Race and Social Studies in Texas

by

It has been increasingly difficult to ignore the racially charged statements that keep coming from far-right members of the State Board of Education and their appointees to panels helping revise social studies curriculum standards for Texas public schools. In fact, their statements are becoming increasingly incendiary, as if they are hoping to provoke a bitter and divisive backlash.

These right-wing critics have repeatedly complained about “multiculturalism” and what they see as an “overrepresentation of minorities” in the social studies standards. Some have even demanded that historical figures who did so much to advance the cause of civil rights for the poor and minorities — people like Cesar Chavez and Thurgood Marshallshould be removed from the standards because they are “poor role models” or their accomplishments were supposedly inferior.

Taken on their own, these arguments are alarming enough. But one of the people calling for the removal of Chavez and for de-emphasizing the contributions of minorities in American history, David Barton, gave speeches before white supremacist groups in the early 1990s. Barton later claimed that he didn’t know the groups were “part of a Nazi movement.” Well, maybe once. But twice? Really? In any case, does he not realize how that history — innocent or not — colors his arguments now? How his remarks are likely to inflame passions?

The latest troubling example of dragging race into the debate over the curriculum standards comes in an e-mail newsletter last week from one of the curriculum writing team members, Peter Morrison.

Morrison, from the southeast Texas town of Lumberton, was appointed to a writing team by state board member David Bradley, R-BeaumontBuna. (Mr. Bradley drew criticism in 2008 for attacking his re-election opponent as supposedly wanting to promote an “Islamic curriculum” in Texas public schools.)

Under the subject line “Liberals Rewriting History,” Morrison wrote:

“Race based lobbies and multicultural social engineers would like to rewrite textbooks by ignoring or downplaying the importance of some historical figures because they’re the wrong race, while vastly overstating the importance of others simply because they were members of a different race.”

Morrison goes on to write that Chavez was only a “minor labor organizer.” He also falsely suggests that famous American presidents and important white historical figures from the nation’s founding are being excluded from the standards to make room for people like Hector P. Garcia, Irma Rangel and Dolores Huerta:

“Most Texans wouldn’t recognize any of these names. That’s because none of them did anything that was comparably noteworthy; they’re included only because of their race.”

Let’s leave aside for a moment that Morrison’s ignorance of the accomplishments of those individuals says plenty about him and his education. In fact, if many Texans really don’t recognize those names, then that makes a strong case for their inclusion in the curriculum.

People like Chavez, Marshall, Garcia, Rangel and Huerta are included in the standards in the context of their significant contributions in modern American and Texas history. After all, our history didn’t end with the signing of the Declaration of Independence or the Battle of San Jacinto. And our history isn’t — or shouldn’t be — just a story of the contributions and accomplishments of white people.

The attacks on Chavez have been particularly dishonest. The standards list Chavez — along with Benjamin Franklin – as an example of a significant individual “who modeled active participation in the democratic process.” That comes in a section intended to teach students about the importance of citizenship. In fact, Chavez is revered by many — and not just by Latinos — for having dedicated his life to promoting democratic participation by people long shut out of the halls of power. He is an excellent modern example for a standard on citizenship. The fact that many of the students in our state’s increasingly diverse classrooms will identify with him and his background is a bonus. Moreover, Morrison’s suggestion that Chavez was simply a “minor labor organizer” is absurd, belied by the numerous schools, parks, libraries and other public spaces named after him across the country.

As if that weren’t bad enough, Morrison sneeringly portrays anyone with opposing views as somehow un-American, anti-Christian and alien to “average people”:

“Making sure our children learn the actual history of this country isn’t nearly as important to them as it is to average people like you and me. As a result, the Christian heritage of America and Texas is downplayed or ignored altogether, and many important figures are being left out of our history books in favor of others who have actually had little impact on our history, but have the right skin color.”

Without a trace of irony, Morrison even suggests his opponents are racists:

“I believe there is something fundamentally racist with the mindset that our students cannot appreciate the historical contributions of other great Americans just because they are of a different ethnicity.”

Oh, do tell, Mr. Morrison.

For the record, we do not believe Barton, Morrison and their fellow travelers on the state board and curriculum teams are racists. But we do believe they are trolling in treacherous and stormy waters. The question is how far they will sail this ship before it ends up on the rocks.

