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Our Founders Were NOT Christian Fundamentalists (part 2)

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  • C Hamilton
    How Christian Were the Founders? By Russell Shorto February 14, 2010 http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/14/magazine/14texbooks-t.html?emc=eta1
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 20, 2010
      How Christian Were the Founders?
      By Russell Shorto
      February 14, 2010


      Last month, a week before the Senate seat of the liberal icon Edward M.
      Kennedy fell into Republican hands, his legacy suffered another blow that
      was perhaps just as damaging, if less noticed. It happened during what has
      become an annual spectacle in the culture wars.

      Over two days, more than a hundred people - Christians, Jews, housewives,
      naval officers, professors; people outfitted in everything from business
      suits to military fatigues to turbans to baseball caps - streamed through
      the halls of the William B. Travis Building in Austin, Tex., waiting for a
      chance to stand before the semicircle of 15 high-backed chairs whose
      occupants made up the Texas State Board of Education. Each petitioner had
      three minutes to say his or her piece. <snip>

      Following the appeals from the public, the members of what is the most
      influential state board of education in the country, and one of the most
      politically conservative, submitted their own proposed changes to the new
      social-studies curriculum guidelines, whose adoption was the subject of all
      the attention - guidelines that will affect students around the country,
      from kindergarten to 12th grade, for the next 10 years. Gail Lowe - who
      publishes a twice-a-week newspaper when she is not grappling with divisive
      education issues - is the official chairwoman, but the meeting was dominated
      by another member. Don McLeroy, a small, vigorous man with a shiny pate and
      bristling mustache, proposed amendment after amendment on social issues to
      the document that teams of professional educators had drawn up over 12
      months, in what would have to be described as a single-handed display of
      archconservative political strong-arming. <snip>

      This is how history is made - or rather, how the hue and cry of the present
      and near past gets lodged into the long-term cultural memory or else is
      allowed to quietly fade into an inaudible whisper. Public education has
      always been a battleground between cultural forces; one reason that Texas'
      school-board members find themselves at the very center of the battlefield
      is, not surprisingly, money. The state's $22 billion education fund is among
      the largest educational endowments in the country. Texas uses some of that
      money to buy or distribute a staggering 48 million textbooks annually -
      which rather strongly inclines educational publishers to tailor their
      products to fit the standards dictated by the Lone Star State. California is
      the largest textbook market, but besides being bankrupt, it tends to be so
      specific about what kinds of information its students should learn that few
      other states follow its lead. Texas, on the other hand, was one of the first
      states to adopt statewide curriculum guidelines, back in 1998, and the
      guidelines it came up with (which are referred to as TEKS - pronounced
      "teaks" - for Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) were clear, broad and
      inclusive enough that many other states used them as a model in devising
      their own. And while technology is changing things, textbooks - printed or
      online -are still the backbone of education.

      The cultural roots of the Texas showdown may be said to date to the late
      1980s, when, in the wake of his failed presidential effort, the Rev. Pat
      Robertson founded the Christian Coalition partly on the logic that
      conservative Christians should focus their energies at the grass-roots
      level. One strategy was to put candidates forward for state and local
      school-board elections - Robertson's protégé, Ralph Reed, once said, "I
      would rather have a thousand school-board members than one president and no
      school-board members" - and Texas was a beachhead. Since the election of two
      Christian conservatives in 2006, there are now seven on the Texas state
      board who are quite open about the fact that they vote in concert to advance
      a Christian agenda. "They do vote as a bloc," Pat Hardy, a board member who
      considers herself a conservative Republican but who stands apart from the
      Christian faction, told me. "They work consciously to pull one more vote in
      with them on an issue so they'll have a majority."

      This year's social-studies review has drawn the most attention for the
      battles over what names should be included in the roll call of history. But
      while ignoring Kennedy and upgrading Gingrich are significant moves,
      something more fundamental is on the agenda. The one thing that underlies
      the entire program of the nation's Christian conservative activists is,
      naturally, religion. But it isn't merely the case that their Christian
      orientation shapes their opinions on gay marriage, abortion and government
      spending. More elementally, they hold that the United States was founded by
      devout Christians and according to biblical precepts. This belief provides
      what they consider not only a theological but also, ultimately, a judicial
      grounding to their positions on social questions. When they proclaim that
      the United States is a "Christian nation," they are not referring to the
      percentage of the population that ticks a certain box in a survey or census
      but to the country's roots and the intent of the founders.

