Gail Lowe: Putting Politics Over Education

Gail Lowe, chair of the Texas State Board of Education, is making the rounds promoting the state’s new social studies curriculum standards. And she’s making clear the political agenda she and other far-right board members are promoting in those standards:

“Our country was founded on religious principles … and our students will know that. . . . I think the [Founding Fathers] fully intended that our government would not separate church and state.”

We’re curious. At what point while editing your weekly newspaper, Ms. Lowe, did you decide you know more about the Constitution than the United States Supreme Court or know more about the intentions of the Founders than scholars who have spent their careers researching our nation’s history?

As reported in the same article from the University of North Texas students newspaper, Lowe also addressed the board’s treatment of Thomas Jefferson in the social studies standards:

“We never proposed taking Jefferson out of the curriculum. We just didn’t want to add him to world history… [but] we conceded in the end.”

Well, that’s true. Lowe and other board members wanted to remove Jefferson, who championed separation of church and state as essential to religious freedom, from a world history standard requiring students to study important Enlightenment thinkers who influenced political revolutions after 1750. They relented in the end, but only after eliminating that reference to the Enlightenment and adding theologians Thomas Aquinas and John Calvin to the list of thinkers students should study. Now this particular requirement in the standards is essentially meaningless.

This also caught our eye:

“Nancy Nelson, chairwoman of the department of teacher education and administration [at the University of North Texas], said the curriculum changes have faced a lot of scrutiny.

“It depends on where you stand politically and religiously,” Nelson said.

That’s precisely the problem. The state’s public school curriculum should be based on facts and sound scholarship, not the political and religious agendas of state board politicians or anyone else.

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13 Comments

  1. James_Breck
    Posted September 23, 2010 at 9:40 pm | Permalink

    Perhaps “intent” isn’t relevant – establishing a religion for the new republic wasn’t a contentious issue, none of the Founders had any desire or inclination to create anything other than a secular federal government. And why would they? They’d fought a war to win independence from a nation with an official religion.

    I will never accept the social conservatives a legitimate political entity. In my book they’re traitors, one and all, working to erode the foundation of the system of government that has served our nation so well. Somebody once said “religion is a good thing for good people and a bad thing for bad people.” Cynthia Dumbar, Don McLeroy, Gail Lowe, David Barton et. al. – they are, quite simply, bad people and bad Americans.

  2. Posted September 23, 2010 at 7:18 pm | Permalink

    The concept of “intent” implies that there was a unified set of concepts, principles, values, etc when, in the case of the Consttitutional Convention the output was the result of compromise between widely differing concepts. Included were issues regarding big state vs small, state vs federal powers, allocation of military power, and a host of others.

    When one speaks of “the intent of the Founders” it would be more accurate to describe the compromises affected and the opposing positions.

  3. James_Breck
    Posted September 23, 2010 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

    Discussions of the Constitution often involve trying to decipher the “intent” of the Founding Fathers. James Madison’s notes are the most comprehensive record of what actually was discussed at the Constitutional Convention. (Robert Yates from New York actually took more detailed notes than Madison but he got mad and left early.) At any rate I’ve read Madison’s notes in their entirety twice and neither time did I come across a discussion of what role religion would play in the new federal government. That’s because it was a non-issue, it simply wasn’t a consideration. In fact the only reference Madison made in his notes to religion at all was the day Ben Franklin requested a session be opened with a prayer.

    Of course when the Constitution was finished the delegates went home to their respective states to sell it to the public. And the public demanded a Bill of Rights, which has religious freedom, and by extent freedom from religion, front and center.

    In 1790 (or was it 1791?) the US House of Representatives took up the issue of slavery, the one and only time that topic was addressed by Congress in the first 20 years of the republic. That session also produced one instance of religious discussion when a Georgia representative whose name escapes me defended slavery by pointing out that slavery exists in the bible. The Georgia gentleman was soundly jeered by the assembly.

    And yet there is a fraud named David Barton who is out there pimping a DVD he concocted called “The Biblical

  4. Posted September 23, 2010 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

    From Wikipedia:

    Lambert (2003) has examined the religious affiliations and beliefs of the Founders.

    Some of the 1787 delegates had no affiliation. The others were Protestants except for three Roman Catholics: C. Carroll, D. Carroll, and Fitzsimons. Among the Protestant delegates to the Constitutional Convention, 28 were Church of England (Episcopalian, after the Revolutionary War was won), eight were Presbyterians, seven were Congregationalists, two were Lutherans, two were Dutch Reformed, and two were Methodists, the total number being 49.

    Some of the more prominent Founding Fathers were anti-clerical or vocal about their opposition to organized religion, such as Thomas Jefferson[12][13] (who created the “Jefferson Bible”), and Benjamin Franklin[14]. However, other notable founders, such as Patrick Henry, were strong proponents of traditional religion. Several of the Founding Fathers considered themselves to be deists or held beliefs very similar to those of deists.[15

  5. Cytocop CT(ASCP)
    Posted September 23, 2010 at 5:42 am | Permalink

    I think both Charles and der Brat are onto something. England has a state religion (Church of England), and its churches are practically empty. Maybe we could take that as a cue as to how to handle this.

