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Posted at 6:30 AM ET, 05/21/2010

The worst Texas social studies standard?

By Valerie Strauss

I think we have a winner.

I’ve been reading the social studies standards in Texas as well as the many proposed changes being pushed by religious conservatives on the Board of Education, and playing an entirely subjective game: Which is the most egregious twist of history?

For a while I thought it might be the effort by board member Cynthia Dunbar to remove Thomas Jefferson from the Enlightenment curriculum and replace him with John Calvin. She argued that the Founding Fathers were guided by religion and that Jefferson was either wrong or didn’t really mean it when he called for a sharp separation of church and state.

I confess that part of the reason this was on my list was because of Dunbar, who was appointed to the state education board that oversees public education even though she doesn’t believe in public education.

In a book she wrote called “One Nation Under God,” she called public education a “subtly deceptive tool of perversion” and said the establishment of public schools is unconstitutional and “tyrannical” because it undermines the authority of families that was granted by God to direct children’s instruction.

Other changes were considered too; capitalism can now only be referred to as "free enterprise system," mostly because the word "capitalism" apparently is negatively perceived.

Then there’s the new language that includes positive references to the Moral Majority and the National Rifle Association, and that softens the despicable legacy of the late Sen. Joe McCarthy.

One change just approved Thursday requires third-graders to learn “how government regulations and taxes impact consumer cost.” The board is set to vote today on all of the proposed changes.

Why was this done? Because, said David Bradley, one of the ultra-conservative majority on the board, “I wanted to get taxes back in there.”

And so he did.

There are a lot more changes, but I think we have found the most egregious, even insidious proposal: Calling the country’s slave trade the "Atlantic triangular trade." That refers to the trade system that included the American colonies, Europe and Africa, which, if drawn on a map with arrows from place to place, certainly looks like a triangle. The proposal is correct on the geometric merits.

On historical and moral merits, however, it fails miserably. Trying to whitewash the country’s ugly past is itself ugly, and dangerous.

Even Rod Page, the conservative who former president George Bush picked to be the first African-American education secretary, pleaded, to no avail, with the education board this week not to pass the changes.

Things are wacky in Texas when the board of education won't listen to the man that Bush, the former Republican president and Texas governor, tapped as his education chief.

It makes you wonder why education reformers only insist that teachers are highly qualified to keep their jobs. Shouldn’t there be some basic test of sanity for people who make education policy?


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By Valerie Strauss  | May 21, 2010; 6:30 AM ET
Categories:  History  | Tags:  revising social studies standards, texas and standards, texas board of education, texas social studies standards, texas standards  
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Posted by: QueridaCleta | May 21, 2010 6:50 AM | Report abuse

Note to copy editor: It's Rod Paige, not Page.
And Tailgunner Joe McCarthy will FINALLY get the respect he deserves. How pathetic this all is.

Posted by: bdunn1 | May 21, 2010 10:48 AM | Report abuse

It's a tough call, as there are so many bad ones. I think the slave trade (oops, Atlantic triangular trade) is a close second, though it may be the most morally indefensible. My winner is the standard for high school students to "Evaluate efforts by global organizations to undermine U.S. sovereignty," which reflects the paranoia of the Board's world view.

According to the newspaper repports, "Board member Don McLeroy, R-Bryan, said students need to know about "threats of global government to individual freedom and liberty including the votes of the U.N. General Assembly, the International Criminal Court, the U.N. gun ban proposal, forced redistribution of American wealth to Third World countries and global environmental initiatives."

Posted by: tweinberg | May 21, 2010 10:50 AM | Report abuse

No, you missed the worst by far. The very worst, most disgusting and egregious revision by the SBOE is the part where they want to use the works of Thomas Kinkade to represent America as they see it. Apparently they only want the students to see life in chintzy, gauzy, maudlin, overly sentimental hues.


Posted by: Alferd | May 21, 2010 11:07 AM | Report abuse

I live in Texas. Almost everyone but the Governor knows that Cynthia Dunbar is a complete fool. This crazy woman has allowed her deranged religious mania to bubble over into the world of education. God spare us the likes of Cynthia Dunbar.

Posted by: txtopper | May 21, 2010 3:44 PM | Report abuse

This article and the commenters take it as granted that there is only one true history and they know the content. Actually, you can tell many stories with history. And the culturist wisdom of the ages says, schools exist to socialize the youth into the society in which they are born.

The educational establishment's multicultural list-of-complaints approach is a set up for alienation and anti-social behavior. Obviously, no one would give their all to a society that denies "social justice." Multiculturalism has the added bonus of denying the centrality of western civliziation to to America.

As Texas has, we must ditch multiculturalism for culturism. Texan schools should not teach, for example, that Texas was "stolen" from Mexico. This is dangerous. And what that "fact" would do for Mexico, the multicultural curriculum would do for America.

Posted by: DrJohnKPress | May 21, 2010 4:05 PM | Report abuse

I neither know what is in the Texas standards nor care.

Frankly, after generations of leftists determining standards based on their ideological convictions, it is long since time for balance.

Posted by: RUKidding0 | May 21, 2010 8:26 PM | Report abuse

The standards shouldn't be way to the right or the left and should teach the facts without using inflammatory or opinionated language. There should be separation of church and state. Kids should learn that there are always different points of view about the same historical "fact", not have political garbage shoved down their throats. Can you imagine if these people worked for the Dept. of Ed. and wrote national standards. OMG

Posted by: celestun100 | May 21, 2010 9:58 PM | Report abuse

In regard to McCarthy, Venona Papers folks. Google it to see how much you've been lied to.