      The Christian "truth" about America's founding has long been taught in
      Christian schools, but not beyond. Recently, however - perhaps out of ire at
      what they see as an aggressive, secular, liberal agenda in Washington and
      perhaps also because they sense an opening in the battle, a sudden weakness
      in the lines of the secularists - some activists decided that the time was
      right to try to reshape the history that children in public schools study.
      Succeeding at this would help them toward their ultimate goal of reshaping
      American society. As Cynthia Dunbar, another Christian activist on the Texas
      board, put it, "The philosophy of the classroom in one generation will be
      the philosophy of the government in the next." <snip>

      "This" - the Texas board's moves to bring Jesus into American history - has
      drawn anger in places far removed from the board members' constituencies.
      (Samples of recent blog headlines on the topic: "Don McLeroy Wants Your
      Children to Be Stupid" and "Can We Please Mess With Texas?") The issue of
      Texas' influence is a touchy one in education circles. With some parents and
      educators elsewhere leery of a right-wing fifth column invading their
      schools, people in the multibillion textbook industry try to play down the
      state's sway. "It's not a given that Texas' curriculum translates into other
      states," says Jay Diskey, executive director of the school division for the
      Association of American Publishers, which represents most of the major
      companies. But Tom Barber, who worked as the head of social studies at the
      three biggest textbook publishers before running his own editorial company,
      says, "Texas was and still is the most important and most influential state
      in the country." And James Kracht, a professor at Texas A&M's college of
      education and a longtime player in the state's textbook process, told me
      flatly, "Texas governs 46 or 47 states."

      Every year for the last few years, Texas has put one subject area in its
      TEKS up for revision. Each year has brought a different controversy, and Don
      McLeroy has been at the center of most of them. Last year, in its science
      re-evaluation, the board lunged into the
      evolution/creationism/intelligent-design debate. The conservative Christian
      bloc wanted to require science teachers to cover the "strengths and
      weaknesses" of the theory of evolution, language they used in the past as a
      tool to weaken the rationale for teaching evolution. The battle made
      headlines across the country; ultimately, the seven Christian conservatives
      were unable to pull another vote their way on that specific point, but the
      finished document nonetheless allows inroads to creationism.

      The fallout from that fight cost McLeroy his position as chairman. "It's the
      21st century, and the rest of the known world accepts the teaching of
      evolution as science and creationism as religion, yet we continue to have
      this debate here," Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network, a
      watchdog group, says. "So the eyes of the nation were on this body, and
      people saw how ridiculous they appeared." The State Legislature felt the
      ridicule. "You have a point of view, and you're using this bully pulpit to
      take the rest of the state there," Eliot Shapleigh, a Democratic state
      senator, admonished McLeroy during the hearing that led to his ouster.
      McLeroy remains unbowed and talked cheerfully to me about how, confronted
      with a statement supporting the validity of evolution that was signed by 800
      scientists, he had proudly been able to "stand up to the experts."

      The idea behind standing up to experts is that the scientific establishment
      has been withholding information from the public that would show flaws in
      the theory of evolution and that it is guilty of what McLeroy called an
      "intentional neglect of other scientific possibilities." Similarly, the
      Christian bloc's notion this year to bring Christianity into the coverage of
      American history is not, from their perspective, revisionism but rather an
      uncovering of truths that have been suppressed. "I don't know that what
      we're doing is redefining the role of religion in America," says Gail Lowe,
      who became chairwoman of the board after McLeroy was ousted and who is one
      of the seven conservative Christians. "Many of us recognize that
      Judeo-Christian principles were the basis of our country and that many of
      our founding documents had a basis in Scripture. As we try to promote a
      better understanding of the Constitution, federalism, the separation of the
      branches of government, the basic rights guaranteed in the Bill of Rights, I
      think it will become evident to students that the founders had a religious

      Plenty of people disagree with this characterization of the founders,
      including some who are close to the process in Texas. "I think the evidence
      indicates that the founding fathers did not intend this to be a Christian
      nation," says James Kracht, who served as an expert adviser to the board in
      the textbook-review process. "They definitely believed in some form of
      separation of church and state."

      There is, however, one slightly awkward issue for hard-core secularists who
      would combat what they see as a Christian whitewashing of American history:
      the Christian activists have a certain amount of history on their side.

