In Texas Textbooks, Moses Is a Founding Father

Upfront: don’t be put off by the length of this article. I’ve broken it down for you?with bullets and I’ve highlighted the key takeaways. It’s an important read. Your kid’s life probably depends on it, actually. I’m not generally prone to hyperbole, but…. Let’s?get to it.

Four years ago, the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute — an ideologically conservative American nonprofit education policy think tank — gave the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) standards a “D.” Fordham’s review was scathing. Embarrassingly critical. The intro:

Texas’s heavily politicized 2010 revisions to its social studies curriculum have attracted massive national attention. Indeed, both in public hearings and press interviews, the leaders of the State Board of Education made no secret of their evangelical Christian right agenda, promising to inculcate biblical principles, patriotic values, and American exceptionalism. And politics do figure heavily in the resulting TEKS.

While such social studies doctrine is usually associated with the relativist and diversity-obsessed educational left, the right-dominated Texas Board of Education made no effort to replace traditional social studies dogma with substantive historical content. Instead, it seems to have grafted on its own conservative talking points. The lists of ?historically significant? names, for example, incorporate all the familiar politically correct group categories (women and minorities are systematically included in all such lists, regardless of their relative historical significance). At the same time, however, the document distorts or suppresses less triumphal or more nuanced aspects of our past that the Board found politically unacceptable (slavery and segregation are all but ignored, while religious influences are grossly exaggerated). The resulting fusion is a confusing, unteachable hodgepodge, blending the worst of two educational dogmas.

moses is a founding father in texas history books

From The Daily Beast:

The new curriculum standards require students to learn about the supposed influence of individuals such as Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin, William Blackstone, and even Moses on 18th-century republican thought and the American founding.

The problem began when the SBOE evicted Enlightenment thinkers from the World History standards and substituted a list that included Moses, Aquinas, Calvin, and Blackstone. Figures from that grab-bag list also made their way into the requirements for United States history and government. Never mind that Aquinas and Calvin were theologians, or that Blackstone believed all societies should require some form of absolute, unchallengeable sovereign power. The real issue turned out to be Moses.


One of those historians, my colleague and former Southern Methodist University department chair Kathleen Wellman, testified at the SBOE public hearing this month. She told the SBOE that the effect of the TEKS requirement to find biblical origins for the Constitution would be to make Moses the ?first American.? Some historians give that honor to Benjamin Franklin. Whoever might merit it, Moses definitely does not qualify.

And what exactly is the strategy behind all of this insanity? Apparently it’s deliberate: American exceptionalism. Also from The Daily Beast:

Careful analyst by Justine Esta Ellis (a scholar who was not part of the TFN group) finds the strategy of starting with Moses is aimed at presenting the United States as a unique ?redeemer nation,? predestined among all others to act out God’s will.

Uber-conservative David Barton — a “self-taught historian” and influential leader of the evangelical right wing — maintains that many verses from the Bible are quoted “verbatim” in the U.S. Constitution. Of course it isn’t true — the ideas and language don’t match. It’s simply a lie. The Southern Poverty Law Center calls Barton’s views a “fun-house vision of religious patriotism.”

I’ve broken out the key points of the study so that you can easily digest it. It’s a shockingly long list. I copied and pasted the verbiage in these points exactly and I’ve emphasized in red (my notations, not theirs) the most startling?pieces Believe me, I had to use restraint. These are Fordham’s words — NOT mine.?Unbelievable.

