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Monthly Archives: August 2010

What’s the Matter with Texas?

August 31st, 2010 - 2:07 pm

[This is Part II of a five-part essay; if you haven't yet seen it, first read Part I here.]

In 2004, liberal historian Thomas Frank published What’s the Matter with Kansas?, a bestselling book in which the author expresses his utter mystification at how the citizens of Kansas could hold conservative values and vote Republican, when socialist economics and the Democratic Party were so self-evidently superior. While the author looked down his nose at the inscrutable ignorant rubes of Kansas, insultingly treating them like laboratory rats unable to solve the simplest maze, the book and its popularity ended up being more of a commentary on the ideological blindness of the author and his left-leaning readers: try as they might, they just don’t get it. As the book revealed, it’s not that left-wingers disagree with conservative principles; they actually cannot grasp the notion of having any principles whatsoever.

When it comes to the left/right divide over education, the focal point now is not Kansas, but Texas. As discussed in Part I of this essay, Texas plays a pivotal role in determining the content of textbooks used nationwide. And yet, bucking the national trend toward a left-leaning educational system, Texas consistently has pushed the conservative viewpoint at its influential school board meetings — infuriating and, yes, mystifying their liberal detractors. And so the time has come to rephrase the question: What’s the Matter with Texas? Why do Texans insist on being conservative when their self-appointed intellectual superiors have tried every trick in the book — mockery, bullying, media bias, legislation — to change the culture of the Lone Star State?

Unlike Thomas Frank, I get it. I understand that American patriotism, far from being nothing more than the reactionary buzzword of small-minded bigots (as leftists believe), is based on a deep awareness that the United States of America is the first (and to date only) nation based on an idea, rather than on geography or ethnicity. And not just any idea, but the highest ideals which the human mind can formulate: freedom, responsibility, self-reliance, equality of opportunity, individualism. And that to be patriotic in America is a shorthand way to declare one’s allegiance to these philosophical ideals.

The left, in its blindness, equates patriotism with brute nationalism, in particular the ethnic and chauvinistic nationalism of Europe which has led to totalitarianism and countless wars. And so the leftists condemn American patriotism as equally fascistic, unaware that by doing so they are rejecting not just the ideals on which America is based but the very notion of a nation based on ideals.

The revelation: Texas is not trying to push conservatism — it’s trying to preserve patriotism. (And by “preserve patriotism” I mean steadfastly uphold the principles upon which America rests.) Texas’ educational attitude only appears as “conservatism” to analysts because patriotism has been abandoned by the left in favor of internationalism, so conservatives are the only ones willing to stand up for patriotism anymore. In fact, the modern left has been so mesmerized by fantasies of a globalist utopia that American “conservatism” and “patriotism” have been conflated to essentially mean the same thing.

So, against the backdrop of a left-dominated public school system in the U.S. in which patriotism is increasingly downplayed or undermined in favor of multiculturalism and internationalism, when the Texas school board stands firm for a patriotic curriculum, critics accuse them of “pushing conservative ideology.”

There’s one little problem: While for the most part the Texas State Board of Education is in fact admirably defending patriotism, they unfortunately drag some ideological baggage into the meeting room as well, and do here and there attempt to push conservative and/or Christian viewpoints into the curriculum. Maybe not as much as their critics charge, and they’re not always successful, but they try. And try. And try.

And it is this attempt on the part of the TSBE to overreach which frustrates me to no end. Because every time they push back too hard, they look just as partisan as the leftists they’re trying to counteract. Which gives the media and the liberal critics a valid basis on which to criticize Texas’ attempt (and thus any attempt) to salvage a patriotic curriculum.

Furthermore, the conservative board members of the TSBE have in a few cases gone too far and ended up distorting historical fact to match their own wishful thinking for a Christian nation. When you want to rectify your opponent’s twisting of the facts, it’s never good to overtwist them yourself in the opposite direction. It might work when negotiating the price of a used car, but in an argument about the nature of truth it only serves to undermine your position.

Illustration by Buzzsawmonkey

The TSBE’s Curriculum Recommendations

As discussed in Part I, this five-part essay is critical of both sides in the education debate. Parts III and IV will directly confront the dominant leftist agenda, and I’m not going to pull any punches. So don’t think I’m just here to bash conservatives or Christians. This second installment is specifically about the Texas State Board of Education, but it is not the entirety of my argument, so try not to get the mistaken impression that I’m being overly critical of conservatives and soft on liberals. Just think of it as tough love.

Earlier this year, the Texas State Board of Education met to revise its curriculum guidelines, which heavily influence the content of textbooks used across the country. Liberal pundits and the media just about had an aneurysm at some of the changes proposed by the board’s conservative majority.

The liberal-leaning Texas Freedom Network compiled a detailed list of what they characterized as the worst changes to the textbook curriculum approved by the TSBE.

If you want to fact-check this admittedly left-leaning list by referring to the source documents, you can see them here:

Line-by-line approved revisions to the Texas social studies curriculum [pdf document] (click to view as Web page; right-click to download as pdf).

Final approved curriculum, incorporating all new amendments.

Here are the lowlights of this year’s revisions according to the Texas Freedom Network, which pretty much comprehensively summarizes every single point which the liberal pundits and reporters found objectionable. As we shall see, I personally agree with some of the points made here, but the further we go down the list, the less the objections stand up to scrutiny:

Religious conservatives on the board killed a proposed standard that would have required high school government students to “examine the reasons the Founding Fathers protected religious freedom in America by barring government from promoting or disfavoring any particular religion over all others.” That means the board rejected teaching students about the most fundamental constitutional protection for religious freedom in America. (3/11/10)

However, conservative news sources dispute this characterization. The Baptist Press, “news with a Christian perspective,” said:

[Opponents] wrote that the board’s “most egregious vote” was denying separation of religious and government institutions by rejecting a late amendment by Dallas Democrat Mavis Knight that students learn “the reasons the Founding Fathers protected religious freedom in America by barring government from promoting or disfavoring any particular religion over all others.”

