Texans are getting a clear view of what happens when politicians, instead of teachers and scholars, make the decisions about what our children learn in their public school classrooms.
The knee-jerk contempt that some members of the Texas State Board of Education have for true religious freedom, the expansion of rights and for general reform in America has been evident throughout much of the debate over proposed new social studies curriculum standards. That contempt was clear again yesterday in board member Don McLeroy’s newly proposed amendments to the standards.
As we noted Friday, McLeroy takes aim at constitutional protections for separation of church and state in his new amendments. But he also seems to want students to learn that the Progressive Era was a negative influence on the country.
One of his amendments changes a standard that has students “evaluate the impact of muckrakers and reform leaders” on American society in the early 20th century. McLeroy instead wants students to “contrast the tone” of those muckrakers and reformers with the “optimism of immigrants” like “Jean Pierre Godet as told in Thomas Kinkade’s The Spirit of America.”
Here is McLeroy’s reasoning:
The words of Godet and immigrants like him were, “I love America for giving so many of us the right to dream a new dream.” Such words were as lost on the muckrakers as they are on many modern historians obsessed by oppression.
Well, Don, perhaps muckrakers focused on the need for change in America at that time because many people were oppressed. Let’s look at the reformers listed in the standard McLeroy wants to revise:
- Upton Sinclair: His 1906 book, The Jungle, exposed the shockingly inhumane and unsanitary working conditions in the U.S. meatpacking industry at the time. Public outrage helped lead Congress to pass the Pure Food and Drug Act and the Meat Inspection Act.
- Susan B. Anthony: She was one of the most prominent leaders of the women’s movement for equal rights. She died 14 years before the 19th Amendment gave women across America the right to vote.
- Ida B. Wells: This African-American journalist documented the horror of lynching and terror campaigns by the Ku Klux Klan and others against black communities in America. She also promoted equal rights for women.
- W.E.B. DuBois: Among America’s most famous African-American civil rights leaders, DuBois fought the systematic disfranchisement of blacks in the South that began in the late 1800s. He later co-founded and served as head of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Remember that it was McLeroy who last September suggested that women and minorities owe thanks to men and “the majority” for gaining equal and civil rights in America. Such an absurd suggestion ignores the decades of struggle and sacrifice (often at the risk of their own freedom and lives) that women and minorities dedicated to winning those rights. It also ignores the reality that some of those rights were not won until our nation’s courts forced “the majority” to protect them.
Then in March, McLeroy proclaimed that “the Progressive Era was not all sweetness and light.” Indeed, few things are absolute: pure good or pure evil. But McLeroy’s disregard for those who have worked to make America better — whether during the Progressive Era or the Civil Rights Era of the 1950s and 1960s — has continued to flash brightly throughout this long debate over the social studies standards.
All of which makes this point ever clearer: teachers and scholars, not politicians promoting their own personal biases and agendas, should be responsible for writing curriculum standards and textbook requirements for public schools.