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.


[01] The source for this terminology comes from Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s 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 Statesman’s 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, (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 Journal’s 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, 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.”

Texans and their Reading Habits: from Playground to Prison Yard

From an editorial in the Amarillo GlobeNews, “Social Studies Curriculum,” the current chairwoman of the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE), Gail Lowe, recounts recent rumors and outright lies concerning the omission of various VIPs from the next batch of social studies textbooks soon to be printed for the state’s public schools. Lowe tactfully reminds invested Texans, as well as outside onlookers:

[In] Texas, students spend two full years—fourth grade and seventh grade—learning about our state and its founding. That study could not be done effectively without students knowing the contributions of Cabeza de Vaca, Francisco Coronado, Jose de Escandon, Martin de Leon, Antonio Margil de Jesus, Francisco Hidalgo, Erasmo Seguin, Juan Seguin, Jose Antonio Navarro and Lorenzo de Zavala—all significant Latinos who played a pivotal role in our history.

Lowe then restates the aim of the SBOE:

Our focus is on a general diffusion of knowledge about history and the free-enterprise system, not on the politics of racial or cultural division. It is unfortunate that news reports are not focused on the same goal for Texas students.

But after reading a report, “New Statewide Achievement Tests to Replace TAKS” on the Austin American Statemens Homeroom Blog, readers are tempted to ask: Why bother worrying over schoolbooks when Texas students are solely focused on finding a way to adequately pass standardized tests? Such a question might nag readers, particularly after scanning over a chronology of these ever-changing tests, in all their dismal glory (provided by the Statesmans blog):

Texas Assessment of Basic Skills—The TABS, in use from 1980 to 1985, was the first state-mandated test administered to students in grades 3, 5 and 9 in reading, mathematics and writing.

Texas Educational Assessment of Minimum Skills—The TEAMS was used from 1986 to 1990 and tested reading, mathematics and writing in grades 1, 3, 5, 7, 9 and 11. The TEAMS was the first state test students were required to pass to earn a diploma.

Texas Assessment of Academic Skills—The TAAS, in use from 1990 to 2002, tested reading, mathematics and writing. The TAAS was ultimately given to students in grades 3 to 8 and 10. Additionally, eighth-grade students were tested in science and social studies, and Spanish-language tests were available for students in grades 3 to 6. Four end-of-course exams provided an optional method for meeting graduation requirements.

Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills—The TAKS, in use from 2003 to the present, assesses students in grades 3 to 11 in mathematics, reading, writing, English/language arts, science and social studies. Student promotion is tied to test results for students in grades 3, 5 and 8. The TAKS expanded graduation requirements to include English/language arts, mathematics, science and social studies.

In related readings, Eric Dexheimer, at the Austin American Statesman, reports on “Banned in Texas prisons: books and magazines that many would consider classics” whereupon readers realize that—when it comes to reading lists and content choices in Texas—it is perpetually becoming more difficult to tell the difference between the state’s public school students and its prisoners. Readers might conclude that the kind of librarian skills exhibited by prisoner Andy Dufresne at Shawshank wouldn’t exactly be welcomed at any facility run by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

In other readings, a book review of William P. Young’s “The Shack—The Missing Art of Evangelical Discernment” by Albert Molher, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (in Kentucky not Texas):

The Shack [(2007)] is a work of fiction. This must be kept in mind in evaluating the book, but the book is also a sustained theological argument, and this simply cannot be denied. Any number of notable novels and works of literature have contained aberrant theology, and even heresy … When it comes to The Shack, the really troubling fact is that so many readers are drawn to the theological message of the book, and fail to see how it conflicts with the Bible at so many crucial points.

Thankfully, for both Christian and heathen readers, Mohler’s solution stays sensible:

The answer is not to ban the The Shack or yank it out of the hands of readers. We need not fear books—we must be ready to answer them.

UPDATE: While Texas prisoners may not have much to read, they might attempt some writing, as this colleague demonstrates:

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Too Bureaucratic To Fail: Why Bad Schools Won’t Go Belly Up

The faithful like to claim that the word “church” means a body of people, not a building.

If only the state boards of education, teacher’s unions, parents of students, and textbook publishers felt the same way about the word “school.” Banks go belly up and receive government bailouts. Churches may morally corrode and financially “settle” with their victims, but they still get to keep their tax breaks. Yet rarely does student corruption (i.e. the demise of the individual’s enthusiasm to learn) or the administrative erosion of educational standards and practices impart any kind of penalty on a public school.

Things seems to have gotten so bad that talk of penalties are now on the table. The only question now is who will be the executioner of these educational institutions: parents or politicians? National Journals Eliza Krigman reports on a new “parent trigger” option for California, while at the partisan Texas Policy think tank, Brooke Terry considers that answers lie in policies found in the land of the buckeye, but notes:

If the evidence does not point to success, why do school leaders and policymakers continue to push for restructuring a school versus just shutting it down and starting anew? Politics.

It is very hard politically for a school superintendent or a politician to tell their constituents that a school in their community is so bad it is beyond fixing. They take a risk of angering their constituents who may have emotional ties to the school. So, in most cases, it is easier to come up with a list of action items to improve the school versus allowing the school to face the consequences of its mediocre performance and get shut down.

Terry also links to Andy Smarick at, where Smarick proposes several reasons why the threat of closure might act as an effective penalty for public schools that produce poor students:

This would have three benefits. First, children would no longer be subjected to schools with long track records of failure and high probabilities of continued failure.

Second, the fear of closure might generate improvement in some low-performing schools. Failure in public education has had fewer consequences (for adults) than in other fields, a fact that might contribute to the persistent struggles of some schools. We should have limited expectations in this regard, however. Even in the private sector, where the consequences for poor performance are significant, some low-performing entities never become successful.

Third, and by far the most important and least appreciated factor, closures make room for replacements, which have a transformative positive impact on the health of a field. When a firm folds due to poor performance, the slack is taken up by the expansion of successful existing firms—meaning that those excelling have the opportunity to do more—or by new firms. New entrants not only fill gaps, they have a tendency to better reflect current market conditions. They are also far likelier to introduce innovations: Google, Facebook, and Twitter were not products of long-standing firms. Certainly not all new starts will excel, not in education, not in any field. But when provided the right characteristics and environment, their potential is vast.

But Smarick’s suggested benefits are mere political palliatives. His third benefit offers the least amount of remedy: When a firm folds due to poor performance, the slack is taken up by the expansion of successful existing firms—meaning that those excelling have the opportunity to do more—or by new firms. If only there were some general way of proving this were true. Smarick offers some sexy examples with Google, Facebook, and Twitter, but notice he didn’t mention Lehman Brothers or any other banking firm. I wonder who took up their slack when they failed?

Smarick’s second benefit is adequate, but his first is just absurd. Children would no longer be subjected to schools with long track records of failure and high probabilities of continued failure. Aren’t these “long track records of failure” a part of their American heritage? Shouldn’t we stop looking at the educational accomplishments of foreigners and merely be impressed with our own mistakes?