McLeroy said he believed Knight’s amendment would paint the founders as neutral toward religion generally.

“They weren’t,” McLeroy said. “They simply didn’t want a state church, a state religion. That’s it. To say that we were against protecting the religious freedoms of all the people, that is all spin from the Texas Freedom Network. That’s all it is. Because it’s not right.”

Lowe added: “The First Amendment very clearly prevents Congress from establishing a national church, but it also promotes the free exercise of religion. Students need to understand that this is what the founders intended. It is inaccurate to say the Founding Fathers were neutral about religion; most were strong proponents of religious faith but did not believe in a national church controlled by the federal government.”

Hmmmm. Now we’re getting into an argument about details which are very hard to summarize in a textbook. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled on this issue several times in its history, but most of the landmark decisions tended to side with the secularist position that the First Amendment was more than about preventing a national church, but was generally about government not favoring or abetting religion in any way.

So it seems to me that the critics have a valid point here: The TSBE was promulgating as fact its wishful-thinking interpretation of the First Amendment, rather than the Supreme Court’s more “official” interpretation. Which, to me, is not kosher.

Moving on down the Texas Freedom Network’s list of liberal objections:

Even as board members continued to demand that students learn about “American exceptionalism,” they stripped Thomas Jefferson from a world history standard about the influence of Enlightenment thinkers on political revolutions from the 1700s to today. In Jefferson’s place, the board’s religious conservatives inserted Thomas Aquinas and John Calvin. They also removed the reference to “Enlightenment ideas” from the standard, requiring that students simply learn about the “writings” of various thinkers (including Calvin and Aquinas). (3/11/10)

Again, the argument over this issue has devolved into minutiae. See the link above which shows exactly how the standards were amended:

explain the impact of Enlightenment ideas from the writings of John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, Voltaire, Charles de Montesquieu, Jean Jacques Rousseau, Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin, and William Blackstone and Thomas Jefferson on political revolutions from 1750 to the present; …

While it may be true, as the TSBE’s defenders point out, that the liberal media exaggerated this excision (especially in various overstated headlines), and that Jefferson of course was retained in other parts of the curriculum, the fact remains that the board did delete Jefferson from the list of thinkers in what to me (and a lot of other people) looked like a petty jab at him for being the champion of the “separation of church and state” doctrine. It’s hard to shake off the notion that they tried to downgrade the doctrine by removing any discussion of its sponsor from the list. Which, as I colorfully noted in Part I, seems more like a partisan ploy than an even-handed presentation of facts.

Continuing with the objections:

The board’s right-wing faction removed a reference to propaganda as a factor in U.S. entry into World War I. (The role of propaganda on behalf of both the Allies and Central Powers in swaying public opinion in the United States is well-documented. Republican Pat Hardy noted that her fellow board members were “rewriting history” with that and similar changes.) (1/15/10)

Cross-checking this with the revisions in the source document, it’s an accurate statement that the TSBE removed references to propaganda playing a role in our entry into WWI. Which, as the liberal critics point out, is pretty much an uncontested historical fact. Why did the TSBE do this? Because teachers were using the WWI propaganda example to criticize the way the media helped whip up public opinion to invade Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003? Whatever the motivation, expunging known facts, especially for possible political reasons (even ones I might happen to agree with) is egregious.

However, many in the MSM and on the left, including the Texas Freedom Network, predictably overplayed their hand in their condemnation of the TSBE’s recommendations by lumping in other changes by the board which upon closer inspection aren’t so outrageous after all. In many cases, the board had a valid point, or at least brought up an issue about which reasonable people could argue (but which up until now weren’t arguing because the liberal version of events had been ossified as historical fact). Here are some more entries from the TFN’s “List of Shame” which aren’t really that shameful. In fact, for most of them the only shameful part is the clumsy and ill-informed way the TSBE members bungled the defense of judgment calls which better debaters could have successfully championed:

Board conservatives succeeded in censoring the word “capitalism” in the standards, requiring that the term for that economic system be called “free enterprise” throughout all social studies courses. Board members such as Terri Leo and Ken Mercer charged that “capitalism” is a negative term used by “liberal professors in academia.”

The board changed a “imperialism” to “expansionism” in a U.S. history course standard about American acquisition of overseas territories in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Board conservatives argued that what the United States did at the time was not the same as European imperialism.

Actually, the board has a valid point here: The very terms “capitalism” and “imperialism” have become standard-issue insults among anti-American academics. Because the language has been tainted and over-politicized, it is reasonable to try to revert to more neutral terms.

The board stripped Dolores Huerta, cofounder of United Farm Workers of America, from a Grade 3 list of “historical and contemporary figures who have exemplified good citizenship.” Conservative board members said Huerta is not a good role model for third-graders because she’s a socialist. But they did not remove Hellen Keller from the same standard even though Keller was a staunch socialist. Don McLeroy, a conservative board member who voted to remove Huerta, had earlier added W.E.B. DuBois so the Grade 2 standards. McLeroy apparently didn’t know that DuBois had joined the Communist Party in the year before he died. (1/14/10)

The liberal argument here flops utterly. Mocking McLeroy and the others for unwittingly allowing some socialists into the curriculum is not a logical argument for the need to therefore include all socialists. But mostly, Huerta’s socialism was the central tenet of her career and fame, whereas Helen Keller’s and W.E.B. Dubois’s late-career socialism were incidental to the reasons they were being praised as examples of “good citizenship.”