      Christian activists argue that American-history textbooks basically ignore
      religion - to the point that they distort history outright - and mainline
      religious historians tend to agree with them on this. "In American history,
      religion is all over the place, and wherever it appears, you should tell the
      story and do it appropriately," says Martin Marty, emeritus professor at the
      University of Chicago, past president of the American Academy of Religion
      and the American Society of Church History and perhaps the unofficial dean
      of American religious historians. "The goal should be natural inclusion. You
      couldn't tell the story of the Pilgrims or the Puritans or the Dutch in New
      York without religion." Though conservatives would argue otherwise, James
      Kracht said the absence of religion is not part of a secularist agenda: "I
      don't think religion has been purposely taken out of U.S. history, but I do
      think textbook companies have been cautious in discussing religious beliefs
      and possibly getting in trouble with some groups."

      Some conservatives claim that earlier generations of textbooks were frank in
      promoting America as a Christian nation. It might be more accurate to say
      that textbooks of previous eras portrayed leaders as generally noble, with
      strong personal narratives, undergirded by faith and patriotism. As Frances
      FitzGerald showed in her groundbreaking 1979 book "America Revised," if
      there is one thing to be said about American-history textbooks through the
      ages it is that the narrative of the past is consistently reshaped by
      present-day forces. Maybe the most striking thing about current history
      textbooks is that they have lost a controlling narrative. America is no
      longer portrayed as one thing, one people, but rather a hodgepodge of issues
      and minorities, forces and struggles. If it were possible to cast the
      concerns of the Christian conservatives into secular terms, it might be said
      that they find this lack of a through line and purpose to be disturbing and
      dangerous. Many others do as well, of course. But the Christians have an

      Their answer is rather specific. Merely weaving important religious trends
      and events into the narrative of American history is not what the Christian
      bloc on the Texas board has pushed for in revising its guidelines. Many of
      the points that have been incorporated into the guidelines or that have been
      advanced by board members and their expert advisers slant toward portraying
      America as having a divinely preordained mission. In the guidelines - which
      will be subjected to further amendments in March and then in May -
      eighth-grade history students are asked to "analyze the importance of the
      Mayflower Compact, the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut and the Virginia
      House of Burgesses to the growth of representative government." Such early
      colonial texts have long been included in survey courses, but why focus on
      these in particular? The Fundamental Orders of Connecticut declare that the
      state was founded "to maintain and preserve the liberty and purity of the
      Gospel of our Lord Jesus." The language in the Mayflower Compact - a
      document that McLeroy and several others involved in the Texas process are
      especially fond of - describes the Pilgrims' journey as being "for the Glory
      of God and advancement of the Christian Faith" and thus instills the idea
      that America was founded as a project for the spread of Christianity. In a
      book she wrote two years ago, Cynthia Dunbar, a board member, could not have
      been more explicit about this being the reason for the Mayflower Compact's
      inclusion in textbooks; she quoted the document and then said, "This is
      undeniably our past, and it clearly delineates us as a nation intended to be
      emphatically Christian."

      In the new guidelines, students taking classes in U.S. government are asked
      to identify traditions that informed America's founding, "including
      Judeo-Christian (especially biblical law)," and to "identify the individuals
      whose principles of law and government institutions informed the American
      founding documents," among whom they include Moses. The idea that the Bible
      and Mosaic law provided foundations for American law has taken root in
      Christian teaching about American history. So when Steven K. Green, director
      of the Center for Religion, Law and Democracy at Willamette University in
      Salem, Ore., testified at the board meeting last month in opposition to the
      board's approach to bringing religion into history, warning that the Supreme
      Court has forbidden public schools from "seeking to impress upon students
      the importance of particular religious values through the curriculum," and
      in the process said that the founders "did not draw on Mosaic law, as is
      mentioned in the standards," several of the board members seemed dumbstruck.
      Don McLeroy insisted it was a legitimate claim, since the Enlightenment took
      place in Europe, in a Christian context. Green countered that the
      Enlightenment had in fact developed in opposition to reliance on biblical
      law and said he had done a lengthy study in search of American court cases
      that referenced Mosaic law. "The record is basically bereft," he said.
      Nevertheless, biblical law and Moses remain in the TEKS.

