Resolution adopted by the Texas SBOE

Friday, September 24th, the Texas State Board of Education passed a resolution  to reject Social Studies textbooks that it deemed prejudicial in terms of the treatment of the world’s major religious groups. The textbook can be deemed prejudiced if there is “significant inequalities of coverage space-wise and/or by demonizing or lionizing one or more of them over others.”

The action of the Texas SBOE is significant for the entire country because Texas SBOE is the single largest textbook purchaser.  Thus, textbook producers tend to comply with the Texas SBOE guidelines. This means that the Texas SBOE not only influences what Texas schools use but those across the country. The resolution cites a list of examples taken from textbooks formerly used in schools for Social Studies and World History.

The resolution struck a nerve in our national – and local – media. For example, the Houston Chronicle published an article last week on the resolution under the title, “SBOE motion worries Muslim”, and opens the article by telling the story of a Muslim growing up in the Texas schools who was harassed because of his religion. The purpose of the human-interest account is to pull on the heartstrings of readers to see the resolution as abusive and perhaps even dangerous. That’s interesting because the resolution doesn’t favor any religion. A bias toward Christianity over another group could just as easily cause a textbook to be rejected. As long as religion is evaluated based on an equality of textbook lines or an appearance of “lionization” or “demonization” of one group there will always be one group that is content and another angry.

This concerns me because of what it reveals about the public’s expectations of our educational system. There is an expectation of equality rather than accuracy, as if religion had no real influence on history but could very well have an influence on the textbook reader. The purpose of education seems to be lost in the public debate.

I decided to find out more about the Social Studies curriculum. The first thing I asked is, what in the world is “Social Studies” and why do we have a core class devoted to it? The purpose of social studies, according to the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) document, is “to establish the foundation for responsible citizenship in society.” This goal inevitably shapes the selection and rejection of material and the manner in which selected material is presented. So then I ask, what does a responsible citizen in our society look like? That, of course, depends on the values and character of our society. Our founding fathers were bent on building a Godly society. They wanted to create a nation “under God” that protected an individual’s freedom to worship God rather than restrict it to a particular form. The God they referenced was the Biblical God and not any other. But is that where we are today?

There is a strong pull, as the Chronicle’s article reveals, toward a society that is governed by “politically correctness.” In the days of the Roman Empire, the goal of local governors was to maintain peace in their region. In other words, they wanted responsible citizens too. This was done primarily with an acceptance of everyone’s beliefs and practices. The only thing they required was tolerance toward everyone else. This allowed them to maintain a level of peace. Sounds good on the surface, but what it in effect does is put government in the place that God once occupied in the lives of citizens. The “god(s)” of those citizens was effectively put in the back seat.

That doesn’t mean that in the Texas Educational system our children will not be taught about God or the religions of the world, but they will be taught that their place is in the backseat. This explains why the determining factor for a textbook’s acceptance or rejection is an “equality of space” or neutral view (not lionizing or demonizing).

On the other hand Ancient Israel, as well as Christian parents, are to teach their children to be good citizens in God’s Kingdom. This means teaching them how to think and understand the world that God created. It means exposing them to real history that influenced the shaping of the world we live in, and helping them discern history not only through the lens of how it affected the formation of Texas or the United States, but of how it affects the Kingdom of God.

We can embrace that education insofar as its perspective overlaps a Biblical one. But, if we want to see our children grow up to be good citizens of the Kingdom of God, then we must go farther in our involvement in what goes on at the state level (at least in terms of voting), what goes on in our local schools (in terms of knowing the perspectives of our children’s teachers) and what goes on afterschool as we supplement our children’s homework with the additional perspective of how their lessons fit into the Kingdom of God.

Know Your Texas SBOE

The Texas SBOE is a small board, made of 15 elected members, charged with oversight of the public education system of Texas in accordance with the Texas Education Code.  There is a mix of conservatives and liberals on the board, with a slight leaning toward the conservative side. You can read about each of the members at http://www.tea.state.tx.us/index3.aspx?id=1156. As parents (regardless of whether you send your kids to public, private, or home school), we must be “in the loop.” Our SBOE rep is Terri Leo or Cynthia Dunbar (depending on whether you live in District 6 or 10), both of whom are conservative republicans.

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