By Joshunda Sanders
Published: 8:42 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 10, 2010
When the State Board of Education meets this week to tackle revisions to the social studies curriculum in Texas public schools, some of the most contentious public debate is likely to center on recommendations by two men who want more emphasis on the role of Christianity in how the nation was formed. The ideas submitted by well-known Christian conservatives David Barton and the Rev. Peter Marshall could influence how social studies is taught in Texas for the next decade. The board's final decision on the social studies curriculum is expected in March.
Barton and Marshall were among six reviewers chosen by the board to make suggestions for changing the curriculum. Their key recommendations for revision include more emphasis on documents from early America like the Mayflower Compact of 1620, written by Christian pilgrims who wanted religious freedom, or adding the Bible to sources that influenced the creation of significant documents when America was founded. If their changes are accepted, students who now receive a more generic overview of religious freedom and its importance in the country's founding would be taught that the nation's founders wanted to shape America based on biblical principles.
Those ideas resonate with many Christians, history and religion professors say, but they concern many others. "I'm an evangelical Christian, and I think David Barton and Peter Marshall are completely out to lunch," said John Fea, a history professor at Messiah College in Pennsylvania, a Christian institution. "They are not experts on social studies and history. Neither of them are trained in history. They are preachers who use the past and history as a means of promoting a political agenda in the present."
Each reviewer drafted recommendations and sent them to the Texas Education Agency. The agency then sent those drafts to writing groups composed of teachers and community members who have been revising the curriculum standards; their revised draft of the standards will be presented at the board's meeting this week.
[the above is excerpts – read the whole thing here]
You might think I would be right there on the side of Barton and Marshall, but I’m not – not exactly, at least. I understand why they are doing this. If Texas adopts a textbook standard, it is such a large state that textbook publishers will tend to make their offerings fit the Texas requirements. I also agree that the influence of the Christian faith is often unduly discounted in the formation of our republic.
But my objection is this: why should any board or bureaucrat make a policy about what should be in textbooks? I, of course, know the answer to this question: governments own the schools and, being their schools, they must decide what books to use.
So I ask yet another question: why do we put up with governments owning schools? It is the epitome of socialism, that is, government-owned means of production. Most of us say we don’t like it with other kinds of production. So why do we tolerate it when it comes to schools?
Oh, oh, but children need schooling, don’t they? If it is schooling that produces education, then perhaps. But children need food, and yet few of us advocate that the government should own grocery stores and farms. You can eat quite well from the offerings at most grocery stores, and yet they are not owned by any government.
People – including me – sometimes complain that children tend to pick up trendy, ‘politically correct’, collectivist ideas at schools. Why should it surprise us that socialist institutions tend to promote socialist ideas?
So I do not really want to try to talk the bureaucrats of Texas into using textbooks I like in their schools. I would rather that we work to divest governments of the schooling industry. That would be the ultimate in educational freedom. And then it would be much more reasonable to expect at least some schools to teach children the value of freedom, and the part that the Christian faith played in the history of our political institutions.