Saturday, March 13, 2010

Texas Schools Vote To Remove Thomas Jefferson

Recently the Texas Board of Education voted on a 10-5 margin to remove Thomas Jefferson from their school curriculum or at least demote him:
Widely regarded as one of the most important of all the founding fathers of the United States, Thomas Jefferson received a demotion of sorts Friday thanks to the Texas Board of Education.

The board voted to enact new teaching standards for history and social studies that will alter which material gets included in school textbooks. It decided to drop Jefferson from a world history section devoted to great political thinkers.

Critics of the Board's decision aka Texas Freedom Network note that the Board is replacing Jefferson with religious figures:
According to Texas Freedom Network, a group that opposes many of the changes put in place by the Board of Education, the original curriculum asked students to "explain the impact of Enlightenment ideas from John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, Voltaire, Charles de Montesquieu, Jean Jacques Rousseau and Thomas Jefferson on political revolutions from 1750 to the present."

That emphasis did not sit well with board member Cynthia Dunbar, who, during Friday's meeting, explained the rationale for changing it. "The Enlightenment was not the only philosophy on which these revolutions were based," Dunbar said.

The new standard, passed at the meeting in a 10-5 vote, now reads, "Explain the impact of the writings of John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, Voltaire, Charles de Montesquieu, Jean Jacques Rousseau, Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin and Sir William Blackstone."

By dropping mention of revolution, and substituting figures such as Aquinas and Calvin for Jefferson, Texas Freedom Network argues, the board had chosen to embrace religious teachings over those of Jefferson, the man who coined the phrase "separation between church and state."

One wonders if the Fundamentalist anti-Separation of Church and State activist and known Texas Board of Education member David Barton had anything to do with this decision. Barton is known for trying to reinvent American history as being solely the product of "Christian" values. On his site Barton promises to present: "America's forgotten history and heroes with an emphasis on our moral, religious and constitutional heritage." Barton's known historical revisionism has gone as far as calling the Separation of Church and State in America "a myth" much like other Fundamentalists do. He is on record as saying that Thomas Jefferson meant the "wall of separation" concept to be "one directional:"
On January 1, 1802, Jefferson wrote to that group of Danbury Baptists, and in this letter, he assured them—he said the First Amendment has erected a wall of separation between church and state, he said, but that wall is a one-directional wall. It keeps the government from running the church, but it makes sure that Christian principles will always stay in government

Anyone who values Religious Liberty and Separation of Church and State not only as Baptist distinctives but as true American values should be appalled by Barton and the Texas Board of Education's antics---not just for Texas' sake but for the sake of the whole of America as Barton's influence extends beyond Texas:
The battle in Texas may be tougher. The State Board of Education is stacked with a vocal cohort of far-right, fundamentalist activists. Fresh from a bruising battle over what to teach about evolution in science class, the board now has social studies and history right in its crosshairs.

The outcome of the battle may reverberate around the country.

“Texas is the second largest purchaser of school textbooks in the country,” Miller told Church & State. “So to avoid spending money on multiple editions, publishers often write their textbooks to meet Texas curriculum standards and then sell those textbooks in other states.”

Barton is also busy trying to slip his perspective into public schools in other ways. He is active in the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools, a North Carolina group that works to persuade public schools to adopt a fundamentalist-oriented Bible curriculum under the guise of teaching “about” religion. Barton serves on the organization’s advisory board, alongside several other Religious Right figures.

But Barton hasn’t stopped with phony history. He’s increasingly branching out, working to draft churches into right-wing political machines and brazenly asserting that government must be infused with “biblical” principles. Along the way, Barton has made common cause with some extreme elements of the Religious Right.

Barton’s ongoing crusade to recruit clergy into partisan politics is often under the radar. In 2004, the Republican National Committee sent him to evangelical churches around the country in what was described as a “get-out-the-vote” effort.

David Knowles and USA Today also note:

(During the Jefferson voting scandal) the (Texas Board of Education) also voted to strike the word "democratic" from references to the U.S. form of government, replacing it with the term "constitutional republic." Texas textbooks will contain references to "laws of nature and nature's God" in passages that discuss major political ideas.

The board decided to use the words "free enterprise" when describing the U.S. economic system rather than words such as "capitalism," "capitalist" and "free market," which it deemed to have a negative connotation.

Serving 4.7 million students, Texas accounts for a large percentage of the textbook market, and the new standards may influence what is taught in the rest of the country.

Other critics of the Board's decision have written open letters to them and I suggest you do the same if you value America's Religious Freedom.

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