    I like Charles’ suggestion too. The UMC is pretty liberal and tolerant, not known for intrusive proselytizing activities to non-Christians. Also the UMC is connected with a good reputable medical center here in San Antonio.

    Doc Bill, I’m not so sure you’re correct either. I think the majority of the Founding Fathers would have preferred Unitarianism. George Washington was Episcopalian, yes, but only nominally so. Most of them were Unitarians or would best have fit in under the UUA umbrella.

  6. der Brat
    Posted September 22, 2010 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

    It might be that the best way to end the scourge of religious domination of society is to make a state religion. In Norway and some other countries there is a state religion, and so the vast majority of people feel free not to attend any church or to believe in magical beings.

  7. WOW
    Posted September 22, 2010 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

    Look folks, you should know by now that you can’t argue with stupid! People believe what they want to believe in all aspects of life. I have friends who pound a bottle of red wine a night becuase “red wine is healthy for you!” The more the healthier! What I am saying is that Gail Lowe is going to believe what she wants to believe because it fits her morals and world view. Nothing anyone can do to change that view. All we can do is work to vote out the expremeists and get educated reasonable board members to counteract her nuttiness. Remember, fear of what happens after we die influences an aweful lot of lives in this world…especially in America and even more so in Texas.

  8. James_Breck
    Posted September 22, 2010 at 7:41 am | Permalink

    Ms. Lowe is either A) ignorant B) misinformed or C) a lying sack of manure. I suppose “B” is a possibility since she’s been exposed to the dung produced by the diseased brain of David Barton but I’m inclined to think “C” is the correct answer. However on the off chance the correct answer is “A” then she’s much more qualified for board of directors at her local fortune teller establishment – think Rapture – than she is for the Texas school board.

    Thomas Jefferson thought the single biggest achievement of the Constitution was separation of church and state – or keeping the government free of the religion business if you prefer. And Jefferson, Madison and Hamilton, the Founding Fathers who contributed most to shaping our nation, were all students of John Locke. To think they were proponents of government being infested with religion is simply absurd.

  9. Doc Bill
    Posted September 21, 2010 at 11:30 pm | Permalink

    Not so fast, Charles. It’s obvious to me that the Founding Fathers would have wanted the United States Official Church to be a quality church, namely the Episcopal Church. Episcopalians are generous to a fault, you know, and I’m sure they would find a role for the United Methodist congregations in the Big Tent, perhaps in charge of landscaping and lawn care. It’s honorable work.

  10. Charles
    Posted September 21, 2010 at 9:22 pm | Permalink

    Dear Gail,

    You said: “I think the [Founding Fathers] fully intended that our government would not separate church and state.”

    Great!!! I move that we make the United Methodist Church the official state church of the United States. Official state churches are supported by tax dollars in most countries, whether you subscribe to the beliefs of that church or not. So Gail, if you do not believe in infant baptism, then that’s just tough darts for you I guess. Gimme your money. Now!!! And by the way, Methodists have always been strong on church attendance. From now on, you will be attending a United Methodist Church in your area while we board up your local church.

  11. Bryan
    Posted September 21, 2010 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

    How many times will we have to tell Ms. Lowe…the separation of “church” and state is not in the Consititution. It’s the separation of “religion” and state.

    /snark off

  12. Posted September 21, 2010 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

    I know we have a serious problem with history teaching when the Chair of the SBOE has trouble separating 1607 when Jamestown was founded by a London stock company, and the Pilgrims got blown off course, ran out of beer, and decided to set up their own form of religious discrimination in Plymouth in 1620 from the gentlemen who either signed the declaration of Independence in 1776 and/or the Constitution in 1787.

    There is at least a hundred fifty years between these two sets of evens.

    Of the seventyfour delegates, most were natives to the Colonies, nine were born elsewhere: Four in Ireland, two from England, two from Scotland, and one from the West Indies.

    Religiously, twenty eight were Church of England (Angllican/Episcopal), 8 Presbyterians, 7 Congregationalists, 2 Lutherans, 2 Dutch Reformed, and two Methodists. Some were anti-clerical, and three were Catholics.

    We know that many of the colonies had established religions on independence of which most were allowed to elapse, be repealed or rendered unconstitutional later on. The notion that religious freedom was an original objective of the colonists depending on which colonists and which religion. For the most, the early colonists were in favor of practicing their own form of religious discrimination against others of conflicting beliefs. Witches and all.

  13. Posted September 21, 2010 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

    Wow, one of the reasons the founding fathers left England was because they did not want a national religion…How convenient that she forget that! Heck, even the clergy at the time did not want a national religion, because they did not want to be told how to run their church! No one wants to be told what to think…why can she not back off???

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