Still not sure where the Texas State Board of Education is going with the social studies curriculum standards? Then listening to a radio discussion with board member Don McLeroy from last week might help.
McLeroy, R-College Station, spoke on Southern California public radio station KPCC last Monday about the social studies debate in Texas. (Click here for the archived audio clip.) Following are some excerpts from that program.
McLeroy spoke about the biblical principles he sees at work in America’s founding and focused on the Declaration of Independence. And it was clear that he hasn’t given up his obsession with attacking evolutionary science:
“The way I would look at it is the fact that the principles which our country is founded are easily seen in the Declaration of Independence. In the beginning, second paragraph, it says, ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,’ (that) they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.’ As you look at those principles that are involved there, they state there is truth, there’s God, and that we’re creatures. Now, they very carefully avoided biblical language. I’m not saying that they were trying to make this a biblical nation or any thing like that, but the principles on which it was founded were biblical. . . . (T)he secularists say there is no truth, there is no God, and that we have just evolved. That’s not what’s in the declaration, in the founding document of our country.”
When McLeroy got around to addressing the nation’s governing framework, the Constitution, he offered a rather odd description of the document’s intellectual origins. He also has a contradictory view of America’s Founders — they wanted a secular nation, but they founded the nation on biblical principles:
“In the Constitution we have a separation of powers. The different branches of government, that came from the Enlightenment philosophers. But where did these guys get the idea? They got the idea from a view of man that is a biblical view of man. So when I talk about it founded on biblical principles, I’m not saying that they were establishing a Christian state. They wanted to establish a secular state. But that secular state is founded off of, uh, biblical principles.”
McLeroy defended dropping Thomas Jefferson from a world history standard requiring students to study the influence of Enlightenment thinkers on political revolutions from 1750 to the present. Fellow board member Cynthia Dunbar, R-Richmond, offered the motion to delete Jefferson and has suggested that he was not “germane” to the original standard. McLeroy provides a similarly half-baked excuse:
“(T)he standard was talking about other Enlightenment philosophers and people that had a foundation on the revolutions, and so that’s why [Jefferson was dropped]. Jefferson was like another generation of people writing, so that standard he was taken out of didn’t fit as well because he, you know, came hundreds of years or so later than the other philosophers or more of the people mentioned in that standard. That’s why he got stricken from that.”
Jefferson lived “hundreds of years” after others listed in the original standard? Actually, no. Jefferson lived from 1743 to 1826. Three of the five other men listed in the original standard died during Jefferson’s lifetime, and two died well under a century before Jefferson’s birth: Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), John Locke (1632-1704), Charles de Montesquieu (1689-1755), Voltaire (1694-1778) and Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778).
McLeroy also noted for listeners that Jefferson remains in standards for other social studies courses, but that point simply hides the real issue. Why doesn’t he want world history students to learn that Jefferson, who argued that a “wall of separation between church and state” was essential to freedom, was one of the Enlightenment thinkers who has inspired people struggling for freedom around the world for more than two centuries?
McLeroy also addressed the state board’s debate over science standards last year:
“(O)ur science standards have no ‘intelligent design,’ no creationism in them. . . . (I)f there were you would have heard it. You would have seen litigation, I would have imagined. So what our standards do is . . . scientifically question some of the weaknesses to evolution, but they do not insert any type of creationism, any type of ‘intelligent design.’ In fact, I think that it’d be good for people to look to see what our standards do question, and really the way I see it our new science standards are going to, they restore scientific integrity to our classroom.”
That’s a terribly disingenuous argument. Sure, the board did not insert the words “intelligent design” and “creationism” in the science standards. But it did include in the standards core arguments that “intelligent design”/creationism supporters make against evolution — in particular, that a study of the fossil record and natural selection (or, as McLeroy has said, “unguided natural processes”) would call evolution into question. In fact, McLeroy specifically made the argument that some organisms and organic structures are too complex to have evolved over time. Both arguments are straight out of the “intelligent design” catechism, and scientists have repeatedly shown that they are simply nonsense and unsupported by scientific evidence.
This much should be clear to most folks by now: McLeroy and his far-right partners on the board are having a hard time making a reasonable, coherent explanation for why they vandalized a year’s worth of work by curriculum teams made up of teachers, scholars and other community members. We see at least two reasons for that.
First, there is no reasonable explanation for wrecking the hard work of the curriculum teams and smearing their members — as far-right board members have done over the past year — as anti-Christian leftists. Second, the coherent — and true — explanation is that the board’s far-right faction is mostly interested in turning social studies classes into a venue for promoting their own ideological agendas. But they know they can’t say that.