  • Complex historical issues are obscured with blatant politicizing?throughout the document.
  • Biblical influences on America?s?founding are exaggerated, if not invented.
  • The complicated but?undeniable history of separation between church and state is?flatly dismissed.
  • From the earliest grades, students are pressed?to uncritically celebrate the ?free enterprise system and its?benefits.?
  • ?Minimal government intrusion? is hailed as key to?the early nineteenth-century commercial boom?ignoring the?critical role of the state and federal governments in internal?improvements and economic expansion.
  • Native peoples are?missing until brief references to nineteenth-century events.
  • Slavery, too, is largely missing. Sectionalism and states? rights?are listed before slavery as causes of the Civil War, while the?issue of slavery in the territories?the actual trigger for the’sectional crisis?is never mentioned at all.
  • During and after?Reconstruction, there is no mention of the Black Codes.
  • The term ?Jim Crow? never?appears, nor the Ku Klux Klan or sharecropping.
  • Incredibly, racial segregation is only mentioned in a?passing reference to the 1948 integration of the armed forces.
  • In the modern era, the standards list ?the internment of?German, Italian and Japanese Americans and Executive Order?9066??exaggerating the comparatively trivial internment?of German and Italian Americans, and thereby obscuring?the incontrovertible racial dimension of the larger and more?systematic Japanese American internment.
  • It is disingenuously?suggested that the House Un-American Activities Committee??and, by extension, McCarthyism?have been vindicated by?the Venona decrypts of Soviet espionage activities (which?had, in reality, no link to McCarthy’s targets).
  • Opposition to?the civil rights movement is falsely identified only with ?the?congressional bloc of Southern Democrats??whose later?metamorphosis into Southern Republicans is never mentioned. (WOW WOW WOW….DO YOU GUYS SEE THIS? ~TIFF)
  • Specific right-wing policy positions are inculcated as well. For?example, students are explicitly urged to condemn federal?entitlement programs, including Texas-born Lyndon Johnson?s??Great Society,? and to mistrust international treaties?(considered threats to American sovereignty).
  • Beginning in fifth grade, the fragmented content outline seems?mainly focused on telling students which broad swaths of U.S.?history they should know, rather than explaining anything, or?even listing key people, issues, and events in detail.
  • Under the history strand, fifth graders are first told to?understand ?the causes and effects of European colonization.??(Native peoples, surely relevant here, are skipped.)
  • Similar items briefly mention the Articles of Confederation?and Constitution, the ?political, economic, and social changes?that occurred in the United States during the 19th century? (a?sub-heading mentions the Civil War and Reconstruction), and??important issues, events, and individuals? in the twentieth?and twenty-first centuries. Here, a short list of examples?bizarrely gives ?the oil and gas industries? equal prominence?with industrialization, urbanization, the Great Depression, the?two world wars, and the civil rights movement. A truncated,?historically incoherent, and diversity-driven list of key?individuals includes Jane Addams, Eisenhower, Martin Luther?King, Jr., Rosa Parks, Franklin Roosevelt, Reagan, Colin Powell,?and the Tuskegee Airmen.
  • A strikingly?tendentious directive to ?describe how religion and virtue??underpinned representative government.
  • Similar lists address?the causes and leaders of the American Revolution and its?aftermath, followed by extremely general points on the 1790s?and the early nineteenth century (almost wholly devoid of specifics). These hopscotch to the War of 1812, the Monroe?Doctrine, and Jackson and the Cherokee removal, before?jumping back to the Northwest Ordinance, then on to Manifest?Destiny, the Mexican War, sectionalism, tariffs, the Civil War,?and Reconstruction.
  • Slavery, so central to the history of Texas,?is mentioned only in passing.

And Fordham ends its analysis of the Texas program with?this beauty:

A popular?Lone Star State slogan proclaims ?Texas: It’s like a whole other country??but Texas’s standards are a disservice both to its own teachers and students and to the larger national history?of which it remains a part.

Yikes, right??You can read the report yourself. In fact, please do. Your state’s history program is covered, too.This is a comprehensive review of ?”The State of State U.S. History Standards 2011.”?And by the way, this isn’t just Texas. Earlier this week, I wrote a story about something similar going on in Colorado.

Take an interest in your child’s textbooks, Liberal Americans. You may be shocked what you “learn” and what they’re being fed. Read more here:?The Daily Beast.

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tiffany willis texas liberal america

Tiffany Willis is the founder and editor-in-chief of Liberal America. An unapologetic member of the Christian Left, she has spent most of her career actively working with ?the least of these? and disadvantaged and oppressed populations. She’s passionate about their struggles. To stay on top of topics she discusses,?like her?Facebook page,?follow her on Twitter, or?connect with her via LinkedIn. She also has?a?grossly neglected personal blog?and a?literary quotes blog that is a labor of love. Find her somewhere and join the discussion.

I had a successful career actively working with at-risk youth, people struggling with poverty and unemployment, and disadvantaged and oppressed populations. In 2011, I made the decision to pursue my dreams and become a full-time writer. Connect with me on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook.