Maybe Texas State Board of Education member Ken Mercer, R-San Antonio, should work on controlling his temper. When you’re mad, as most of us probably heard from our mamas growing up, you often say things that, well, aren’t always completely accurate.
In an e-mail from his re-election campaign today, Mercer charges that the “major print media” is lying about the board’s revision of social studies curriculum standards.
And then Mercer defends the board by … shading the truth.
In particular, Mercer charges that state and national news media are lying when they say that the board removed Thomas Jefferson, one of America’s Founders, from the curriculum standards for social studies classrooms. He points to a letter from board chair Gail Lowe, R-Lampasas, that he says corrects the alleged lie. But Mercer misleads his readers:
“She clearly outlined proof that the new social studies framework did not remove Thomas Jefferson from any place in the current standards.”
But that’s not really the issue, is it, Mr. Mercer? As Lowe noted in her letter, Jefferson remains in parts of the social studies curriculum — but she was deliberately obscuring the real point. The board voted in March to remove Jefferson from a key standard in the high school world history course. The original standard — written by a team of educators and academic experts last year — required students to study the impact of Enlightenment ideas from a variety of important thinkers, including Jefferson, on political revolutions form 1750 to the present. Board member Cynthia Dunbar, R-Richmond, persuaded her colleagues not only to delete Jefferson from that standard. She also got the board to change the thrust of the standard altogether, removing the reference to “Enlightenment ideas.” The new standard replaces Jefferson, who argued that a “wall of separation between church and state” is essential to liberty, with theologians Thomas Aquinas and John Calvin as well as William Blackstone.
This isn’t in dispute. You can see the revised world history standards for yourself here — and the relevant standard is (20)(C) on page 23.
Dunbar, Lowe and other board members have offered a variety of lame excuses for removing Jefferson. Among their rationales has been that Jefferson wasn’t “germane” to a standard on Enlightenment thinkers — a claim that one prominent American historian points out is absurd. In truth, Jefferson was a major Enlightenment thinker, and his ideas have inspired many people in their struggles for freedom around the world. What people want to know is: why do religious-right state board members — who reject the notion of church-state separation — not want students to learn about Jefferson’s influence in world history?
Maybe Mercer has decided that simply shading the truth about what the board did is better than trying to explain it. Even worse, he falls back on a despicable political attack:
“Was it not Adolph Hitler of Germany’s National Socialist Party who instructed his media to just keep repeating a lie until it became truth?”
Clearly, the man has no shame. So here’s an important question: should someone this angry and this reckless with the facts be making decisions about what nearly 5 million students learn in their public school classrooms?
Of course not. Real experts — credentialed and respected academics, classroom teachers and education specialists — should be guiding this process, not politicians with personal agendas.
We hope Texas lawmakers are watching and listening.