Texas Board of Education proves Mark Twain right

0

REARVIEW MIRROR

3/21/10

Over a century ago, Mark Twain launched one of his famous satirical barbs, “In the first place God made idiots. This was for practice. Then he made School Boards.”

Twain could easily have been describing today’s Texas Board of Education, which this month approved, by a 10-5 vote, tentative new curriculum standards for the state’s primary and secondary schools. A final vote is expected in May.

Advertisement

Over the opposition of an outraged minority, the board moved unabashedly to impose Christian fundamentalist and conservative Republican tenets on educational programs you would ordinarily expect to be non-partisan, balanced, broad-minded and secular. One supporter touted the standards as “world class.”

Why should anyone in Maine or other states care about what Texas has done?

For one thing, the new standards are expected to affect the content of textbooks nationwide. Texas is a big consumer of textbooks, and publishers want to satisfy their best customers. Consider the notorious 1925 Scopes’ “monkey trial”. For decades after high-school biology teacher John Scopes was prosecuted for violating Tennessee’s law against teaching evolution, science texts around the country omitted references to Darwin’s theory of evolution.

For another, the board’s decision seems to constitute a new assault on the fundamental constitutional principle of separation of church and state. Previous attacks have come more directly in the form of mandatory school prayer, taxpayer funding of parochial schools and the teaching of “creationism.” This one indirectly promotes religion in public education by emphasizing the religious and de-emphasizing the secular in curriculum content.

In a helter-skelter rush to embrace the Second Amendment, the board hop-scotched over the First Amendment, which forbids government from either “establishing” (using public funds and facilities to support or endorse) religion or interfering with anyone’s free exercise of religious beliefs and practices.

The new standards would require that students be taught about the right to bear arms and the Judeo-Christian influence of the nation’s founders but not the philosophical rationale for the separation of church and state.

Significantly, an approved standard for the study of political revolutions from 1750 to the present omits mention of the influence of the Enlightenment or of Thomas Jefferson. It’s easy to understand why this was done.

Jefferson authored the First Amendment and was an American exemplar of the Enlightenment — an 18th century European philosophical movement which emphasized reason and skepticism over religious dogma and divine revelation.

The founders knew exactly what they were about, when they crafted the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses. Memories of Europe’s religious wars and persecutions of the 16th and 17th centuries were still fresh in their minds. They knew that when allegiance to a sovereign meant swearing adherence to a religious faith, dissenters could be labeled heretics and traitors, subject to imprisonment, property confiscation, torture and death.

Such oppression in the Old World caused many to flee to the New, including. “Low Church” Protestants from the British Isles, who colonized Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island, and French Huguenots who settled in Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and South Carolina.

An attempt by English Puritans to establish an official religion and theocratic rule in New England collapsed after about a century, as religious zeal gave way to the realities of a vibrantly expanding society, the stubbornly independent spirit of colonists and revulsion at excesses committed in the name of faith, like the Salem Witch Trials.

While Europe’s religious wars ultimately burned themselves out, the continent’s religious spirit was permanently stunted. Today Europe is filled with architecturally magnificent cathedrals and churches, many of which are largely empty of worshippers and utilized instead as tourist attractions, museums and concert halls.

By contrast, religious freedom and the lack of an established church in the U.S. led to a flowering of denominations and sects, and belief in a deity still remains strong among a large majority of Americans.

An attempt to impose a particular set of religious beliefs upon schoolchildren in a country as heterogeneous as the United States would undermine the foundations of a peaceful and tolerant secular society.

Ironically, it would also threaten the very American institutions most strongly touted by the Texas curriculum standards — our free enterprise system and constitutional republican form of government.

Don’t take my word for it. Ask a citizen of Iran, where there is no separation of church and state.

If the Texas board can’t grasp that concept, they really are “world class” idiots.

 

REARVIEW MIRROR

3/21/10

 

Over a century ago, Mark Twain launched one of his famous satirical barbs, “In the first place God made idiots. This was for practice. Then he made School Boards.”

Twain could easily have been describing today’s Texas Board of Education, which this month approved, by a 10-5 vote, tentative new curriculum standards for the state’s primary and secondary schools. A final vote is expected in May.

Over the opposition of an outraged minority, the board moved unabashedly to impose Christian fundamentalist and conservative Republican tenets on educational programs you would ordinarily expect to be non-partisan, balanced, broad-minded and secular. One supporter touted the standards as “world class.”

Why should anyone in Maine or other states care about what Texas has done?

For one thing, the new standards are expected to affect the content of textbooks nationwide. Texas is a big consumer of textbooks, and publishers want to satisfy their best customers. Consider the notorious 1925 Scopes’ “monkey trial”. For decades after high-school biology teacher John Scopes was prosecuted for violating Tennessee’s law against teaching evolution, science texts around the country omitted references to Darwin’s theory of evolution.

For another, the board’s decision seems to constitute a new assault on the fundamental constitutional principle of separation of church and state. Previous attacks have come more directly in the form of mandatory school prayer, taxpayer funding of parochial schools and the teaching of “creationism.” This one indirectly promotes religion in public education by emphasizing the religious and de-emphasizing the secular in curriculum content.

In a helter-skelter rush to embrace the Second Amendment, the board hop-scotched over the First Amendment, which forbids government from either “establishing” (using public funds and facilities to support or endorse) religion or interfering with anyone’s free exercise of religious beliefs and practices.

The new standards would require that students be taught about the right to bear arms and the Judeo-Christian influence of the nation’s founders but not the philosophical rationale for the separation of church and state.

