Entry from March 13, 2010

Further to my last post about the Texas textbooks, I find this morning’s New York Times returning to the subject with renewed sneers by the same author, James C. McKinley, Jr., as he announces that the forces of “conservatism” have won their battle to force young Texans to learn (of all things) “the superiority of American capitalism,” from books “questioning the Founding Fathers’ commitment to a purely secular government and presenting Republican political philosophies in a more positive light.” Well, did you ever? Mr McKinley also hints that these same conservative textbook revisers are troglodytic creationists in another life.

In recent years, board members have been locked in an ideological battle between a bloc of conservatives who question Darwin’s theory of evolution and believe the Founding Fathers were guided by Christian principles, and a handful of Democrats and moderate Republicans who have fought to preserve the teaching of Darwinism and the separation of church and state.

That’s in case you were wondering about recent years, of course. Just now, the changes involve no aspersions cast upon Darwinism but “more than 100 amendments to the 120-page curriculum standards affecting history, sociology and economics.” The rest of the tone of the article is unremittingly hostile to these changes, and Mr McKinley pointedly notes that “there were no historians, sociologists or economists consulted at the meetings, though some members of the conservative bloc held themselves out as experts on certain topics.” Also noted, again, is the fact that the prime conservative mover is “a dentist by training,” a disaffected Hispanic member of the commission is quoted as criticizing the new curriculum. None of its advocates is allowed to speak for himself about it except for Mr David Bradley, “a conservative from Beaumont who works in real estate” who says “I reject the notion by the left of a constitutional separation of church and state. . .I have $1,000 for the charity of your choice if you can find it in the Constitution.”

Mr Bradley may work in real estate, but Mr McKinley is unable to fault his reading of the Constitution. Instead, he repeats from the earlier article what he appears to imagine is this telling detail:

They also included a plank to ensure that students learn about “the conservative resurgence of the 1980s and 1990s, including Phyllis Schlafly, the Contract With America, the Heritage Foundation, the Moral Majority and the National Rifle Association.”

If there is any case to be made that these things are not important to an understanding of American history in the 1980s and 1990s, neither Mr McKinley nor anyone he is able to quote can tell us what it is. Call me a conservative, but it sounds to me as if an obvious, and an obviously politically-motivated deficiency in existing textbooks is being remedied with a bit of balance, as is the dentist’s having “pushed through” a

change to the teaching of the civil rights movement to ensure that students study the violent philosophy of the Black Panthers in addition to the nonviolent approach of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He also made sure that textbooks would mention the votes in Congress on civil rights legislation, which Republicans supported. “Republicans need a little credit for that,” he said. “I think it’s going to surprise some students.”

In this context the critic who is quoted as saying, “the social conservatives have perverted accurate history to fulfill their own agenda” must mean that it is somehow inaccurate to mention Black Panthers or Republican votes for civil rights — or that two Nobel prize winners could have anything meaningful to say to student economists.

In economics, the revisions add Milton Friedman and Friedrich von Hayek, two champions of free-market economic theory, among the usual list of economists to be studied, like Adam Smith, Karl Marx and John Maynard Keynes. They also replaced the word “capitalism” throughout their texts with the “free-enterprise system.”

Perhaps Mr McKinley and the dissenters are unaware of the symmetrical ideological tendentiousness of the word “capitalism,” invented by socialists to describe a system they thought oppressive and due for destruction. Perhaps the conservatives are themselves unaware of it except insofar as they recognize that, as one of them puts it, “Let’s face it, capitalism does have a negative connotation.” But this, too, must strike Mr. McKinley and the readers of The New York Times as, if not inaccurate, something that only a conservative would say.

The Texan “conservative” view of sociology, according to him, includes a warning, lest anyone should be tempted by non-conservative sociologists into a belief in social determinism, about “the importance of personal responsibility for life choices.” At the least, you’d think, Mr McKinley ought to note that that has not always been regarded as an identifiably conservative or even political point of view but just what most people happen to believe about the world, regardless of politics. But then I suppose it is also “conservative” and therefore, ipso facto, “inaccurate” to regret that this is no longer the case.


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