In an absurd attempt to excuse Joseph McCarthy’s outrageous witchhunts in the 1950s, far-right board members succeeded in adding a requirement that students learn about “communist infiltration in U.S. government” during the Cold War. (Board member Don McLeroy has even claimed outright that Joseph McCarthy has been “vindicated,” a contention not supported by mainstream scholarship.) (1/15/10)

This is still a hot-button issue, but it could be (and is) argued convincingly from both sides. McCarthy was a bully and a jerk; but then again, as the nation learned decades after the fact, on a purely factual basis he was mostly correct — communists and their sympathizers had infiltrated the government. Perhaps McCarthy’s tactics haven’t been vindicated, but his claims have.

The board’s right-wing faction removed references to “democratic” (or “representative democracy”) when discussing the U.S. form of government. The board’s majority Republicans changed those references to “constitutional republic.” Board member Cynthia Dunbar also won approval for changing references to “democratic societies” to “societies with representative government.” (3/11/10)

This is a bit of transparent partisan bickering on both sides, each wanting to use the lower-case version of their favored political party’s names (democratic/republican) to describe our form of government. The board’s argument, however, is just as valid as that of their opponents.

Religious conservatives stripped from the high school sociology course a standard having students “differentiate between sex and gender as social constructs and determine how gender and socialization interact.” Board member Barbara Cargill argued that the standard would lead students to learn about “transexuals, transvestites and who knows what else.” She told board members she had conducted a “Google search” to support her argument. Board member Ken Mercer complained that the amendment was about “sex.” The board consulted no sociologists during the debate. (3/11/10)

This is a perfect example of the board having a good point but being too anti-intellectual to cogently defend it. Perhaps in college we can’t stop students from being inundated with postmodern claptrap about “gender being a social construct,” but I for one think it’s a good idea to stop that mental infection from spreading downward into high school. But the board members’ cringeworthy justifications ruin what could have been a teachable moment.

Read the full list at the Texas Freedom Network link for more liberal objections to the curriculum changes, some of which are valid, some debatable, and some totally invalid. Overall, one gets the impression that the TSBE was trying to correct embedded liberal bias in the curriculum, but overreached in some areas and made themselves open to criticism as extremists or religious partisans, and further embarrassed themselves with various boorish and ill-informed justifications for what could otherwise have been defensible positions.

Evolution

Even though this year’s meetings did not focus on evolution, the topic still looms over the conversation and needs to be addressed, since in past years the TSBE did debate how evolution should be presented in class, and it still remains the most controversial part of their curriculum recommendations.

At the 2009 meetings, the board’s religious members argued for the inclusion of “intelligent design” in science textbooks, and for a critique of Darwinian natural selection. They were not entirely successful in their attempt, and the end result was an awkward compromise that left neither side happy. But the very fact that they tried to excise or at best downplay evolution in textbooks revealed their intent to impose their version of religious ideology on the science curriculum. And this very fact alone earned the TSBE the undying antipathy of almost the entire scientific establishment.

It is beyond the scope of this essay to rehash the entire 150-year-long debate over the reality and significance of evolution-through-natural-selection. And as a longtime veteran of the online evolution wars, I know that nothing I say will convince some people anyway. So I’m just going to lay out, as briefly as possible, my stance on the topic, and let readers, if they are so inclined, duke it out in the comments section:

  • The debate about the reality of evolution is over. Evolution happens, and it happens through natural selection. The evidence is beyond overwhelming and is conclusive.
  • If you quibble about the meaning of the word “theory” without knowing its definition in a scientific context, then you unintentionally have disqualified yourself from the conversation.
  • Intelligent design, creationism, or any other euphemism you care to use to describe “directed evolution,” are not scientific theories; they are religious beliefs, and as such have no place in a science class.
  • Denial of evolution is not a necessary adjunct of being Christian or having religious sentiments; it is entirely possible to be religious and to accept scientific realities like evolution, and many evolutionary scientists are also Christians.
  • “Darwinism” is not some sort of faith-based religion in its own right nor is it competing with Christianity, and anyone who claims so is either seriously misinformed or is purposely deceiving you.
  • The scientific community takes an extremely dim view of any official in a position of power who tries to undermine the teaching of evolution; this is a make-or-break “litmus test” issue for most scientists.
  • Therefore, the insistence by officials such as the Texas State Board of Education on tampering with evolution curriculum unnecessarily creates enemies out of many clear-thinking science educators who might otherwise applaud the TSBE’s pro-America and pro-factuality stance on other issues.

In other words: Even if you are an unwavering opponent of evolutionary theory, it is a terrible strategic blunder to insist that your view be taught in the public classroom as science, because doing so will deservedly earn you the enmity of millions of potential allies. This one issue is sufficient all on its own to mark its proponents (generally identified in America as “socially conservative Christians”) as overly partisan and unqualified to participate in discussions about school curriculum. And if you forfeit your position at the debate podium over this one sticking point, you will let the far left dominate the policymaking unopposed.

What Texas Is Up Against

As dejected as I am by the Texas State Board of Education’s amateurish and occasionally dishonest tamperings with the school curriculum, I realize that they’re operating in very hostile enemy territory. So, although, when seen in isolation, the TSBE’s agenda might make me cringe, when I look at the bigger picture, I start to cut them some slack.

For example, it was recently revealed that famed historian Howard Zinn was a communist — and not just a casual half-hearted communist, but a lifelong fierce and unapologetic advocate for Marxist-Leninist revolution, and a leading member of the Communist Party. Why should you care? Because Zinn was the author of the bestselling A People’s History of the United States, which is now considered a basic textbook in many school districts. As Roger Kimball noted,

The extremity and consistency of [A People’s History's] message — that America is and always has been an evil, exploitative country — guaranteed its success among the tenured radicals to whom we have entrusted the education of our children. More to the point, this history “from the perspective of the slaughtered and mutilated” nudged out all other contenders for the prize of becoming the preferred catechism in American — that is to say, anti-American — history. A People’s History is the textbook of choice in high schools and colleges across the country. No other account of our past comes even close in influence or ubiquity. No other, more responsible, telling of the American story had a chance. How could it? Given a choice between a book that portrayed America honestly — as an extraordinary success story — and a book that portrayed the history of America as a litany of depredations and failures, which do you suppose your average graduate of a teachers college, your average member of the National Education Association, would choose? To ask the question is to answer it. What this means is that most American students are battened on a story of their country in which Blame America First is a cardinal principle.