      The process in Texas required that writing teams, made up mostly of
      teachers, do the actual work of revising the curriculum, with the aid of
      experts who were appointed by the board. Two of the six experts the board
      chose are well-known advocates for conservative Christian causes. One of
      them, the Rev. Peter Marshall, says on the Web site of his organization,
      Peter Marshall Ministries, that his work is "dedicated to helping to restore
      America to its Bible-based foundations through preaching, teaching and
      writing on America's Christian heritage and on Christian discipleship and

      "The guidelines in Texas were seriously deficient in bringing out the role
      of the Christian faith in the founding of America," Marshall told me. In a
      document he prepared for the team that was writing the new guidelines, he
      urged that new textbooks mold children's impressions of the founders in
      particular ways: "The Founding Fathers' biblical worldview taught them that
      human beings were by nature self-centered, so they believed that the
      supernatural influence of the Spirit of God was needed to free us from
      ourselves so that we can care for our neighbors."

      Marshall also proposed that children be taught that the separation-of-powers
      notion is "rooted in the Founding Fathers' clear understanding of the
      sinfulness of man," so that it was not safe for one person to exercise
      unlimited power, and that "the discovery, settling and founding of the
      colonies happened because of the biblical worldviews of those involved."
      Marshall recommended that textbooks present America's founding and history
      in terms of motivational stories on themes like the Pilgrims' zeal to bring
      the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the natives.

      One recurring theme during the process of revising the social-studies
      guidelines was the desire of the board to stress the concept of American
      exceptionalism, and the Christian bloc has repeatedly emphasized that
      Christianity should be portrayed as the driving force behind what makes
      America great. Peter Marshall is himself the author of a series of books
      that recount American history with a strong Christian focus and that have
      been staples in Christian schools since the first one was published in 1977.
      (He told me that they have sold more than a million copies.) In these
      history books, he employs a decidedly unhistorical tone in which the guiding
      hand of Providence shapes America's story, starting with the voyage of
      Christopher Columbus. "Columbus's heart belonged to God," he assures his
      readers, and he notes that a particular event in the explorer's life "marked
      the turning point of God's plan to use Columbus to raise the curtain on His
      new Promised Land." <snip>

      In his recommendations to the Texas school board, Barton wrote that students
      should be taught the following principles which, in his reading, derive
      directly from the Declaration of Independence: "1. There is a fixed moral
      law derived from God and nature. 2. There is a Creator. 3. The Creator gives
      to man certain unalienable rights. 4. Government exists primarily to protect
      God-given rights to every individual. 5. Below God-given rights and moral
      laws, government is directed by the consent of the governed."

      A third expert, Daniel L. Dreisbach, a professor of justice, law and society
      at American University who has written extensively on First Amendment
      issues, stressed, in his recommendations to the guideline writers about how
      to frame the revolutionary period for students, that the founders were
      overwhelmingly Christian; that the deistic tendencies of a few - like
      Jefferson - were an anomaly; and that most Americans in the era were not
      just Christians but that "98 percent or more of Americans of European
      descent identified with Protestantism."

      If the fight between the "Christian nation" advocates and mainstream
      thinkers could be focused onto a single element, it would be the "wall of
      separation" phrase. Christian thinkers like to point out that it does not
      appear in the Constitution, nor in any other legal document - letters that
      presidents write to their supporters are not legal decrees. Besides which,
      after the phrase left Jefferson's pen it more or less disappeared for a
      century and a half - until Justice Hugo Black of the Supreme Court dug it
      out of history's dustbin in 1947. It then slowly worked its way into the
      American lexicon and American life, helping to subtly mold the way we think
      about religion in society. To conservative Christians, there is no
      separation of church and state, and there never was. The concept, they say,
      is a modern secular fiction. There is no legal justification, therefore, for
      disallowing crucifixes in government buildings or school prayer.

      David Barton reads the "church and state" letter to mean that Jefferson
      "believed, along with the other founders, that the First Amendment had been
      enacted only to prevent the federal establishment of a national
      denomination." Barton goes on to claim, " 'Separation of church and state'
      currently means almost exactly the opposite of what it originally meant."
      That is to say, the founders were all Christians who conceived of a nation
      of Christians, and the purpose of the First Amendment was merely to ensure
      that no single Christian denomination be elevated to the role of state

