Here we go again

What is it about Texas and textbooks?

Every year, the Texas State Board of Education gathers in the William B. Travis Building in Austin and reviews some part of the states curriculum, codified in the Texan Education Agency’s TEKS, which stands for Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills. What the state board decides should appear on TEKS affects curriculum decisions for the following ten years. Texas is a large market for textbooks but more important, TEKS is a model that other states and local boards of education follow. This means that education decisions made in Austin affect students all over the country.

The peculiar convergence of politics, education and economics has long attracted the attention of the religious right. This year, Texans are reviewing social studies curricula for grades K-12, and people are lining up to debate the inclusion of religion into the studies. In particular, political and religious conservatives want teaching and textbooks to teach 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.

Russel Shorto writes about the current debate in this Sunday’s New York Times Magazine.

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.”

The article has already generated a ton of comments. One reminds us how far the proponents are from the actual beliefs and intents of the founders:

Benjamin Franklin:

“When a religion is good, I conceive it will support itself; and when it does not support itself, and God does not take care to support it so that its professors are obliged to call for help of the civil power, ‘tis a sign, I apprehend, of its being a bad one.”

President John Adams:

“Nothing is more dreaded than the national government meddling with religion.”

“The United States of America have exhibited, perhaps, the first example of governments erected on the simple principles of nature. . . . [In] the formation of the American governments . . . it will never be pretended that any persons employed in that service had interviews with the gods, or were in any degree under the influence of heaven. . . . These governments were contrived merely by the use of reason and the senses.”

President Thomas Jefferson:

“I consider the government of the United States as interdicted by the Constitution from intermeddling with religious institutions. . . . I do not believe it is for the interest of religion to invite the civil magistrate to direct its exercises, its discipline, or its doctrine.”

President James Madison (“Father of the Constitution” and principal author of the First Amendment):

“There is not a shadow of right in the general government to intermeddle with religion. Its least interference with it would be a most flagrant violation.”

“Strongly guarded . . . is the separation between religion and government in the Constitution of the United States. . . .”

“The purpose of separation of church and state is to keep forever from these shores the ceaseless strife that has soaked the soil of Europe in blood for centuries.”

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