Thursday, July 16, 2009

From Science Class to History Class: An Emerging Culture Wars Frontline?

The Wall Street Journal has an article suggesting that there might be a new frontline for the culture wars in public school. Historically, the main debate has centered around evolution and the science classroom, but according to the WSJ, emerging debates could spill over into the social studies classroom. Key excerpt:
The Texas Board of Education, which recently approved new science standards that made room for creationist critiques of evolution, is revising the state's social studies curriculum. In early recommendations from outside experts appointed by the board, a divide has opened over how central religious theology should be to the teaching of history.

Three [of six] reviewers, appointed by social conservatives, have recommended revamping the K-12 curriculum to emphasize the roles of the Bible, the Christian faith and the civic virtue of religion in the study of American history. Two of them want to remove or de-emphasize references to several historical figures who have become liberal icons, such as César Chávez and Thurgood Marshall.

"We're in an all-out moral and spiritual civil war for the soul of America, and the record of American history is right at the heart of it," said Rev. Peter Marshall, a Christian minister and one of the reviewers appointed by the conservative camp.

Three other reviewers, all selected by politically moderate or liberal members of the board, recommended less-sweeping changes to the existing curriculum. But one suggested including more diverse role models, especially Latinos, in teaching materials. "We have tended to exclude or marginalize the role of Hispanic and Native American participants in the state's history," said Jesús F. de la Teja, chairman of the history department at Texas State University. (emphasis mine)
Keep in mind that the Texas Board of Education is not a meager influence on the academics of the rest of the country, as Texas is a third of the textbook market. Since textbook companies don't want to have many differences in copies, what happens in Texas to some extent affects the rest of the nation:
The standards that the school board eventually settles on won't dictate day-to-day lesson plans; that is up to individual teachers. But they will offer clear guidelines for educators -- and also for publishers.

Nearly every state has its own curriculum standards, and there are scores of social studies texts to choose from at most grade levels, so what happens in Texas won't necessarily affect other states. But the Texas market is huge, so most big publishers aggressively seek approval from the board, in some cases adopting the majority's editing suggestions nearly verbatim. (emphasis mine)

Given the debate over displaying the Ten Commandments on governmental property, this, to me, is a derivative argument. The argument is similar: the Bible and the faith of the Founding Fathers has had a lasting affect on the greatness of this nation, and the lack of recognition to these historical "truths" is naive. Naturally, strict adherents to the separation of church and state, me included, will argue against the intrusion of theology into public classrooms.


CWPNRG? said...

After having read the conservative reviews, I think the rhetoric is much more - I'm not sure what the word is, objectionable, maybe - than the actual recommendations.

Drew said...

i am sorry that i misunderstand your comment.

you think this this is more rhetoric and less than serious recommendations? or are you saying that the rhetoric is louder than the underlying claims may actually be? Just want to understand.

CWPNRG? said...

The rhetoric is louder than the claims. At the end of each review, the author makes recommendations to change the Standards of Learning. The changes really aren't that substantial, except that the liberals want more Cesar Chavez and the conservatives don't.