      Mainstream scholars disagree, sometimes vehemently. Randall Balmer, a
      professor of American religious history at Barnard College and writer of the
      documentary "Crusade: The Life of Billy Graham," told me: "David Barton has
      been out there spreading this lie, frankly, that the founders intended
      America to be a Christian nation. He's been very effective. But the logic is
      utterly screwy. He says the phrase 'separation of church and state' is not
      in the Constitution. He's right about that. But to make that argument work
      you would have to argue that the phrase is not an accurate summation of the
      First Amendment. And Thomas Jefferson, who penned it, thought it was."
      (David Barton declined to be interviewed for this article.) In his testimony
      in Austin, Steven Green was challenged by a board member with the fact that
      the phrase does not appear in the Constitution. In response, Green pointed
      out that many constitutional concepts - like judicial review and separation
      of powers - are not found verbatim in the Constitution.

      In what amounts to an in-between perspective, Daniel Dreisbach - who wrote a
      book called "Thomas Jefferson and the Wall of Separation Between Church and
      State" - argues that the phrase "wall of separation" has been misapplied in
      recent decades to unfairly restrict religion from entering the public
      sphere. Martin Marty, the University of Chicago emeritus professor, agrees.
      "I think 'wall' is too heavy a metaphor," Marty says. "There's a trend now
      away from it, and I go along with that. In textbooks, we're moving away from
      an unthinking secularity." The public seems to agree. Polls on some specific
      church-state issues - government financing for faith-based organizations and
      voluntary prayer in public schools - consistently show majorities in favor
      of those positions.

      Then too, the "Christian nation" position tries to trump the whole debate
      about separation of church and state by portraying the era of the nation's
      founding as awash in Christianity. David Barton and others pepper their
      arguments with quotations, like one in which John Adams, in a letter to
      Jefferson, refers to American independence as having been achieved on "the
      general Principles of Christianity." But others find just as many instances
      in which one or another of the founders seems clearly wary of religion.

      In fact, the founders were rooted in Christianity - they were inheritors of
      the entire European Christian tradition - and at the same time they were
      steeped in an Enlightenment rationalism that was, if not opposed to
      religion, determined to establish separate spheres for faith and reason. "I
      don't think the founders would have said they were applying Christian
      principles to government," says Richard Brookhiser, the conservative
      columnist and author of books on Alexander Hamilton, Gouverneur Morris and
      George Washington. "What they said was 'the laws of nature and nature's
      They didn't say, 'We put our faith in Jesus Christ.' " Martin Marty says:
      "They had to invent a new, broad way. Washington, in his writings, makes
      scores of different references to God, but not one is biblical. He talks
      instead about a 'Grand Architect,' deliberately avoiding the Christian
      terms, because it had to be a religious language that was accessible to all

      Or, as Brookhiser rather succinctly summarizes the point: "The founders were
      not as Christian as those people would like them to be, though they weren't
      as secularist as Christopher Hitchens would like them to be." <snip>

      Besides the fact that incorporation by reference is usually used for
      technical purposes rather than for such grandiose purposes as the
      reinterpretation of foundational texts, there is an oddity to this tactic.
      "The founders deliberately left the word 'God' out of the Constitution - but
      not because they were a bunch of atheists and deists," says Susan Jacoby,
      author of "Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism." "To them, mixing
      religion and government meant trouble." The curious thing is that in trying
      to bring God into the Constitution, the activists - who say their goal is to
      follow the original intent of the founders - are ignoring the fact that the
      founders explicitly avoided religious language in that document.

      And here again there is a link to Texas. David Barton specifically advised
      the writers of the Texas guidelines that textbooks "should stipulate (but
      currently do not) that the Declaration of Independence is symbiotic with the
      Constitution rather than a separate unrelated document."

      In 2008, Cynthia Dunbar published a book called "One Nation Under God," in
      which she stated more openly than most of her colleagues have done the
      argument that the founding of America was an overtly Christian undertaking
      and laid out what she and others hope to achieve in public schools. "The
      underlying authority for our constitutional form of government stems
      directly from biblical precedents," she writes. "Hence, the only accurate
      method of ascertaining the intent of the Founding Fathers at the time of our
      government's inception comes from a biblical worldview."

      Then she pushes forward: "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." But the true picture of America's Christian founding has
      been whitewashed by "the liberal agenda" - in order for liberals to succeed
      "they must first rewrite our nation's history" and obscure the Christian
      intentions of the founders. Therefore, she wrote, "this battle for our
      nation's children and who will control their education and training is
      crucial to our success for reclaiming our nation."

