Evangelicals rewrite Texan curriculum

The Sydney Morning Herald/May 19, 2010

Houston: In a coup likely to shift what millions of American children learn at school, a clutch of Christian evangelicals and social conservatives who have grasped control of the Texas Board of Education are expected to force through a new state curriculum this week.

The board is to vote on a purge of alleged liberal bias in Texas school books in favour of what board member Cynthia Dunbar says really matters: a belief in America as a nation chosen by God as a beacon to the world.

"We are fighting for our children's education and our nation's future," Ms Dunbar said. "In Texas we have certain statutory obligations to promote patriotism and to promote the free enterprise system."

"There seems to have been a move away from a patriotic ideology. There seems to be a denial that this was a nation founded under God. We had to go back and make some corrections."

Those corrections prompted a blizzard of accusations of rewriting history and indoctrinating children by promoting right-wing views on religion, economics and guns while diminishing the science of evolution, the civil rights movement and the horrors of slavery.

Several changes include sidelining Thomas Jefferson, who favoured separation of church and state, while introducing a new focus on the "significant contributions" of pro-slavery Confederate leaders during the civil war. Study of Sir Isaac Newton is dropped in favour of examining scientific advances through military technology.

The education board has dropped references to the slave trade in favour of calling it the "Atlantic triangular trade", and recasts the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as driven by Islamic fundamentalism.

"There is a battle for the soul of education," Mavis Knight, a liberal member of the Texas education board, said. "They're trying to indoctrinate with American exceptionalism, the Christian founding of this country, the free-enterprise system."

The curriculum has alarmed liberals across the country in part because Texas buys millions of textbooks every year, giving it sway over what publishers print. By some estimates, all but a handful of American states rely on textbooks written to meet the Texas curriculum. California is considering a bill that would bar them from being used in the state's schools.

Underpinning the changes is a particular view of religion.

Ms Dunbar was elected to the state education board on the back of a campaign in which she argued to allow the teaching of creationism - euphemistically known as intelligent design - in science classes.

Two years ago, she published a book, One Nation under God, in which she argued that the United States was ultimately governed by the scriptures.

"The only accurate method of ascertaining the intent of the founding fathers at the time of our government's inception comes from a biblical world view," she wrote.

"We as a nation were intended by God to be a light set on a hill to serve as a beacon of hope and Christian charity to a lost and dying world."

The blizzard of amendments has produced the odd farce. Some figures have been sidelined because they are deemed to be socialist or un-American.

One of them is a children's author, Bill Martin, who wrote a popular tale, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, what Do You See? Martin was cut from the curriculum when he was confused with an author with a similar name who wrote a different book, Ethical Marxism.

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