As bad as A People’s History is (and if you’ve never read it, the contents are worse than you can even imagine), it’s just the tip of the indoctrination iceberg. Zinn is not the point: He’s just the poster child for an across-the-board ideological coup d’etat by radical leftists who have already seized nearly complete control over the nation’s education curriculum, aside from the Texas-approved textbooks.

You don’t hear much about the curriculum these days because it’s a done deal. That fight is pretty much over, and (outside of Texas and a few southern states) the Left won. So there’s no need for Barack Obama to even mention the content of education in his proposals, because that aspect is already in the bag. Obama instead now focuses on funding for education, which may seem on the surface like a non-controversial issue. Yet if the funding is going to an educational system that is rife with political and philosophical indoctrination, then it doesn’t seem so non-controversial anymore.

And while it may be true that the radicalization of American schools of course long predates the arrival of Barack Obama on the national stage — absolving him of direct guilt in its implementation — he is quite obviously an enthusiastic supporter of the left-leaning curriculum currently in place, as evidenced by his earlier extensive career in academia where he championed leftist educational priorities.

Double Forfeit

It is against this backdrop that the Texas State Board of Education engages in its culture wars. Yes, the TSBE utterly contaminates its efforts with infuriating proposals to wipe away any mention of evolution and of the United States’ status as an explicitly secular nation. And for many people (including myself until recently), that’s enough to disqualify Texas from the debate.

But the more I read about the the even-more egregious left-wing indoctrination poisoning school districts nationwide, the more I feel that the other side is also disqualified from the debate.

Yet where does that leave us? A major dispute over the direction of our nation and no one remaining on stage to argue, both sides having been ejected for dishonesty?

As I said at the beginning of this essay, I wish that there was a sane alternative, a middle path, but at this moment no one wants to listen to people like me. And so, lacking any other competitors, I allow both the conservatives and the progressives back into my mental arena and admonish them, “Listen, you two: Neither of you deserve to be here, and you’re unworthy of my consideration. But unfortunately you’re the only alternatives we’ve got. So, since neither of you wants to compromise, I’ve got to decide which of your positions I find the least offensive.”

What Else Is On the Tray?

Since I hate each side’s main course, I have to look to see what else they have on their trays.

Aside from identity politics, historical falsehoods, ridiculous multiculturalism, communist propaganda, and relentless indoctrination, what else does the Left have to offer in its educational policy? Well, as we saw above encapsulated in A People’s History of the United States, the overall intent of the left-wing curriculum is to foster a hatred of America and American values and traditions. At every turn the U.S. is portrayed throughout its history as a genocidal, mean-spirited, racist, oppressive, fascist police state. Everything bad throughout our history is emphasized and blown out of proportion. Everything good is ignored or misconstrued beyond recognition. The anti-Americanism is subtle in elementary grades, and escalates in middle school and high school, and becomes full-blown by college.

On the other hand…

Aside from denying some fundamental scientific truths, ignoring aspects of history they find inconvenient, distorting certain amendments of the Constitution, and trying to get religion back into schools, what does the Texas State Board of Education and its allies have to offer in its educational policy? A love for America, its values and traditions (at least to the extent that those traditions aren’t expressly anti-religious). America, in the conservative curriculum, is glorified as the greatest nation in history, the source of democracy and freedom, the savior of the world.

It all comes down to a matter of intent. WHY does each side mutilate the truth? To what end?

In the case of the left, the ultimate goal is to overthrow the United States as we know it.

In the case of the right, the ultimate goal is to preserve and strengthen the United States.

What choice do I have, therefore, but to support the conservative side as the lesser of two evils?


 

Next: Part III — Indoctrination Nation.


 

Part I: Ideological War Spells Doom for America’s Schoolkids
Part II: What’s the Matter with Texas?
Part III: Indoctrination Nation
Part IV: In Pursuit of Cultural Hegemony
Part V: Proposals for an Educational Renaissance

Students are returning to school this week. But they’re not heading back to class — they’re walking straight into a war zone. Our kids have become cannon fodder for two rival ideologies battling to control America’s future.

In one camp are conservative Christians and their champion, the Texas State Board of Education; in the other are politically radical multiculturalists and their de facto champion, President Barack Obama. The two competing visions couldn’t be more different. And the stakes couldn’t be higher. Unfortunately, whichever side wins — your kid ends up losing.

That’s because this war is for the power to dictate what our children are taught — and, by extension, how future generations of Americans will view the world. Long gone are the days when classrooms were for learning: now each side sees the public school system as a vast indoctrination camp in which future culture-warriors are trained. The problem is, two diametrically opposed philosophies are struggling for supremacy, and neither is willing to give an inch, so the end result is extremism, no matter which side temporarily comes out on top.

Both visions are grotesque and unacceptable — and yet they are currently the only two choices on the national menu. Which shall it be, sir: Brainwashing Fricassee, or a Fried Ignorance Sandwich?

Why Is Texas So Influential?

Now, in the struggle between the President of the United States and the members of a local school board, you’d think the president would have a big advantage. Not so. Because the Texas State Board of Education (TSBE) enjoys a uniquely powerful position: Textbook manufacturers don’t want to make 50 different editions of each book catering to the whims of each state, so they instead make just a few editions, one for each of the “major educational markets” such as Texas, and then the smaller states have no other option but to use those versions. So the boards of education in California, Florida and most importantly Texas essentially get to dictate what goes into textbooks nationwide. The TSBE tells the textbook companies which subjects must be covered and how they must be covered to be acceptable in Texas, and textbook companies are compelled to play along; if they try to go rogue, Texas will reject the book, and the publisher will lose most of its sales.

