The persistent battles over school curriculum in Texas have turned into a debate over how much faith belongs in American history classrooms. It’s an unhelpful development for anyone who wants to see kids get more history in school.
The Texas Board of Education is revising the state’s social studies curriculum, the Wall Street Journal reports. “Three 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” reporter Stephanie Simon notes.
The conservative reviewers say they believe that children must learn that America’s founding principles are biblical. For instance, they say the separation of powers set forth in the Constitution stems from a scriptural understanding of man’s fall and inherent sinfulness, or “radical depravity,” which means he can be governed only by an intricate system of checks and balances. The curriculum, they say, should clearly present Christianity as an overall force for good — and a key reason for American exceptionalism, the notion that the country stands above and apart.
Simon has more to say on the WSJ blog The Juggle, describing history class as “a new front [that] has opened in the curriculum culture wars.” If so, it’s a most unwelcome and unhelpful one. Core curriculum is already starved for oxygen in too many schools. Fear that history is a stalking horse for religious instruction offers one more reason to downplay its importance, eliminate it from the school day, or reduce it to mere pabulum, as one commenter observes:
At this point, I don’t even care about the culture wars any more. I just wish the schools would teach a lot more history. My kids get so little history, and what they do get is mainly in the form of little nuggets of usually incorrect information. They do Columbus in October, Thanksgiving in November (and yes, they do mention God, and the kids color some pictures of Indians, usually in completely wrong attire, and that is about it). In January they learn that “Martin Luther King was a great man who got everybody together.” No mention of Jim Crow, no mention of civil disobediance, no mention of slavery. It is horrifying. My son just finished third grade and doesn’t know about slavery or the Civil War. What sense does Martin Luther King make if you don’t know about slavery? My sense is that the schools here are so scared they might offend someone, both conservatives and liberals, that they just don’t teach anything at all.”
Hard to disagree with that common sense perspective. And even harder to see how emphasizing the “Christian character” of the U.S. is going to make secular teachers–or parents–more enthusiastic about teaching history. It’s just what the effort to beef up core curriculum doesn’t need–turning history into the next “intelligent design” debate.