15 Responses to “Race and Social Studies in Texas”

  1. Pineyman Says:

    TFN –

    I need to thank you for this series of articles, but not for what you may think. I do not know who a lot of these people were, but unlike the people you named I googled them, discovered what they did and I am making sure my kids know who they were and what their historical contributions were. My wife and I homeschool – secularly – and I look to this site and several others to point out little nuggets that I/we can use to educate our kids to be more understanding of everyone’s contributions to the betterment of man.

    Thanks again.

  2. TFN Says:

    That was really kind of you to say. We’re glad you found the post useful. Sounds like your kids have fantastic teachers.

  3. Charles Says:

    TFN said: “For the record, we do not believe Barton, Morrison and their fellow travelers on the state board and curriculum teams are racists. But we do believe they are trolling in treacherous and stormy waters. The question is how far they will sail this ship before it ends up on the rocks.”

    Do tell. At this point, I think that the onus is now on the conservative social studies experts and the conservatives on the SBOE to PROVE to the Texas media and citizens of texas that they are not racists and that their decisions about the curriculum are not race-based.

  4. Charles Says:

    Oh—and God don’t make no junk.

  5. PHarvey Says:

    TFN, of course the far Right SBOE members are racists. That’s obvious.

    There is no other reason to embrace David Barton and Peter Marshall, whose political agendas and beliefs are well known, as experts.

    TFN should call their hand each and every time they make a statement with obvious racially biased undertones.

    Don’t let them get away with anything.

  6. Samuel Says:

    “For the record, we do not believe Barton, Morrison and their fellow travelers on the state board and curriculum teams are racists. But we do believe they are trolling in treacherous and stormy waters. The question is how far they will sail this ship before it ends up on the rocks.”

    Everyone is racist…whether they admit to it or not. There is no such thing as a human being who does not submit to prejudice of some kind…race being just one of the most prevalent. That being said…these people are racist…they are also smarmy and useless.

  7. Charles Says:

    Just a brief theological note about racism and minorties who have done nothing wrong save just existing:

    “But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment (Matthew 5:21).

    The social studies curriculum experts need to understand this.

  8. Ben Says:

    I’ve never needed to consult a religious text to come to the conclusion that racism is wrong.

  9. Charles Says:

    Hi Ben. I agree. However, I had to give the conservative SBOE folks and their supporters a point of reference that they might understand, but I am not holding my breath.

  10. Charles Says:

    Mr. Morrison said:

    “Making sure our children learn the actual history of this country isn’t nearly as important to them as it is to average people like you and me. As a result, the Christian heritage of America and Texas is downplayed or ignored altogether, and many important figures are being left out of our history books in favor of others who have actually had little impact on our history, but have the right skin color.”

    Who are these IMPORTANT figures in the religious history of Texas? Let me guess: Paige Patterson, W.A. Criswell, Paul Pressler, Chuck Swindoll, Tim LaHaye, Kenneth Copeland, and John Haggie. Give me a break!!!

    I would like to hear about the real religious history of Texas starting with the various Native American religious beliefs, move on to Roman Catholicism and the establishment of Spanish missions, examine the impact of eastern European migrants on Texas religion, transition to protestant denominations in general, look at the Jewish folks, and finish by looking at the recent roles of lesser known religious organizations.

    I look at it this way. Texas had about 10,000 years of religious prehistory before Alonso Álvarez de Pineda showed up in 1519. Since that time, it has had 490 more years of religious history. At a minimum, that adds up to 10,490 years of religion in Texas. Paige Patterson, W.A. Criswell, Paul Pressler, Chuck Swindoll, Tim LaHaye, Kenneth Copeland, and John Haggie make up about 50 years of Texas religious history. That is a microscopic 0.48 percent of the religious history of Texas.

    Moreover, that paltry 50 years is really within the realm of current events because it is so recent. When I was in high school, our senior history teacher stopped teaching for the year at the “current events” threshold, which at that time was around 1945.