So when the TSBE holds its periodic meetings to set textbook standards, as it did last March and May, the educational world sits up and pays very close attention. And at the same time that the TSBE was meeting, the Obama administration announced new federal educational guidelines.

The tragedy for our nation is that both proposals are horribly flawed. But we’re caught between a rock and a hard place; due to the escalating culture wars, the middle ground is a cratered political no-man’s-land. Everyone’s in “you’re either with us or against us” mode, and the end result is that it’s almost impossible to find an even-handed analysis of the dreadful situation in which we’ve found ourselves.

Innumerable liberal critics condemn the anti-science and partisan revisionist lunacy coming out of the Texas school board meetings. And you know what? The criticisms hit home. It’s next to impossible for a sensible person to defend the TSBE’s often ridiculous proposals.

On the other side of the fence, you’ll find countless conservative pundits and angry parents increasingly outraged by the ever-escalating political correctness and equally egregious (but mirror-image) historical revisionism which dominates public schooling away from the Texas sphere of influence. And you know what? They’re right too. Left-wing activists have basically taken control of the educational system and have for years been brazenly transforming it into a training ground for young radicals.

But what you won’t find is anyone willing to say that BOTH sides are unacceptable. (Until now, that is. I’m saying it.) Either you’re on the left and you bash the Texas standards, or you’re on the right and you bemoan the progressive curriculum. Each published criticism only tells half the story, so the argument never goes anywhere, since each side refuses to even acknowledge the points made by the opposition.

In this five-part essay, which will unfold each day this week, I’m going to examine the intrinsic shortcomings of both the contemporary left-wing and right-wing approaches to education. I wish there was no need to do this, but unfortunately those two extremes seem to be the only two options on the table. The only way we’re ever going to return to sensible education is to call out, debunk, and then dismiss the two dominant extremes. In the series’ final section I’ll present what should be the obvious solution to the dilemma, a rigorous non-politicized back-to-basics freedom-centric educational framework that will infuriate the radicals on both sides but please the only people who matter: parents and students.

 

Illustration by Buzzsawmonkey

 

First let’s introduce the disputants:

Team Left

On the left we have radical academia, the neo-Marxist educational theorists, and the teachers’ unions: their progressive blueprint, which they’ve been incrementally yet successfully implementing for over three decades by now, is to inculcate in students a “social justice” mental framework focusing on multiculturalism, an absence of competition, and a general loathing for America and distrust of traditional American values. In the past, when old-fashioned schooling still held sway, these activists denounced nationwide educational standards which prevented teachers from presenting “alternative” facts and viewpoints. But now that the once-alternative progressive framework has become ascendent and dominates the education landscape, the left (or at least the Obama wing of the left) has flipped policies, and these days they insist on imposing nationwide educational standards to prevent any local schoolboards or states from sneaking off the political plantation and exposing students to conservative values.

What’s topsy-turvy is that the federal government’s new standards now discourage traditional subjects like reading and math in favor of malleable courses like history which are more amenable to political manipulation and social indoctrination:

A plan to overhaul the 2002 education law championed by President George W. Bush was unveiled by the Obama administration. …

In the proposed dismantling of the No Child Left Behind law, education officials would move away from punishing schools that don’t meet benchmarks and focus on rewarding schools for progress, particularly with poor and minority students. …

The blueprint also would allow states to use subjects other than reading and mathematics as part of their measurements for meeting federal goals, pleasing many education groups that have said No Child Left Behind encouraged teachers not to focus on history, art, science, social studies and other important subjects.

Uh huh. The reason for this, of course, is that politically neutral fundamentals like spelling and multiplication tables get in the way of prime brainwashing time. Up until now the progressive agenda has been seriously hamstrung by the need to squander much of a student’s educational career just nailing down basic skills, in order to pass standardized tests. Now, Obama has pronounced: We will federally fund even those schools that let students drift into illiteracy just so long as they take classes in P.C. history and social studies instead. And if you are naive enough to think that “history” and “social studies” are politically neutral too, then keep reading. (Though it should be noted that the president’s insanely confusing and much-loathed “Race to the Top” education funding scheme has drawn withering criticism from both sides of the political spectrum.)

Concomitant with this official drive is a subtle but persistent push to change the educational atmosphere. Politicized re-orientation is not limited to facts and textbooks; it’s also about changing students’ philosophical frameworks.

These days, it has become standard policy in American classrooms for students to be rewarded for merely expressing their feelings about a topic, rather than exhibiting knowledge about a topic. Meanwhile, competition of any sort is rapidly becoming taboo. For example, until recently when each school chose a valedictorian for graduation, the selection was by definition limited to the one student who had the best academic record. In the modern classroom environment, however, this is condemned as elitist:

A June 27 story from the New York Times points a finger towards one of the many problems that contaminates the nation’s educational system – the belief that competition is an elitist, antiquated concept and those who try deserve accolades equal to those who achieve.

The article focused on the swelling number of valedictorians at the nation’s high schools.

One school has seven valedictorians this year, another has 30 and Colorado’s St. Vrain Valley school district has 94.

A June 3 story from KFSN-TV, in Fresno, California, reported that Bullard High School will have 62 valedictorians this year.

How can so many students be ‘Number One’? The Times explained, “Principals say that recognizing multiple valedictorians reduces pressure and competition among students and it is a more equitable way to honor achievement….”

