They sure do need the Lord in so many ways.” Great. Fine. You know who their parents are and where they live. Please tell me what is wrong with this. Completely independent from the school system, why not send a Wednesday night mission team from your church over to their houses for a religious chat with the parents and their kids. Be their friends—genuinely. Love them—genuinely. Go shopping with them. Go to the park with them. Invite them to come to church and Sunday school with you. Invite them to Vacation Bible school. Send them daily uplifting prayers or Bible verses from your home computer. Be creative in a world overflowing with opportunities to communicate with people. Why does such communication have to be done in a public school only and nowhere else? Can you tell me that and why?

  9. Science Teacher
    Posted February 16, 2010 at 11:48 pm | Permalink

    I think someone from Missouri may be a bit unclear on the concept…….

  10. M. Joanne Wegner
    Posted February 16, 2010 at 9:39 pm | Permalink

    Kathy…..Do you have any information on the Texas Schools teaching Christianity’s role in U. S. History?
    I read this in “Church Around the World” leaflet insert in our church bulletin, December 2009. There was
    to be “religious neutrality” in the course the Texas law stated. There also was some discussion regarding
    teacher training, state approved materials and curriculum standards.

    I would appreciate any info you can pass on the procedure for getting this implemented, the know-hows. If
    it is working, other states can have the same. Also, would like to get prayer back in the schools, one at a time!
    I am a para professional in St. Joseph, MO school district and how we need some changes made, more ways than
    one. They sure do need the Lord in so many ways.

    Thank you for your time. Joanne Wegner

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