Posted by: thebink | May 22, 2010 8:11 AM | Report abuse

While I don't want to whitewash the slave trade, and as a historian I think what's happening in Texas is terrible, I remember as an undergraduate and as a graduate student in history, discussing the Triangular Trade: slaves from Africa to the West Indies, molasses and sugar cane from the West Indies to New England, and rum to Africa. (In the movie 1776, there is a song about it.)

Posted by: sideswiththekids | May 22, 2010 9:10 AM | Report abuse

Valerie, it was known as the Triangle Trade for a very long time -- pointing to the fact that the slave trade was not something that happened in isolation, but was a part of a large economic system that implicated more than merely the southern colonies of the America. God grief -- it was the term i was taught over 30 years ago in my Chicago high school! Not only that, but the term was well enough known 4 decades ago to make its way into the play 1776 in the song Molasses to Rum to Slaves.

Posted by: RhymesWithRight | May 22, 2010 6:07 PM | Report abuse

Wow, the shrieking of the Left knows no limits when political viewpoints other than their own get injected into the curriculum. The Venona Papers are fact.
The Trade Triangle was taught 35 yrs ago in every American History class, and Jefferson deplored organized religion and religiousity, not faith and belief in a higher power. What purpose is there in the Left's collective conniption over the inclusion of these historical facts?

Posted by: OttoDog | May 22, 2010 9:44 PM | Report abuse

The Triangle Trade is how the AP US History texts refer to it as well.

Most APUSH books also point out that there were, in fact, Communist spies in the US government in the 50s, whilst still properly castigating McCarthy.

As I understand it, they aren't devaluing Jefferson as a founding father, but rather as an important Enlightenment writer--something that is quite different. Jefferson wasn't particularly influential, except to the French, and only a few years later.

Really, Valerie, get a few clues to go along with that bushel basket of moral outrage. If, in fact, the conservatives in Texas are ignorant of US History, it appears the liberals in DC are in the same boat.

Posted by: Cal_Lanier | May 22, 2010 10:28 PM | Report abuse

Looks like Valerie is the victim of leftist brainwashing.
Fact: Jefferson was NEVER called for a sharp separation of church and state.
Fact: The "free enterprise system" is a term that the US government uses (not just Texas) - see
Fact: Only in Valerie's twisted mind is there nothing positive about the Moral Majority or the NRA
Fact: In studies of old Soviet files in Moscow and now the famous Venona Intercepts -- FBI recordings of Soviet embassy communications between 1944-48 -- the record is showing that McCarthy was essentially right. Almost every case he charged has now been proven correct. Whether it was stealing atomic secrets or influencing U.S. foreign policy, communist victories in the 1940s were fed by an incredibly vast spy and influence network.
Fact: Government regulations and taxes OF COURSE impact consumer costs - - only a moron (or a KoolAde guzzling Obamaton) would deny that.
Fact: Valerie's own education has obviously been deficient since the term
"Atlantic triangular trade" has been used in colleges for decades.
Fact: When vacuous Valerie asks "Shouldn’t there be some basic test of sanity for people who make education policy?" the only sane reply is "Shouldn't there be some basic test of sanity for people who post blogs on WaPo?"

Posted by: segeny | May 23, 2010 11:59 AM | Report abuse

In her quest to demonize those who would return some balance to the creeping political correctness in our nation’s textbooks, the very liberal Valerie Strauss claims to have found the “most egregious” example of nefarious “religious conservative” distortion:

“There are a lot more, but I think we have found the most egregious, even insidious, proposal: Calling the U.S. slave trade the "Atlantic triangular trade." That refers to the trade system among the American colonies, Europe and Africa, which, if connected on a map, certainly forms a triangle. The proposal is correct on the geometric merits. …On historical and moral merits, however, it fails miserably. Trying to whitewash the country's ugly past is itself ugly and dangerous.”

This is the worst of it?

Despite Strauss’ histrionics, the slave trade (or Atlantic slave trade) very much a part of (or a leg of) the “Atlantic Triangle Trade” as taught in history classes in this country for decades before the onset of political correctness. That didn’t diminish the dreadfulness of the slave trade, but did put in into an economic perspective to explain how it came to be an integral part of the colonial economy. Hand-wringing liberals, over the past few decades, desired to disconnect the economic drivers and focus solely on the horrors of the slave trade primarily to force their oppressive guilt on others.

The “Atlantic Triangle Trade” may be a new concept for the distraught Strauss but for those of us with some knowledge of history (unfettered by modern-day political considerations) this well-established term by no means, in and of itself, diminishes proper and effective coverage of the slave trade except in the fevered minds of ideologues. Here’s a comment to a piece:

“On the “Atlantic Triangle Trade” thing, when I was in high school they called it the Triangle Trade, but were explicit that one arm of the triangle was the slave trade. I see nothing wrong with situating the slave trade in the wider trade system so that student can understand why it happened, so is the complaint that they are no longer going to be referring to slaves at all or minimizing the moral and historical impact of the slave trade?”

A good question, and one that neither Strauss nor the Post is equipped to answer in the superficial reporting on this issue.

What Strauss’ blog demonstrates is that just about anybody can blog for The Washington Post. Coherence and clarity of thought are no prerequisite. Flaming, uninformed rhetoric seems to be the only requirement. But, of course, she’s writing for a specific Post constituency, knowing that they will lap this up without question.

Posted by: ChesDead | May 27, 2010 12:48 PM | Report abuse

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