It goes on: Class projects in American schools are now often assigned to groups rather than individual students, to dampen the sense of individual achievement if praise is earned — or soften the shame for those who flop. Students are too frequently passed along to the next grade-level, even if they’re not up to the task — so as not to damage their self-esteem (coughor the school’s academic rankingscough). The backhanded compliment, “I’ll give you an ‘A’ for effort,” which in my day was always dripping with sarcasm and usually immediately preceded a big red “C+” on the paper, is no longer sarcastic: Students really do get actual “A”s for effort, even if they don’t come close to finding the right answers.

This is the progressive dream: To eliminate hierarchy and stratification in schooling, and to make sure, by hook or by crook, that no student fails or feels bad, even if the only way to achieve that is to ensure that no other student succeeds or feels good. Because if there are winners, then there must necessarily be losers, and Team Left has banished the very category of “loser” from our vocabulary. Baby, meet bathwater.

Team Right

On the right we have conservative Christians and the Texas State Board of Education, who want to not only return to the basics of 1950s-style education, but to also put the fundamentalism back in the fundamentals, applying an unapologetically Christian overlay to what kids learn in school, and in certain areas dispose with scientific fact in favor of religious dogma.

The Texas State Board of Education has infamously for years been trying to eliminate the theory of evolution from the state’s science textbooks and to replace it with the anti-scientific non-theory of “intelligent design,” better known as creationism. Although this issue was not addressed in the board’s most recent 2010 meeting, at their previous meeting, in 2009, after much contentious debate, they resolved the dispute by agreeing to a watered-down watering-down of evolution, allowing teachers to point out the deficiencies of all scientific theories, not just biological theories, as a way of sneaking at least some kind of anti-evolutionism into the curriculum over the objections of scientists nationwide.

As someone who knows more than a thing or two about this field, I can only shake my head in dismay at the sheer ignorance and irrationality of the TSBE on this issue. Why, I ask myself, must they contaminate their legitimate grievances over the left-wing bias of school curricula? By coupling patriotism with creationism, they are discrediting not only their own but everyone else’s attempts to counteract the leftist agenda.

I’m still angry about it. The TSBE has done more to help the radical progressives than has any group or individual on the left. No need for liberal activists to undermine the TSBE’s credibility, and by extension the credibility of anyone potentially aligned with them — the TBSE undermines itself! Thanks, guys. Now will you please shut up?

No. They will not shut up. Because at this year‘s meetings, in March and May, the TSBE upped the ante and broached a whole new category of intellectual offenses, this time not about science but about history and social studies.

First, they defeated a motion to have students learn about the separation of church and state, a foundational principle of the United States; the board members seem to have no problem ignoring those parts of the Constitution (such as the First Amendment) which they personally dislike. To add insult to insanity, they then removed all mention of Thomas Jefferson as one of the writers who “influenced the nation’s intellectual origins,” since he was the bastard who insisted that the U.S. be a secular nation in the first place. Hey, Tommy-boy, who’s studying your so-called “separation of church and state” now, eh? Payback’s a bitch!

There’s more to come about the TSBE’s attempts to rewrite history, as we shall soon see in Part II of this essay. Their two-pronged assault on both scientific and historical facts makes it painfully clear that they are totally out of touch with reality and want to impose their particular brand of religious beliefs on the public schools.

But then again…

However grotesque Texas’ twisting of facts may seem at first glance, it’s positively mild compared to what’s going on coast-to-coast in the rest of the country’s classrooms. That’s because the Texas curriculum wars are not happening in a vacuum — they’re happening in response to a complete perversion of the American educational system that has taken place right under our noses over recent decades. Did you naively think that today’s kids have been studying the same core subjects in the same ways that you studied them, way back when? Think again. Education has been revolutionized, but the revolution was not even announced, much less televised.

In Parts III and IV we’ll examine the much more subtle yet effective long-term project by the American left to fundamentally transform our schools. And in Part V, if you aren’t too depressed by then, we’ll grope for a way out of this mess.

Continued in PART II: What’s the Matter With Texas?

 


 

Part I: Ideological War Spells Doom for America’s Schoolkids
Part II: What’s the Matter with Texas?
Part III: Indoctrination Nation
Part IV: In Pursuit of Cultural Hegemony
Part V: Proposals for an Educational Renaissance

The Obama-Piven Strategy

August 16th, 2010 - 8:43 am

We are in the middle of an epochal struggle over the direction of American economic policy.

The Democrats, who are currently in charge, want to follow a Keynesian model, which entails massive government spending — with its attendant tax increases and soaring deficit — to jump-start the economy.

The Republicans think the solution to our economic doldrums is to lower taxes and decrease spending, to stimulate business activity and help the nation climb out of its crippling debt.

And then there’s Barack Obama….

You might think he would be the natural spokesman for the Democratic strategy. And when the cameras are turned on, he is. But under the surface he’s also an advocate for a third economic policy, one that isn’t spoken of in polite company: The Cloward-Piven Strategy.

Problem is, the Cloward-Piven Strategy is not simply some alternate theory about the best way to rescue the American economy. Quite the opposite, in fact. Its goal is to intentionally ruin the economy, so as to arouse popular outcry for a revolutionary and fundamental change in our economic system.

I propose that President Obama is simultaneously trying to rescue the economy using the Keynesian/Democratic model while at the same time also trying to destroy the economy through the Cloward-Piven Strategy. His two mutually contradictory plans cancel each other out, rendering all his efforts self-negating, and this explains why the American economy has stalled.

I dub this the Obama-Piven Strategy. And it’s the reason why we remain mired in a deep recession. We are neither recovering, as the Keynesian model predicts, nor is capitalism collapsing, as the revolutionaries hope; the Obama-Piven strategy ensures that we remain in suspended animation between the two extremes.

(No offense to Cloward, it’s just that the “Obama-Piven Strategy” rolls off the tongue more easily than the “Cloward-Obama Strategy.”)