    Finally, let’s look at W.A. Criswell. You guys know that I have always been a well-read and informed person. Texas baptist fundies hail Criswell as a thundering giant of the faith who cast a long shadow across American religion—a veritable demigod—or some such crap. Fact is, he was one of the first American pastors, right out of the starting gate, to hail abortion as one of the greatest things since sliced white bread—until it became politically correct to be opposed to it. I can give you a reference for that if you like. Frankly, I had never even heard of this guy for the first 35 years of my life as a Methodist. I only ran across him after I started attending a Southern Baptist church back in the 1980s—and not even there until we got a new pastor who just happened to be a recent young understudy of his at First Baptist Church in Dallas. Then he died, and became a little more well-known outside of Texas through what seemed to me to be overdone eulogistical extollation (whatever that is). I have heard that some regard him as the father of the so-called Southern Baptist “conservative resurgence.” If I had to arrive at the Gates of Heaven with that accomplishment written on my sandwich board, I had just as soon it say “Kick Me in the Butt.”

  11. Ben Says:

    Charles, I read about Criswell not long ago–probably after you mentioned his name on another post. I remember how odd it was that he favored abortion. I like to surf a newspaper archive and I found this old article from the San Antonio Express-News, November 6, 1969. Very interesting. I’m cutting and pasting the old text, so it will have some typos…

    !Dr. W. A. Criswell, president
    of the Southern Baptist Convention,
    Wednesday called for liberalization
    of abortion laws in the
    United States.
    ;”I am in favor of liberalizing
    our abortion laws, because I’m a
    human being,” Dr. Criswell told
    newsmen in a press conference
    during the Baptist General Convention
    of Texas meeting here
    through Thursday;
    Abortion will be debated by
    the convention Thursday morning.
    The Dallas clergyman who is
    a messenger (delegate) to the
    San Antonio meeting said that
    present U.S. abortion laws are
    “very, very uncompromising.”
    He said much of the U.S. feeling
    on abortion resulted from
    “theological doctrine that comes
    largely out of the C a t h o 1 i c
    Church.” The Roman Catholic
    Church is strongly against the
    idea of abortion.
    Dr. Criswell said, “The wife
    s h o u l d have the privilege of
    aborting a conception.”
    Asked his position on the belief
    that abortion is murder, Dr.
    Criswell said “The child comes
    into being when God breathes
    into his nostrils the breath of
    life.”
    Dr. Criswell also voiced his
    approval of the S u n d a y Blue
    Laws.

  12. Bryan Says:

    Everyone on the SBOE, including Morrison, Barton, and Marshall, should be forced to sit down and watch the new program that aired not long ago on the National Geographic Channel called: The Genographic Project. The race issue would go out the window. …Opps, the YEC’s on the SBOE would imediatly dismiss the entire show the minute the narrator goes over 6000 years. Darn….Thought it was a good idea.

  13. Ben Says:

    Here’s another one, from the Tucson Daily Citizen, June 1, 1968…

    Baptists OK
    Abortion Law
    Liberalization
    BOSTON (UPI)-Delegales to
    the American Baptist Convention
    (ABC) Friday adopted a
    resolution calling for a liberalization
    of abortion laws. They
    also agreed to n demands
    presented by a newly formed
    coalition of Negro ministers.
    Stating that abortion “should
    be a matter of responsible,
    personal decision,” the resolution
    called for legislation
    providing that ‘termination of a
    pregnancy prior to the end of
    the 12th week be at the request
    of the individuals concerned and
    be regarded as an elective
    medical procedure governed by
    the laws regulating medical
    practice and licensure.”
    The resolution, adopted by a
    sizeable majority of the more
    than 6,000 delegates representing
    some 1.5 million Baptists,
    also urged legislation to provide
    that after the 12th week an
    abortion could be performed by
    a doctor in a hospital when
    there is danger to the physical
    or mental health of the mother;
    where there is evidence that the
    fetus has a physical or mental
    defect, and in pregnancies
    resulting from rape or incest.
    In acting on the 12 demands
    drawn up Wednesday by the
    American Baptist Black Churchmen,
    the delegates agreed that
    the election of a black president
    of the ABC was “highly
    appropriate.” H o w e v e r , no
    timetable was set for the
    election of a Negro to the post.
    Among the other 11 demands
    from the black churchmen were
    increased hiring of Negroes for
    administrative jobs, creation of
    an executive secretary of urban
    ministries and veto power for
    the group over all ABC
    appointments.
    Th£ ABC delegates today
    were to hear the Rev. Ralph D.
    Abernathy, head of the Southern
    Christian Leadership Conference
    (SCLC), who was taking
    time off from the Poor People’s
    March in Washington to appear
    at the church group’s 61st
    annual meeting.

