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Thursday, April 1, 2010 06:37 pm

Turning ‘Texas Education’ into an oxymoron

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Maria Lopez listens to a lecture at North Side High School in Fort Worth, Texas.
PHOTO BY JILL JOHNSON/MCT

In the good-and-good-for-you department, food scientists are now touting the health benefits of enjoying a handful of nuts every day.

I, for one, am glad, because I love nuts – pecans, hazelnuts, pistachios, almonds, you-name-’em. But my favorite nuts, by far, are the homegrown natives that have taken root in one particularly fertile area of my state: the Texas Board of Education. You just can’t get any nuttier than this bunch!

This board, little-known even to us Texans, has lately risen to national notoriety, making our state’s educational system a punchline for comedians everywhere. That’s because a handful of ultra-right-wing nutcases have taken over this elected overseer of Texas educational policy, and they’re hell-bent to supplant classroom education with ideological indoctrination.

Their way of achieving this political goal is to rewrite the state standards that textbook publishers must follow to get the lucrative contracts for providing teaching materials for every student in the state, from first grade through high school.

Their latest exercise in ideological correctness comes at the expense of the social studies curriculum. They spent last week going through guidelines for history, government, economics and sociology textbooks, purging references that offend their doctrinaire sensibilities and substituting their own nutty biases.

How nutty? Take Thomas Jefferson. They did! They literally did take Jefferson off a list of revolutionary political thinkers from the Enlightenment period, replacing him with a favorite of Christian fundamentalists, John Calvin. Thus, the prime author of our Declaration of Independence – poof – disappeared! Jefferson’s unpardonable transgression? He coined the term “separation between church and state.”

Any concepts that might spur progressive thoughts in young minds were also expunged. “Justice,” for example, was stripped from a list of virtues meant to teach grade-schoolers the characteristics of good citizenship. No doubt the board majority would love to get its hands on the Pledge of Allegiance’s assertion of “justice for all,” but luckily, the pledge doesn’t come under the members’ purview. Yet.

The nuts were able to strike “responsibility for the common good” from the citizenship characteristics list, however, and they just missed deleting the American ideal of “equality.” They also narrowly lost on a vote to impose a new requirement that students be taught that the civil rights movement created “unreasonable expectations,” but they did manage to balance the positive impact of Martin Luther King Jr. with an insistence that the “positives” of Joe McCarthy’s witch-hunt for commies and of Jefferson Davis’ secessionist government also be taught.

One especially delicious moment came when the board considered a listing of world leaders who fought political repression. On the list was Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador, who led an indigenous poor people’s movement in the 1980s before the country’s right-wing death squads assassinated him as he was celebrating mass.

The board cut Romero from the list, declaring that he lacked the stature of such other repression fighters as Gandhi. After all, one board member explained, unlike Gandhi, Romero had not had a movie made about his life, so how important could he’ve been? But – oops! – there was a popular 1989 feature film called Romero about the archbishop’s exemplary life. The board was embarrassed, but it axed him anyway.

Words were banned, too. The phrase “democratic societies,” for example was replaced by the cumbersome “societies with representative government.” And even the term “capitalism” was censored for having a negative connotation. Instead, the board decreed that “free enterprise” be used throughout all social studies courses. In addition, all references to the Age of Enlightenment were dropped, because ...  well, because these full-fledged political purists don’t want any concept based on reason getting into the heads of our schoolkids.

Texas education wasn’t that great before all this folderol, but these doctrinaire morons are turning “Texas education” into an oxymoron.

Jim Hightower is a national radio commentator, columnist and author.

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