The Texas State Board of Education has been stirring controversy by revising the State Social Studies Curriculum Standards. The revisions raise important questions about the relationship between government, religion, and education. Yesterday, two University of Texas professors debated the issue as part of the University’s Chautauqua Series. Here are their opening statements. Daniel Bonevac, Professor of Philosophy, defended the Board’s revisions, and Lorenzo Sadun, Professor of Mathematics, critiqued them.
- Why is substituting ‘free enterprise’ for ‘capitalism’, and ‘Constitutional republic’ for ‘democracy’, supposed to be “Orwellian”? These terms aren’t inaccurate. In fact, they’re more precise. A Constitutional republic is a type of democracy. And capitalism and free enterprise aren’t synonymous. Free enterprise has existed from the beginning of human economic interaction, in full display in every farmer’s market or garage sale. Capitalism requires the accumulation of large amounts of capital, and so arose in the Renaissance with the rise of banking and insurance.
- What is wrong with having students study Aquinas (originator of the concept of natural law, a crucial foundation for the concept of a natural, inalienable right), Calvin (whose model of church governance became the model for a Constitutional republic), and Blackstone (originator of the phrase “the pursuit of happiness,” and recorder of the common law)? It’s not as if the Enlightenment is being slighted; Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Voltaire, and Montesquieu all remain in the standards.
- No one is proposing religious tests for public office, the establishment of a state religion, or anything of the kind. The question is whether students can be taught about the religious beliefs that motivated many of the important actors in American history.
- People on the Left are outraged that the Board voted down a proposal to require 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.” But the First Amendment is already included in the standards. And “establishing a religion” and “promoting or disfavoring a religion” are not equivalent. The proposal is politically tendentious, not the Board’s rejection of it.
- The Left is also outraged that the Board voted to include the Venona papers in the standards. Evidently they are eager to keep alive the myths about the McCarthy era, the Alger Hiss case, and the Rosenberg trials, suppressing the evidence now available that shows that Hiss was a spy, that the Rosenbergs were guilty, and that the government was infiltrated by Soviet agents at very high levels.