  14. Charles Says:

    Thanks Ben. Because he is one of the conservative SBOE “social studies curriculum experts,” I thought you folks might enjoy reading some of the writings of Peter Marshall. There is a long list at the following URL. You will see just what kind of far right-wing political extremist this guy really is. Just click and read:

    http://www.petermarshallministries.com/commentary.cfm

    One of my favorite statements was the following excerpt from a long and critical tome he wrote about the recent death of Senator Edward M. Kennedy. Here is an excerpt:

    “Another extremely important factor in Teddy being returned to the Senate for term after term was the unholy alliance between the left-wing Harvard intellectual crowd, the labor unions, the homosexual activists, the educational elite, and the media. All of these people tend to define politics as the government doing things for the common man, or the “little people,” to put it in patrician Beacon Hill terminology. And Teddy Kennedy was the icon of this mindset in the Northeast, and certainly in the U.S. Senate. He didn’t just subscribe to this way of thinking – he embodied it. He totally believed it.

    To him, it was the essence of compassion. Government existed to help people, to care for them, to provide for them. It was all part of being a Catholic Christian. Government-run healthcare was just like the diocese’s soup kitchen – the care was just ladled out by different folks. But they were both doing God’s work, as far as Teddy was concerned. In this view, in the same way in which no American should ever go to bed hungry, every American should have “decent, quality health care as a fundamental right and not just a privilege,” in his words. To me, that’s outright socialism, and as wrong as it can be, but that’s the way he thought.”

    Personally, in my humble opinion, for a Christian to say something like this, I think is utterly disgusting. It runs counter to the powerful thread of Christian love and compassion that runs throughout the New Testament. The fact of the matter is that our modern churches (including my own) do not have the authority, resources, and infrastructure necessary to help the poor, sick, and disenfranchised in a consistent, meaningful, and effective way. The problem is light years beyond our resource capacity. This applies to the conservative churches and their ideological leaders too. They sit back on their sorry butts and develop this man-made, corrupt, and quite recent Christian Neo-Fundamentalist theological principle saying that the Bible does not “…authorize any entity except the church to enagage in charity.” Then what do they say? They turn around and say to the federal government, “Only we are allowed to do it. It is only a moral and right thing if we alone do it. So, if the federal government will just give us the infrastructure, money, authority, and power to do it, then we will do it.” TRANSLATION: If you will just let our church become a co-dependent whore of the federal government, we will assure that the average poor or sick person does not become the co-dependent whore of the federal government. Instead, we will make them a co-dependent whore of ours.

    Peter Marshall says: [Quoting Kennedy] “…decent, quality health care as a fundamental right and not just a privilege,” in his words. To me, that’s outright socialism, and as wrong as it can be, but that’s the way he thought.” Sure Peter. I get it. It appears to me that you think that the only people who should have access to health care are the ones wealthy enough to pay for it. Funny. I never read anything like that in the gospels. I wonder what Jesus would say about that? In my opinion, Jesus might say something like: “You can take your Reformed Theology (with its transparent film of Princeton-born dominionism and theonomy) and shove it as far up your behind as it will go. Better still. Let me do it!!!!” Yes Peter, I may be going to Hell in your opinion, but if so, this United Methodist sure as Hell plans to meet you there. At this point, this is the best “…speaking the truth in love…” and rebuking that I can do for you.

  15. Charles Says:

    Peter Marshall said about Edward M. Kennedy:

    “To him, it was the essence of compassion. Government existed to help people, to care for them, to provide for them. It was all part of being a Catholic Christian. Government-run healthcare was just like the diocese’s soup kitchen – the care was just ladled out by different folks.”

    Maybe you would like to explain that contemptible swipe at the Roman Catholic Church to the 3,574,728 voting Catholics in Texas. Perhas you would like to explain that to the SBOE members who have to stand for election and the Governor of Texas.

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