The Basics

The Cloward-Piven Strategy, for those of you unfamiliar with it, was named after its formulators, two Columbia University sociologists named Richard Cloward and Frances Fox Piven. In an influential 1966 essay published in The Nation magazine, they outlined a strategy through which every American would receive a nationwide “guaranteed annual income.” To bring this about, they essentially recommended that as many people as possible should be enrolled in government welfare programs so as to intentionally bankrupt the system; our elected officials would then feel politically compelled to create an overarching permanent drastic solution to the welfare problem, restructuring our free-market economy along socialistic lines — what the authors described as “the outright redistribution of income.”

Now, I’m not here to assess the wisdom or likelihood of the Cloward-Piven Strategy. I’m only pointing out that its intent, unlike those of traditional economic theories, is to wreak havoc on and eventually destroy the American economy, as part of a larger political goal. And that its proposed mechanism for destroying the economy is to maximize the number of people receiving government benefits.

Handy Charts

The following four color-coded charts summarize the four economic theories competing for dominance in contemporary America.

We’ll start with the Republican Strategy, since for the purposes of this article it is (temporarily, at least) an outlier:

The 2010 Republican Economic Strategy
Reduce taxes and decrease spending
Goal: To improve the economy in the long run by stimulating business activity and lowering the deficit
Free market / small government fiscal theory

Note that this is actually the Tea Party strategy; it has only recently been adopted (in theory, at least) by the Republican Party, which formerly had not been very strict about minimizing the deficit.

Next, the Democrats:

The 2010 Democratic Economic Strategy
Raise taxes and increase spending
Goal: To improve the economy in the short run by taking in higher revenue and distributing cash to stimulate consumption
Keynesian economics

In a sane world, those would be the only two charts we’d need. But tucked away in our new president’s ideological baggage was yet a third strategy, which is not exactly equivalent to the other two:

The 2010 Cloward-Piven Economic Strategy
Increase government programs, welfare demands, handouts and benefits to as many people as possible
Goal: To destroy the economy as a necessary precursor to a more drastic redistributionist/socialist makeover of society
Intentionally bankrupting the capitalist system to initiate revolutionary change

Now, if you were to combine the two strategies above, you’d get the actual current winner in the Battle of the Economic Theories, the self-defeating combo-strategy confusingly championed by the leader of our nation:

The 2010 Obama-Piven Economic Strategy
Increase government programs, handouts, benefits, taxes and spending as rapidly and drastically as possible
Goal: To simultaneously destroy and improve the economy
A muddled combination of the Democratic Strategy and the Cloward-Piven Strategy

A Generalized Term

As originally formulated in their Nation essay, Cloward’s and Piven’s recommendations were highly specific to the 1966 political climate. They discuss at length the alliances of the mid-’60s Democratic Party, and derive their theories from the assumption that welfare programs are operated mostly at the state and local level (as many were, in those days). Consequently, 21st-century progressives seeking to quash discussion of Cloward-Piven often dismiss it as anachronistic and not relevant to the modern world, and point to the theory’s now-outdated specifics as proof that it’s no longer worth getting worked up over.

But when we speak of “The Cloward-Piven Strategy” in 2010, we are speaking of the generalized form of the theory. This often happens with political ideas: They emerge in a highly specific historical context, but later become universalized. For example, “fascism” no longer refers in common parlance to a bunch of Italian nationalists running around in black shirts, but rather has been generalized over the decades to describe any totalitarian attitude. Even Marxism, in its original formulation, concerned itself with Industrial-Revolution-era class distinctions which by now no longer even exist, yet we can still speak of Marxism in the modern era because we are referring to the principles underlying Marxism, not the idiosyncratic details spelled out in the mid-19th century.

And so, in a similar vein, when I discuss the “Cloward-Piven Strategy” in this essay, I’m speaking of the generalized principle behind the strategy, rather than the era-specific details about “Dixiecrats” and “the ghetto vote” mentioned in the Nation article.

In modern terms, the “Cloward-Piven Strategy” refers to the goal of bringing about a stealth economic revolution by intentionally overburdening the capitalist system with welfare demands until the economy collapses, necessitating a fundamental social restructuring.

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Slave-labor conditions at Sherrods’ farm?

August 5th, 2010 - 12:56 pm

Shocking new allegations against Shirley Sherrod (the USDA employee recently embroiled in a controversy over a speech she gave to the NAACP) and the communal farm she ran with her husband Charles Sherrod have been confirmed by an article published 36 years ago in a farm workers’ newspaper.

Combined, the new 2010 allegations and the original 1974 allegations accuse Shirley and Charles Sherrod of:

• Paying farm workers as little as 67¢ per hour, far below minimum wage for the era.
• Employing underage children to perform hard labor.
• Compelling their employees to work in unsafe conditions, including getting sprayed with pesticides.
• Firing any workers who acted as whistleblowers.
• Forcing employees to work overtime in the fields at night with practically no advance notice.
• Having a capricious payscale under which employees doing the exact same jobs were paid different amounts according to the whims of the managers.
• Being unwilling to address the abuse even after it was raised by union representatives.
• Seriously mismanaging the farm to such an extent that it went bankrupt.

Let’s first look at the new allegations, and then at the original allegations.

Ron Wilkins accuses Sherrods of Exploitation and Mistreatment

On Monday, August 2, 2010, Ron Wilkins, who was a black Civil Rights activist and organizer in the ’70s and is now a professor specializing in African-American history, published an incendiary article in the magazine CounterPunch in which he describes how he infiltrated the Sherrods’ “New Communities” farm commune in 1974 and discovered horrifying circumstances where black farm workers labored in near-slavery conditions, often being paid as little as 67¢ per hour (far under the minimum wage at the time) and facing intolerable conditions:

Imagine farm workers doing back breaking labor in the sweltering sun, sprayed with pesticides and paid less than minimum wage. Imagine the United Farm Workers called in to defend these laborers against such exploitation by management. Now imagine that the farm workers are black children and adults and that the managers are Shirley Sherrod, her husband Rev. Charles Sherrod, and a host of others. But it’s no illusion; this is fact.

