Tuesday, March 16, 2010

If I Were On the Texas SBOE

By now, you are likely well aware of the brouhaha triggered by the Texas State Board of Education's proposed standards for the teaching of history and social studies to Texas schoolchildren. Everyone has weighed in on the subject. Today, The Dallas Morning News' Jacquielynn Floyd calls the SBOE a "whacked-out troop of underqualified ideologues ... [who] make us look like a bunch o' goobers in the eyes of the whole nation." Speaking of whacked-out ideologues, conservative talk radio host Mark Davis, in the guise of the "Textbook Ref", tells us how he personally would referee the disputes.

So, at risk of belaboring a point, after the jump I weigh in on how I would have behaved if I were on the SBOE.

The Religion of the Founders: Schoolchildren should know about the Puritans and the First Great Awakening and the Age of Enlightenment and the Second Great Awakening. They should know how to put historical events in the context of their times -- why, for example, witch burning happened during the Puritan reign in 1600s Salem and why the Bill of Rights was produced, not by the Puritans or during either of the great religious revivals but instead during the Age of Reason in between. Schoolchildren should learn what Deism is and why the Declaration of Independence's reference to "Nature's God" wasn't referring to Jesus. You can leave Christmas in the list of holidays to study, but make sure students learn how the Puritans celebrated Christmas (hint: in the 17th century war on Christmas, those Founding Fathers, the Puritans, were on the side of the suppressors).

The Constitution: Schoolchildren should be well versed in the Constitution. All of it, not just the Second and Tenth Amendments, not just the First and Fourteenth Amendments. They should learn about the prohibition against an establishment of religion and why Thomas Jefferson approvingly called this a "wall of separation between church and state." They should learn about the Commerce clause and the Due Process clause and how these have been interpreted to give Congress great powers. They should learn about the concepts of a "living" Constitution versus "strict constructionism" and how the incompatibility of these two has energized the political tug of war in much of America's history.

National leaders: Schoolchildren should learn about FDR and Reagan, Martin Luther King Jr. and Jerry Falwell, the NRA and the ACLU. Oh, and Thomas Jefferson, too. At a White House dinner honoring Nobel Prize winners, President Kennedy said, "I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone." If I'm told there isn't enough room in the curriculum for all the names people want taught in American history, Jefferson's would be the third last cut from my list (just before Lincoln and Washington go).

Pop culture: The Texas SBOE couldn't stand the thought of schoolchildren learning about hip hop, probably because they don't like the music and certainly because they don't like the lyrics. Well, neither do I, but teaching anything about pop culture or musical styles and leaving out hip hop would be as blind as teaching about US Presidents and leaving out Ronald Reagan. Love him or hate him, he's a force shaping American history. And hip hop has been a force in American music for a generation. But make sure the students also learn about classical, gospel, jazz, blues, country and rock music as well. Teach them the rich cultural heritage of America and let them decide for themselves what to listen to for the rest of their lives.

Multiculturalism: See Pop Culture. Same principal.

Evolution and Intelligent Design: This was last year's debate, but it never seems to go away. Teach evolution in science class. Teach creationism in comparative religion class. Teach the controversy in social studies class.

So there you have it. The Textbook Commissioner has overruled the Textbook Ref. I too am available for curriculum design consulting at any time.

In the end, it doesn't matter what I would do if I were on the SBOE. I'm not. What does matter is what George Clayton, my likely next representative on the SBOE, will do. He's avoided saying anything substantive since winning the GOP nomination March 2. If anyone knows of a Clayton sighting, please let us know.

To read my previous commentary on the SBOE, look here.

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