      After the book came out, Dunbar was derided in blogs and newspapers for a
      section in which she writes of "the inappropriateness of a state-created,
      taxpayer-supported school system" and likens sending children to public
      school to "throwing them into the enemy's flames, even as the children of
      Israel threw their children to Moloch." (Her own children were either
      home-schooled or educated in private Christian schools.) When I asked, over
      dinner in a honky-tonk steakhouse down the road from the university, why
      someone who felt that way would choose to become an overseer of arguably the
      most influential public-education system in the country, she said that
      public schools are a battlefield for competing ideologies and that it's
      important to combat the "religion" of secularism that holds sway in public

      Ask Christian activists what they really want - what the goal is behind the
      effort to bring Christianity into American history - and they say they
      merely want "the truth." "The main thing I'm looking for as a state board
      member is to make sure we have good standards," Don McLeroy said. But the
      actual ambition is vast. Americans tell pollsters they support separation of
      church and state, but then again 65 percent of respondents to a 2007 survey
      by the First Amendment Center agreed with the statement that "the nation's
      founders intended the United States to be a Christian nation," and 55
      percent said they believed the Constitution actually established the country
      as a Christian nation. The Christian activists are aware of such statistics
      and want to build on them, as Dunbar made clear. She told me she looks to
      John Jay's statement that it is the duty of the people "of our Christian
      nation to select and prefer Christians for their rulers" and has herself
      called for a preference for selecting Christians for positions of

      Dunbar's book lays out the goal: using courts and public schools to fuse
      Christianity into the nation's founding. It may be unlikely that it will be
      attained any time soon, in which case the seeding of Texas' history-textbook
      guidelines with "Christian nation" concepts may be mostly symbolic. But
      symbols can accumulate weight over time, and the Christian activists are in
      it for the long haul. Some observers say that over time their effort could
      have far-reaching consequences. "The more you can associate Christianity
      with the founding, the more you can sway the future Supreme Court," Martin
      Marty says. "That is what Pat Robertson was about years ago. Establish the
      founders as Christians, and you have it made." <snip>

      Over all, the TEKS guidelines make for impressive reading. They are
      thoughtful and deep; you can almost feel the effort at achieving balance.
      Poring down the long columns and knowing that the 1998 version of these
      guidelines served as the basis for textbooks in most U.S. states, you even
      begin to feel some hope for the future.

      What is wrong with the Texas process, according to many observers, is
      illustrated by the fate of Bill Martin Jr. The board has the power to
      accept, reject or rewrite the TEKS, and over the past few years, in language
      arts, science and now social studies, the members have done all of the
      above. Yet few of these elected overseers are trained in the fields they are
      reviewing. "In general, the board members don't know anything at all about
      content," Tom Barber, the textbook executive, says. Kathy Miller, the
      watchdog, who has been monitoring the board for 15 years, says, referring to
      Don McLeroy and another board member: "It is the most crazy-making thing to
      sit there and watch a dentist and an insurance salesman rewrite curriculum
      standards in science and history. <snip>

      Before the January board meeting, one of the social-studies curriculum
      writers, Judy Brodigan, told me that she was very pleased with the
      guidelines her team produced. After the meeting, with its 10-hour marathon
      of amendments by board members, she spoke very differently. "I think they
      took a very, very good document and weakened it," she said. "The teachers
      take their work seriously. I do believe there are board members on the
      ultraright who have an agenda. They want to make our standards very
      conservative and fit their viewpoint. Our job is not to take a viewpoint.
      It's to present sides fairly. I thought we had done that."

      Regarding religion, the writing teams had included in their guidelines some
      of the recommendations of the experts appointed by the Christian bloc but
      had chosen to ignore most. I was led to expect that the January meeting
      would see a torrent of religion amendments, in which Don McLeroy would
      reinsert items that the team failed to include, just as he did with other
      subjects in the past. Last November, over dinner at a Tex-Mex restaurant
      across the street from the Texas A&M campus, McLeroy vowed to do so, saying,
      "I'll get the details in there." At that time, he and others were full of
      information and bravado as they pushed toward the "Christian nation" goal.
      But at the January meeting, while there were many conservative political
      amendments, there were only a few religion amendments. When I talked to him
      afterward, he shrugged it off in an uncharacteristically vague way. "We're
      basically happy with things," he said.

