One of the most frustrating things during the long debate over proposed new social studies curriculum standards for Texas public schools was watching far-right pressure groups get away with distorting the truth about what was really happening. Among the worst distortions: pressure groups like Plano-based Liberty Institute, the Texas affiliate of Focus on the Family, repeatedly charged that curriculum writers were trying to make leftist, anti-American and anti-Christian changes to the social studies curriculum.
Right-wing media outlets — especially Fox News — dutifully echoed the absurd claims that “leftist” teachers and scholars on the curriculum teams didn’t want students to learn about patriotic holidays (like Independence Day and Veterans Day), symbols (like the Liberty Bell) and revolutionary heroes (like Nathan Hale). Viewers also heard that curriculum writers wanted to remove astronaut Neil Armstrong and Christmas from the standards. And some groups and State Board of Education members shrieked that kindergartners would learn they were “global citizens” before they learned they were “American citizens.”
So it was gratifying when Texas Freedom Network President Kathy Miller had a chance to correct many of those ridiculous distortions at a forum in Austin last night. Kathy spoke alongside Liberty Institute’s lawyer-lobbyist Jonathan Saenz at the forum, which was hosted by the Jewish Community Association of Austin. Almost right out of the gate, Saenz launched into many of the same charges listed above.
But Kathy was ready.
Kathy pointed out that the first drafts of the elementary standards (K-5) from the curriculum teams in July included three references to Independence Day, four references to Veterans Day and two references to Memorial Day. Moreover, there were many other references to patriotic songs, symbols and heroes throughout the standards. (Kathy didn’t note this last night, but curriculum writers proposed moving Nathan Hale from first grade to fifth grade, explaining that teachers found it difficult for six-year-olds to comprehend the execution of someone for serving his country. Far-right groups suggested that moving Hale out of first grade was unpatriotic. Yes, the “debate” was that absurd.)
What about Neil Armstrong? Actually, the initial removal of the famous astronaut came at the insistence of Peter Marshall, an evangelical minister appointed by far-right state board members to a panel of so-called “experts” (even though Marshall plainly lacked credentials that would qualify him as a social studies expert). Curriculum writers even noted in their first formal draft that they removed Armstrong because the “expert reviewers” had asked them to. But instead of acknowledging that Marshall was responsible for Armstrong’s removal, Saenz and Liberty Institute have spent months blaming teachers on the curriculum teams instead.
What about Christmas? Liberty Institute also continues to suggest that anti-Christian zealots on the curriculum teams wanted to take Christmas out of the standards. But the group has ignored the fact that curriculum writers simply chose Easter — a major Christian holiday — instead of Christmas in a standard listing one example of a holiday or observance for each of the world’s major religions. Moreover, that standard appeared in the Grade 6 world geography and cultures course — a class where one would expect students to learn about major religions around the world.
Global citizenship? That didn’t come up late night, but it’s been a frequently distorted issue. The first drafts of the elementary school standards discussed establishing the “foundation for responsible citizenship in a global society.” Those drafts didn’t suggest students were legal citizens of a global body. In fact, the same elementary school standards included requirements that “students explore our state and national heritage by examining the celebration of patriotic holidays and contributions of individuals.” They also taught students about the rights and responsibilities of American citizenship. But paranoid right-wingers demanded that any link between “citizenship” and “global society” be stricken from the standards — as if, we suppose, classroom teachers were commuting to campuses on black helicopters and hoping to indoctrinate their students with “one world government” propaganda.
Ironically, there was a real threat to students’ understanding of citizenship, but it didn’t come from liberals. It was right-wing board members who removed “responsibility for the common good” from a list of characteristics of good citizenship. Why? Because at least one board member, Don McLeroy, thought that sounded too much like communism. (An earlier deletion of “justice” as a characteristic of citizenship appears to have been reversed in May.)
Of course, Saenz said nothing about that last night. He was too busy spinning falsehoods that smear classroom teachers as radical leftists who somehow hate America and Christians.