Significantly, an approved standard for the study of political revolutions from 1750 to the present omits mention of the influence of the Enlightenment or of Thomas Jefferson. It’s easy to understand why this was done.

Jefferson authored the First Amendment and was an American exemplar of the Enlightenment — an 18th century European philosophical movement which emphasized reason and skepticism over religious dogma and divine revelation.

The founders knew exactly what they were about, when they crafted the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses. Memories of Europe’s religious wars and persecutions of the 16th and 17th centuries were still fresh in their minds. They knew that when allegiance to a sovereign meant swearing adherence to a religious faith, dissenters could be labeled heretics and traitors, subject to imprisonment, property confiscation, torture and death.

Such oppression in the Old World caused many to flee to the New, including. “Low Church” Protestants from the British Isles, who colonized Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island, and French Huguenots who settled in Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and South Carolina.

An attempt by English Puritans to establish an official religion and theocratic rule in New England collapsed after about a century, as religious zeal gave way to the realities of a vibrantly expanding society, the stubbornly independent spirit of colonists and revulsion at excesses committed in the name of faith, like the Salem Witch Trials.

While Europe’s religious wars ultimately burned themselves out, the continent’s religious spirit was permanently stunted. Today Europe is filled with architecturally magnificent cathedrals and churches, many of which are largely empty of worshippers and utilized instead as tourist attractions, museums and concert halls.

By contrast, religious freedom and the lack of an established church in the U.S. led to a flowering of denominations and sects, and belief in a deity still remains strong among a large majority of Americans.

An attempt to impose a particular set of religious beliefs upon schoolchildren in a country as heterogeneous as the United States would undermine the foundations of a peaceful and tolerant secular society.

Ironically, it would also threaten the very American institutions most strongly touted by the Texas curriculum standards — our free enterprise system and constitutional republican form of government.

Don’t take my word for it. Ask a citizen of Iran, where there is no separation of church and state.

If the Texas board can’t grasp that concept, they really are “world class” idiots.

Over a century ago, Mark Twain launched one of his famous satirical barbs, “In the first place God made idiots. This was for practice. Then he made school boards.”

Twain could easily have been describing today’s Texas Board of Education, which this month approved, by a 10-5 vote, tentative new curriculum standards for the state’s primary and secondary schools. A final vote is expected in May.

Over the opposition of an outraged minority, the board moved unabashedly to impose Christian fundamentalist and conservative Republican tenets on educational programs you would ordinarily expect to be nonpartisan, balanced, broad-minded and secular. One supporter touted the standards as “world class.”

Why should anyone in Maine or other states care about what Texas has done?

For one thing, the new standards are expected to affect the content of textbooks nationwide. Texas is a big consumer of textbooks, and publishers want to satisfy their best customers. Consider the notorious 1925 Scopes’ “monkey trial.” For decades after high-school biology teacher John Scopes was prosecuted for violating Tennessee’s law against teaching evolution, science texts around the country omitted references to Darwin’s theory of evolution.

For another, the board’s decision seems to constitute a new assault on the fundamental constitutional principle of separation of church and state. Previous attacks have come more directly in the form of mandatory school prayer, taxpayer funding of parochial schools and the teaching of “creationism.” This one indirectly promotes religion in public education by emphasizing the religious and de-emphasizing the secular in curriculum content.

In a helter-skelter rush to embrace the Second Amendment, the board hop-scotched over the First Amendment, which forbids government from either establishing (using public funds and facilities to support or endorse) religion or interfering with anyone’s free exercise of religious beliefs and practices.

The new standards would require that students be taught about the right to bear arms and the Judeo-Christian influence of the nation’s founders, but not the philosophical rationale for the separation of church and state.

Significantly, an approved standard for the study of political revolutions from 1750 to the present omits mention of the influence of the Enlightenment or of Thomas Jefferson. It’s easy to understand why this was done.

Jefferson authored the First Amendment and was an American exemplar of the Enlightenment — an 18th-century European philosophical movement which emphasized reason and skepticism over religious dogma and divine revelation.

The founders knew exactly what they were about, when they crafted the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses. Memories of Europe’s religious wars and persecutions of the 16th and 17th centuries were still fresh in their minds. They knew that when allegiance to a sovereign meant swearing adherence to a religious faith, dissenters could be labeled heretics and traitors, subject to imprisonment, property confiscation, torture and death.

Such oppression in the Old World caused many to flee to the New, including. “Low Church” Protestants from the British Isles, who colonized Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island, and French Huguenots who settled in Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and South Carolina.

An attempt by English Puritans to establish an official religion and theocratic rule in New England collapsed after about a century, as religious zeal gave way to the realities of a vibrantly expanding society, the stubbornly independent spirit of colonists and revulsion at excesses committed in the name of faith, like the Salem Witch Trials.

While Europe’s religious wars ultimately burned themselves out, the continent’s religious spirit was permanently stunted. Today, Europe is filled with architecturally magnificent cathedrals and churches, many of which are largely empty of worshippers and utilized instead as tourist attractions, museums and concert halls.

By contrast, religious freedom and the lack of an established church in the U.S. led to a flowering of denominations and sects, and belief in a deity still remains strong among a large majority of Americans.

An attempt to impose a particular set of religious beliefs upon schoolchildren in a country as heterogeneous as the United States would undermine the foundations of a peaceful and tolerant secular society.

Ironically, it would also threaten the very American institutions most strongly touted by the Texas curriculum standards — our free enterprise system and constitutional republican form of government.

Don’t take my word for it. Ask a citizen of Iran, where there is no separation of church and state.

If the Texas board can’t grasp that concept, they really are “world class” idiots.

Advertisement
SHARE