The swirling controversy over the racist dismissal of Shirley Sherrod from her USDA post has obscured her profoundly oppositional behavior toward black agricultural workers in the 1970s. What most of Mrs. Sherrod’s supporters are not aware of is the elitist and anti-black-labor role that she and fellow managers of New Communities Inc. (NCI) played. These individuals under-paid, mistreated and fired black laborers–many of them less than 16 years of age–in the same fields of southwest Georgia where their ancestors suffered under chattel slavery.

Shirley Sherrod was New Communities Inc. store manager during the 1970s. As such, Mrs. Sherrod was a key member of the NCI administrative team, which exploited and abused the workforce in the field. The 6,000 acre New Communities Inc. in Lee County promoted itself during the latter part of the 1960s and throughout the 70s as a land trust committed to improving the lives of the rural black poor. Underneath this facade, the young and old worked long hours with few breaks, the pay averaged sixty-seven cents an hour, fieldwork behind equipment spraying pesticides was commonplace and workers expressing dissatisfaction were fired without recourse.

These accusations are not coming from conservatives like Andrew Breitbart: they’re coming from a respected left-leaning African-American professor with a long history as a Civil Rights activist, and were published in the far-left magazine CounterPunch.

United Farm Workers Slam the Sherrods in 1974 Exposé

But if these radical bona fides are not enough to convince you that this isn’t just a conservative hit-piece concocted out of thin air, Wilkins’ allegations (and more) are confirmed by a news story published at the time in the far-far-far-left-leaning United Farm Workers’ newspaper El Malcriado on September 28, 1974.

Below are two jpegs showing the article exactly as it appeared in El Malcriado. The image on the left is taken directly from a microfiche in a well-known Chicano Studies library. (To absolutely confirm the veracity of this article, I have appended to the bottom of this post three additional jpegs showing the article in context on the newspaper page and with adjacent El Malcriado pages.) The image on the right is taken from a photograph of the entire September 28, 1974 El Malcriado issue in its original paper format, preserved in pdf format (3.8mb) here at the UFW’s history archives. And as final confirmation, a close-up high-quality pdf of just the page 2 article itself can be seen here.

The El Malcriado article contains additional allegations on top of those made by Ron Wilkins in his recent essay, as you will see; an exact transcription follows the images:


On the left: jpeg of a microfiche version of El Malcriado (click to enlarge); on the right, jpeg of an original newsprint version of the same article.

Children Farm Workers Strike Black Co-op

Albany, Georgia — The black eagle flag first flew over the fields of Georgia on August 19th, when 50 Black farm workers, most of them under 16 years of age, walked out on strike at New Communities, Inc., a farming cooperative near here.

As the strike enters its fourth week, only management and eight workers are gathering the harvest at this 6,000 acre farm.

The strikers walked out for a living wage and humane working conditions.

Not only must they work behind machines spraying lethal pesticides, but there is no definite pay scale.

Wages paid by New Communities vary from 67¢-$1.63 per hour, and management pays each worker whatever they please, according to personal preference.

Strikers say they must put in unnecessary overtime, on a half-hour’s notice, at ungodly hours because the farm is poorly managed.

The farm’s manager, for instance, would accept a large produce order late in the afternoon and then require people to work late into the night so that the order would be filled the next morning.

Management had convinced the workers that they should not expect better pay for hours because the entire cooperative was losing money.

Robert Johnson, one of the employees, finally organized the current strike but was promptly fired.

The day after the strike began, the workers called on the United Farm Workers (UFW) field office in Avon Park, Florida for assistance.

Mack Lyons, Florida field office director and UFW National Executive Board member, met with the strikers in Georgia.

The workers signed UFW authorization cards (cards which name the UFW as the bargaining agent of their choice) and voted to demand a UFW contract with the protections of the union’s Coca-Cola contract in Florida.

The union has already won back pay for workers who were not earning the minimum wage, sometimes amounting to as much as $500.

Though several of this Black cooperative’s funding organizations are pressuring Charles Sherrod, the farm’s manager, to reach a settlement with the strikers, he remains unwilling to negotiate.

With so few scabs left in New Community’s fields, the UFW’s first strike in the southeast area (outside of Florida) may also bring the first of many UFW contracts to these fields that were once harvested by slave labor.

Page 2 — September 28, 1974 — El Malcriado

(* The typo “Through” in the article’s second-to-last paragraph has been corrected in this transcription to “Though”.)

Remember when reading all this that the Sherrods’ New Communities Farm received $13 million from the USDA to compensate for the loss of their land as part of the “Pigford v. Glickman” settlement, and that Shirley and Charles Sherrod personally received $300,000 for “pain and suffering.”

The irony is that Shirley Sherrod baselessly accused Andrew Breitbart of wanting Blacks to get “stuck back in the times of slavery,” when in fact it was Sherrod herself who was practically enslaving poor Blacks on her farm.

Additional Links with More Info on This Story

Washington Examiner: Former Shirley Sherrod employee accuses her of exploiting black farm laborers

The National Center for Public Policy Research: Massa Shirley Sherrod? Black Conservatives Speak Out on Leftist Accusations About Past Unfair Labor Practices From New Civil Rights Hero

Before It’s News: Ron Wilkins Shirley Sherrod: Wilkins Charges Sherrods With Underpaying And Mistreating Black Farmers

Riehl World View: Charles And Shirley Sherrod’s History Of Exploiting Black Children


Appendix:

Below are three additional images of the El Malcriado article, showing it in progressively greater context, to prove beyond any doubt that it is an authentic article published in 1974, and not a later invention concocted by her detractors, as some of Sherrod’s defenders might claim if not confronted with solid evidence: