The Lies in Textbooks are Upon You

Recently the Texas State Board of Education [SBOE] voted to approve changes to the social studies textbooks of the state’s schoolchildren. These changes will now task students to read several Things-That-Are-Not [TITANs].[01] For example, instead of calling capitalism capitalism, it will now be known as something that it is not, so that the textbooks of Texas will print “free enterprise system” instead of “capitalism”.[02]

The Board also approved revisions that would skew the historical context of the phrase “separation of church and state,” substituting it also with a TITAN, perhaps a “unity of church and state.”[03] After all, the integration of church and state carries benefits aplenty—what could possibly go wrong in suggesting the merger of those who are exempt from taxes with those who collect them?

I am frankly appalled at the language spewed forth as a result of the Board’s new policies.[04] Why tote such loaded words? Already the students of Texas are adapted to high levels of TITAN exposure through journalism, advertising, other forms of mass media, and professional sports.[05] Surely kids can handle a few more TITANs in their lives—why shouldn’t their textbooks be infiltrated as well?

This is not to suggest that the SBOE’s new policy will transmit any kind of reason to its students. For reason (wisdom, logic) is always good, otherwise it would always be good to always be unreasonable—yes, this occurs hourly on cable news, but thankfully no reasonable American watches it)[06]—but to advocate children to believe in TITANs cannot be called reasonable. It instead cloaks the Board’s will to increase the ignorance of the Texas public student populous.

But just because the SBOE’s policy prevents the promotion of reason does not mean that a lack of reason can be blamed for its policy. The SBOE’s underlying reason for approving its new book policy emerges easily to any onlooker: by nurturing Texas schoolchildren with standards of the past, such students might further be inspired to rise up, radicalize, and protest—the same way their hippy grandparents did in the 1960s.[07] Only by spotlighting Phyllis Schlafly, the Moral Majority, the Contract With America, or the NRA can the SBOE point the schoolchildren of Texas towards their proper twenty-first century scapegoats.

It is truly conservative to preserve a textbook tradition that provokes radical protest. The Board has seen the results. They know these methods work, and it is time to apply them again, particularly when there is no fear of this tradition spreading to other states.[08] One should thank God for blessing Texas with such a bureaucracy as the SBOE and its TITAN-ic policies.


Notes

[01] The source for this terminology comes from Jonathan Swift’s Gullivers Travels (1726), Part IV, Chapter V. But there is also Plato’s Cratylus which tells us:

Nor can we reasonably say [that] there is knowledge at all, if everything is in a state of transition and there is nothing abiding; for knowledge too cannot continue to be knowledge unless continuing always to abide and exist. But if the very nature of knowledge changes, at the time when the change occurs there will be no knowledge; and if the transition is always going on, there will always be no knowledge, and, according to this view, there will be no one to know and nothing to be known.  [Plato. Cratylus. Translated by Benjamin Jowett. The Dialogues of Plato Translated into English. (1892). Vol. 1. Third Edition. Oxford, UP. p. 388. on Google Books.]

So we may take it that the very nature of the knowledge of capitalism will change when it is no longer called such. Compare also Plato’s Meno:

For this is what our discussion is really about—not if there are or have been good men here, but if virtue can be taught—that is what we have been considering for so long. And the point we are considering is just this: whether the good men of these times and of former times knew how to hand on to another that virtue in which they were good, or whether it cannot be handed on from one man to another, or received by one man from another.  [Plato. Meno. In Great Dialogues of Plato. Translated by W.H.D. Rouse, Twelfth Printing, (1956) New American Library. (92B–93E) p. 59.]

One generation cannot handoff to the next any knowledge of capitalism or a “separation of church and state” if the nature of the knowledge of these things has already changed. Hence these things (capitalism and the separation of church and state) become Things-That-They-Are-Not [TITANs].

[02] Coverage on the “free enterprise” / “capitalism” distinction for the textbooks of Texas is wide and varied:

[SBOE chairman] Lowe’s most fraught vote came when she supported the move by Board Member Ken Mercer, R-San Antonio, to remove references to “capitalism” in the standards, using instead the phrase “free enterprise.”

Last summer, a compromise had been struck with the group of teachers writing the economics standards about how to refer to the country’s economic system. The challenge was finding a term that conformed both with common academic language and the state law, which calls for the use of “free enterprise.” The result was the phrase “U.S. free enterprise (capitalist, free market) system.

Cumbersome, indeed. But Mercer’s objection was not about the economy of language. It was ideological.

The word “capitalism” has a negative connotation and the standards should not apologize for the nation’s free enterprise system, he said.

And Board member Terri Leo, R-Spring, agreed.

“I do think that words means things,” Leo said. “I see no need, frankly, to compromise with liberal professors from academia,” who have written “distorted and liberal textbooks.”  [“SBOE chairwoman tips balance for conservative votes” by Kate Alexander of the Austin American Statesmans politics and government blog Postcards (03/11/10).]

A majority of the State Board of Education decided Texas students should be shielded from exposure to the perfectly good word “capitalism” — one frequently heard in college-level economics classes. Why? Because member Terri Leo, R-Spring, doesn’t like the sound of it.  [“When God was handing out brains…” an op-ed in the (03/27/10) Austin American Statesman.]

When [the SBOE] instructs textbook writers to always use the term “free-enterprise” and never the term “capitalism,” it isn’t doing so because it feels solicitude for imperialists or the big-money set.

Heavens no. Board members are doing it to vindicate the little guy, to wrest the language away from an intellectual elite. As Don McLeroy, one of the leaders of the board’s conservative faction, put it in last year’s debate over evolution, “somebody’s got to stand up to experts.”  [“Don’t mess with the Texas Board of Ed” an op-ed by Thomas Frank in The Wall Street Journal political blog Opinion Journal (03/17/10).]

[03] Coverage over the outcry of the phrase “separation of church and state” also runs plentiful:

“I reject the notion by the left of a constitutional separation of church and state,” Board member David Bradley said. “I have $1,000 for the charity of your choice if you can find it in the Constitution.”  [“Conservatives on Texas Panel Carry the Day on Curriculum Change” by James C. McKinley Jr., New York Times. 03/13/10. Section A; Column 0; National Desk; p. 10.]

SBOE chairman Gail Lowe insists:

“A critical priority of the State Board of Education in our revision of the curriculum standards has been to emphasize the founding documents, such as the Magna Carta, the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution. We believe students need a stronger grasp of the freedoms guaranteed in these documents. The First Amendment very clearly prevents Congress from establishing a national church, but it also promotes the free exercise of religion. Students need to understand that this is what the founders intended.

“It is inaccurate to say the founding fathers were neutral about religion; most were strong proponents of religious faith but did not believe in a national church controlled by the federal government.”  [“Q&A: Texas Board of Education Chairman” from in The Baptist Press, by Jerry Pierce of the Southern Baptist Texan (03/29/10).]

Yet Lowe’s comments would not rule out the possibility for teaching through textbooks an advocacy for state churches, county churches, school district churches etc. And because of things like—

“The conservative faction handily defeated an amendment that would have required children to learn the significance of the separation of church and state and rejected several attempts to include more minorities in the curriculum.”  [“Education board OKs changes” by Zahira Torres of the El Paso Times (03/13/10).]

Board members defeated an amendment by member Mavis Knight, D-Dallas, that would have required students to examine the reasons the Founding Fathers “protected religious freedom in America by barring government from promoting or disfavoring any particular religion over all others.”

The seven social conservatives on the panel—several of whom openly question the legal precedents affirming the separation of church and state—were joined by the three moderate Republicans in voting no.  [“Texas education board refuses to require religious-freedom lesson” by Terrence Stutz of the Dallas Morning News (03/12/10).]

—it can be reasonably concluded that the SBOE “have deleted [references] to church-state separation.”  [“Analysis: Texas influence on national textbook market is small and shrinking” from the Texas on the Potomac blog of the Houston Chronicle, analysis provided by Brian Thevenot of the Texas Tribune (03/29/10).]

Even Baptists groups were dismayed. See “Baptists decry Texas education board’s curriculum votes” by Robert Marus of The Baptist Standard (03/16/10).

[04] Examples of such appalling language appear endless, beginning with mild exaggeration such as Mike Chapman’s post “Stop the schoolyard bullies of the SBOE” on Burnt Orange Blog (03/26/10): “the SBOE are systematically engaging in an extreme ideological agenda in an effort to skew history,” to the slightly silly title for Robert McHenry’s post “The Creedalists” at American.com, (03/25/10).

Yet fiercer language abounds. Take for instance the op-ed “When God was handing out brains...” in the Austin American Statesman (03/27/10) and its use of phrases like, “a jihad against knowledge” and “handicapping Texas students.” Or “Don’t mess with the Texas Board of Ed,” an op-ed by Thomas Frank in The Wall Street Journals political blog Opinion Journal (03/17/10) that spews: “the proceedings appear like a sort of Texas inquisition.”

[05] In journalism, take Jason Blair, the Balloon Boy saga, or the yet-to-be-found (though thoroughly reported on) WMDs of Iraq. Even so, the public students of Texas are completely used to TITANs in other forms of mass media such as the fake violence of some video games, or the false sense of creativity felt when playing Guitar Hero, or reality’s clash with Disney’s aesthetics and ethics via the pretended powers of characters and superheroes in movies and comic books. In professional sports, take not only the steroids scandals throughout the Olympics and Major League Baseball, but the fact that some ballplayers perjured themselves before Congress and with no apparent consequence. Kids in the twenty-first century are inundated with Things-That-Are-Not (TITANs) so why should the content of their textbooks be any different?

[06] Terry McDermott’s “Dumb Like a Fox.” Columbia Journalism Review for March/April 2010 recently notes:

Cable news is not literally a broadcast business, but a narrowcast. At any given moment, there are a relative handful of people (in peak hours less than five million and in non-prime hours half that, out of the U.S. population of 320 million) watching all of these networks combined. American Idol, in contrast, routinely draws 30 million.

One need only look at the recent example of CNN’s audience decline for further support of McDermott’s observations.

[07] Robert McHenry makes this point in his post “The Creedalists” at American.com, a magazine published by the American Enterprise Institute:

Does the Texas board member pause to reflect that those radicals of the ’60s were schooled on the textbooks of the Eisenhower years? Perhaps not. That they then went off to college, discovered that a few facts had been omitted from their schooling, and promptly made a fetish of them? Does [SBOE member Don McLeroy] stop for just a moment to wonder if what he is doing now is likely to have the desired effect?

[08] See note 3 above of Brian Thevenot’s comments in: “Analysis: Texas influence on national textbook market is small and shrinking.”


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