      It's possible a wave of religion amendments will come in the next meeting,
      in March, when American government will still be among the subjects under
      review. But the change of tone could signal a shift in strategy. "It could
      be that they feel they've already got enough code words sprinkled throughout
      the guidelines," Kathy Miller says. The laws of Nature and Nature's God.
      Moses and the Bible "informing" the American founding. "The Glory of God and
      advancement of the Christian Faith" as America's original purpose. "We've
      seen in the past how one word here or there in the curriculum standards gets
      seized upon by the far-right members at adoption time," Miller says. "In the
      science debate, the words 'intelligent design' did not appear, but they used
      'strengths and weaknesses' as an excuse to pitch a battle. The phrase became
      a wedge to try to weaken the theory of evolution, to suggest that scientists
      had serious problems with it. We've seen the board use these tiny fragments
      to wage war on publishers."

      This squares with what Tom Barber, the textbook executive, told me: that in
      the next stage in the Texas process, general guidelines are chiseled into
      fact-size chunks in crisp columns of print via backroom cajoling. "The
      process of reviewing the guidelines in Texas is very open, but what happens
      behind the scenes after that is quite different," Barber says. "McLeroy is
      kind of the spokesman for the social conservatives, and publishers will work
      with him throughout. The publishers just want to make sure they get their
      books listed."

      To give an illustration simultaneously of the power of ideology and Texas'
      influence, Barber told me that when he led the social-studies division at
      Prentice Hall, one conservative member of the board told him that the
      12th-grade book, "Magruder's American Government," would not be approved
      because it repeatedly referred to the U.S. Constitution as a "living"
      document. "That book is probably the most famous textbook in American
      history," Barber says. "It's been around since World War I, is updated every
      year and it had invented the term 'living Constitution,' which has been
      there since the 1950s. But the social conservatives didn't like its sense of
      flexibility. They insisted at the last minute that the wording change to
      'enduring.' " Prentice Hall agreed to the change, and ever since the book -
      which Barber estimates controlled 60 or 65 percent of the market
      nationally - calls it the "enduring Constitution."

      Last fall, McLeroy was frank in talking about how he applies direct pressure
      to textbook companies. In the language-arts re-evaluation, the members of
      the Christian bloc wanted books to include classic myths and fables rather
      than newly written stories whose messages they didn't agree with. They
      get what they wanted from the writing teams, so they did an end run around
      them once the public battles were over. "I met with all the publishers,"
      McLeroy said. "We went out for Mexican food. I told them this is what we
      want. We want stories with morals, not P.C. stories." He then showed me an
      e-mail message from an executive at Pearson, a major educational publisher,
      indicating the results of his effort: "Hi Don. Thanks for the impact that
      you have had on the development of Pearson's Scott Foresman Reading Street
      series. Attached is a list of some of the Fairy Tales and Fables that we
      included in the series."

      If there has been a shift in strategy, politics may have brought it about.
      The Christian bloc may have determined it would be wiser to work for this
      kind of transformational change out of the public gaze. Of the seven members
      of the Christian bloc, Ken Mercer is in a battle to keep his seat, Cynthia
      Dunbar recently announced she won't run for re-election and after 11 years
      of forceful advocacy for fundamentalist causes on the Texas state board,
      during which time he was steadfastly supported by everyone from Gov. Rick
      Perry - who originally picked him as chairman - to tea-party organizers, Don
      McLeroy is now facing the stiffest opposition of his career. Thomas Ratliff,
      a well-connected lobbyist, has squared off against McLeroy in the Republican
      primary and is running an aggressive campaign, positioning himself as a
      practical, moderate Republican. "I'm not trying to out-conservative anyone,"
      Ratliff told me. "I think the state board of education has lost its way, and
      the social-studies thing is a prime example. They keep wanting to talk about
      this being a Christian nation. My attitude is this country was founded by a
      group of men who were Christians but who didn't want the government
      dictating religion, and that's exactly what McLeroy and his colleagues are
      trying to do." <snip>

      Russell Shorto is a contributing writer for the magazine. His most recent
      book is ''Descartes' Bones: A Skeletal History of the Conflict Between Faith
      and Reason.''


      Parents and schools do not teach critical thinking,
      which leaves the majority of people in the USA living in the world of myth,
      superstition and unreason. Children have to be carefully taught.

      C Hamilton
      a moderator of
      adult humor/opinion/pictures
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